Category Archives: iPhone Photography

iPhone 7 Plus Camera Review

I got my Apple iPhone 7 plus about 3 weeks after they came out.  It was a replacement for my iPhone 6S that I had for just under a year.  The camera for the 7 plus is a system unlike any I have used before.  If combines two separate cameras, one a wide angle with about a 28 mm equivalent lens with f1.8, and a second camera with about a 56mm equivalent lens with f2.8.  And these two cameras are tied together with very sophisticated Apple software in the phone to give you many extra capabilities.  In addition, the phone camera is designed to work well with Apple’s own “Photos” app on the phone, iPad, Mac or other Apple device.

This camera system using the standard (And very good) Apple camera app takes still pictures in wide or square format.  Plus it takes video in up to 4K.  In addition, to those usual modes the 7 Plus also can take Apple “live” photos, time lapse, slo mo, and excellent pano shots.  And, “portrait” photos which have software that adds bokeh when used properly.

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Taken with the iPhone 7+ and edited with Lightroom 

The Apple iPhone 7+ system for zoom is brilliant.  It is a different level of performance from any other smartphone camera I have used and is likely far better than any other smartphone camera currently sold.  I am fully away that lots of you tubes and other ratings people, and camera magazines test this system and say that several other smartphones are better, but in my opinion that is in the lab and not the field.  My ratings system is based on the images or video I get and not lab test.  If you actually want to get great work out of your smartphone this is the one to get.

I started to realize how amazing this camera system was the first few times I shot zooms where I went well beyond the optical zoom.  The first few times I looked at the result and though, “wow that looks really good for digital zoom”.  I don’t know how Apple does it but their “secret sauce” software amazingly lets you use the two cameras to zoom a lot closer than the optics of the 56mm lens and get great keepers.

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Shot with 7+ and about 8x zoom at dusk into the sun – edited in Lightroom

The above shot was at sunset at about 8x zoom, which is about 4x the optical capability.  And it is shot in low light into the sun.  The result is frigging astonishingly good for ANY camera much less one that was included with a multi use portable computer.

Then there is the pano capability.

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Shot with iPhone 7+ and edited in Apple Photos on a Mac

The image above was taken at the Painted Desert National Park in AZ a few months ago.  It was very simple to take and what you see here is about 180 degrees, maybe a little more.  The Apple software stitched the whole thing together and then made it very easy to edit in Apple Photos even though it is a lot of mega pixels.  I basically just cropped it a little and hit the enhance button.

Then there is the bokeh software.  I tried this a couple years ago with an Android phone and google’s system at the time and it did not work very well.  I am sure google has improved it but the Apple system has to be the one to beat at this point.  The Apple “portrait” mode works extremely well when you use it right.

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Taken with 7+ using portrait mode
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Also taken with 7+ using bokeh mode

The Apple iPhone 7 plus is very compatible with the Apple Photos app on the phone, and iPad, or a Mac.  For most photos the Apple app is all you need.  I use both the Apple Photos app and Lightroom.  I have the monthly charge Adobe Lightroom CC which gives you both the latest version of LR and also Photoshop.  In my opinion this is a bargain.  The Adobe software is big, complex, and takes quite a bit of effort to learn it.  Plus many things are not intuitive.  But after using it a while LR becomes relatively easy.  I have tried organizing my photos with LR and really prefer to let Apple’s system do it.  Plus I always have my master set arranged in chronological order in a standard file set up.  I also like using the Apple system because it sends slide shows to my Apple TV so I can see my latest photos on the big screen.  Generally when I edit I use my MacBook Pro 13″, but like it much better when it is hooked up to my large Apple display.  That said, both Apple and Lightroom have very good iPad and iPhone editing apps.  The LR one is far more capable, but for most photos the Apple one works fine.  One other significant advantage of using Lightroom is that you can take RAW photos with the iPhone.  If you want the most detailed image LR RAW is the way to go.  Plus when you need to make adjustments having a RAW file allows far greater latitude than a jpeg.

I don’t take a lot of videos.  When I do I almost always use the iPhone instead of my Nikon.  Why, the results from the iPhone are usually better and a lot easier.  I do not use 4K.  The files get too big.  For editing video I use the standard iMovie app that comes with the Mac.  It works well and for the amount of videos I take it is good enough.

I have and use regularly a Nikon mid range DSLR.  If used right it does give superior results on still photos than the iPhone 7 +.  Having a viewfinder is very helpful in the sun.  Plus for quick action shots the Nikon is very fast.  When you want to shoot sea gulls flying overhead the Nikon is the way to go.  It freezes the sea gulls in flight even when hand held and not in perfect light.  Plus you do get more details.  As good as the iPhone 7 plus is for longer range tele shots a Nikon with a tele lens is better.  Plus you can put filters like polarizing ones on.  I use a polarizing filter all the time when taking flower pictures.  It cuts down on unwanted reflections.  You cannot do that with the iPhone.  So no the 7 plus as good as it is does not replace an SLR or DSLR, but the two together make a great combo.  And when you are walking the dog you will likely have your smartphone and not your DSLR.

Waiting for the next iPhone?  No, get the iPhone 7+ now.  It is that good.  If you think the next iPhone will be amazing you may be right.  So get the Apple plan that lets you upgrade in a year.  That’s what I did.  But so far I have heard of nothing in the rumor posts about any feature that is completely a have-to-get item for me.  I have already had a couple of phones with OLED and while I think OLED is great for a TV, I am very happy with the excellent screen on the 7+.  Full glass covering?  Who cares.  I use a case any way.  BTW, I have both the leather and rubber case for my phone and the rubber one is better for pictures.  Easier to grip when you want a shot.  The leather one looks better though.  So what is my rating on the iPhone 7+ on a 1-10 scale with 10 being the highest, it is a 10.  The best compact camera you can buy.

iPhone 7 plus & Nikon D5500 = A Good Photo Taking Combo

My current smartphone the iPhone 7 plus is in my opinion a brilliant still & video camera.  Of course it has many other uses besides photo and video capture but that is what the topic of this post is.  When you pair the 7 plus with a mid range Nikon you really have most of the bases covered.

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Taken with iPhone 7+ inside a dark bar.  

Before I had the 7+ I used an iPhone 6S.  The 7+ is much more versatile and capable.  The above picture was taken inside a fairly dark bar during the daytime.  It took the above picture nearly perfectly.  I took a similar photo using my Minolta 600si film camera with a 50mm f2.8 lens loaded with Kodak Porta 160.  I prefer the color of the film shot, but since I did not have a fast lens, fast film, or image stabilization on that camera the image is blurred.

If I had only been carrying the 7+ I would have thought to try the secondary 56mm lens for this same subject, or maybe a short video clip.  The 7 plus gives you lots of options and fits into your pocket.  The 7+ is also the first camera I have used that can integrate the images from both it’s cameras to zoom and provide bokeh.  Using digital zoom with the 7+ is not the same as digital zoom I have used on older cameras or even last years 6S iPhone.  I have not seen an explanation in detail of how it is done, but I can tell you that the results of digital zoom with this camera are much better than I expected.  Even at 10x it is not that bad.  Plus you can get decent bokeh from this camera.  It is computer simulated, but it is good when used as intended.  And it is intended to be used to give bokeh in people shots.  The software can see people heads and bodies well but struggles sometimes with other objects.  I have had fair to good results using it on my rose blooms.

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My grand daughter using iPhone 7 plus and the portrait mode 

The bokeh in this 7+ photo is very good considering it is Apple’s first generation software. I expect there will be additional improvements as time goes on.  Apple’s color rendition is excellent.  As good as what I get from my Nikon.  Actually it is pretty similar to what I get from the Nikon.  I have noticed my Nikon works extremely well with Apple’s Photo software.  It could be there is some collaboration between the two companies.

I have had my Nikon D5500 for just over 1 1/2 years.  It has so far worked perfectly with no need for repairs.  I did add the newer 18-55mm zoom lens that Nikon introduced last year as a replacement for the older one I got with the D5500.  The reasons were that the new lens came with the fast stepper motor instead of the old autofocus.  And several testers rated it as having significantly superior optics to my older version.  To use it properly I had to update the firmware on the D5500, which was free and fairly easy.  The other feature I like on this lens is instant manual focus over ride instead of having to flip a switch.

The quick auto focus stepper motor is very helpful in taking videos with the Nikon.  You can still hear a very slight noise in the video when focusing, but it is maybe 1/5th as loud as before.  Plus the focus time is greatly reduced.  One negative is that the filter size on this lens is 55mm and not the standard 52mm of the older lens.

Nikon has recently come out with a replacement for the D5500, the D5600.  The major difference in the new camera is that it can transfer photos to your iPhone (or other smartphone) via bluetooth.  Since I prefer physical transfer I don’t need to upgrade right now.  If I was to upgrade the Nikon one of my main motivations would be for a more useful viewfinder.  The viewfinder in this camera is not nearly as large and bright as either my old Olympus OM2n or my Minolta 600si.  And the Minolta in addition to being much bigger and brighter also have much easier to read information in it than the Nikon.  For manual focus I find the D5500 very hard to use on many subjects.  And I find all auto focus to be not perfect and in need of some fine tuning.  You do that by having a clear easy to use viewfinder.

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Nikon D5600 with the 18-140mm lens.

I find the Nikon D5500 very easy to switch out to the Minolta 600si film camera.  The 600si is very similar to the Nikon in size, weight, and operation.  Since the Minolta is also auto focus you do not need to switch back to thinking about getting the focus right.

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Minolta 600si 

The D5500 is very lightweight.  It is under 20 oz.  The Minolta runs just about 20 oz.  They are both about the same size and look.

So that is my usual setup, iPhone 7 plus and Nikon D5500.  If I was short of money the Nikon D3400 would give me pictures as good at the 5500, but would be slower to adjust.  The D5500 also has a pretty slick facial recognition setting in addition to having a subject lock on setting.  If I won the lottery and did not care how much money I spent I don’t think I would change my set up.  To me the Nikon D5500 is the best you can get at this time.  I would rather shoot with a full frame 35mm sensor.  But to switch to a full frame sensor I would have to carry around a camera from Nikon, Canon, or Pentax that weighs twice what my D5500 weights.  And Sony makes you live without a mirror, and I don’t like EVF.  Leica is a great camera but still manual focus and a rangefinder.  I don’t like either of those as well as auto focus and SLR.  I like the look of the Fuji XT2 quite a bit, but do not think the image quality is as good as Nikon.  And Olympus makes you live with a tiny sensor.  If I could add a camera and not have to give up the D5500 I would take a Nikon 750 (or it’s replacement due out soon) and three lenses.

Apple iPhone 6S Camera Quality

Time marches on and digital cameras continue to improve.  Nowhere is this more the case than cell phone cameras.  For this blog post I am talking about still pictures not video.  I recently bought one of the new Apple iPhone 6S phones.  This was a big switch for me as I had carried an Android smartphone since they first made them a few years ago.  I have a number of reasons for switching, but one of the most important was that I use Apple photo software with all of my cameras and it made sense to use a smartphone that was part of the Apple ecosystem.

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This is an Apple 6s photo and is a very small jpeg.  Only 345kb

Time marches on and digital cameras continue to improve.  Nowhere is this more the case than cell phone cameras.  For this blog post I am talking about still pictures not video.  I recently bought one of the new Apple iPhone 6S phones.  This was a big switch for me as I had carried an Android smartphone since they first made them a few years ago.  I have a number of reasons for switching, but one of the most important was that I use Apple photo software with all of my cameras and it made sense to use a smartphone that was part of the Apple ecosystem.

We also have an iPad Air 2 and an iPhone 6+ in our household so the 6S is not my first go around with an Apple camera.  I will have to say though that in my opinion the 6S camera is excellent.  I have taken pictures of this Chicago Peace rose with most of my digital and film cameras and the 6S shot above has great and true to life color + excellent sharpness.  The 6S camera has nearly instant focus.  For comparison here is a picture of the same rose a few months ago taken with my Olympus OM2n, 50mm 1.8 prime lens, and Velvia 100 slide film.

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This is a very nice shot but the file is only 150kb

We also have an iPad Air 2 and an iPhone 6+ in our household so the 6S is not my first go around with an Apple camera.  I will have to say though that in my opinion the 6S camera is excellent.  I have taken pictures of this Chicago Peace rose with most of my digital and film cameras and the 6S shot above has great and true to life color + excellent sharpness.  The 6S camera has nearly instant focus.  For comparison here is a picture of the same rose a few months ago taken with my Olympus OM2n, 50mm 1.8 prime lens, and Velvia 100 slide film.

To me the bottom picture is a much nicer one because of the bokeh and the slight impressionist quality to it.  But the iPhone has great great color rendition.

Before the 6S I used an Android Motorola Droid Maxx for almost two years.  It had a Sony 10 mega pixel camera in it that I used a lot.  It took excellent pictures in daylight.  It also had very slick software for activating the camera, a double twist of the wrist and you did not have to unlock the phone.  Plus the standard Motorola camera software was approximately the same as the Apple camera software.  The Apple does better in low light than the Motorola.  And I like the very simple to use square picture setting on the Apple.  But, in my opinion, in good daylight it would be hard to tell the difference between the shots taken on these two phones.  The selfie shots on the 6S are far superior to the Motorola.

I also find the simple Apple editing software on the IOS platform to work well.  I do recommend strongly to at least size up to a full size iPad or better yet a larger computer based editing screen to adjust or delete your pictures.  The photos app on the Mac is much more complete than the version on the phone or iPad.  For me the editing features of the Mac version are very useful.  I have tried Lightroom a couple of times.  I know there are lots more editing tools on it, but find the Apple software sufficient.  I also have a copy of iPhoto and Aperture on my Mac.  So if needed I can use them for adjustments not on Apple’s newer photos app.

So now we get to the verdict on the 6S camera in my opinion.  It is slightly better than my previous phone camera based on it’s better low light capability.  I take almost no selfies so that is not much of a plus for me.  If you do then the 6S is your camera phone.  The 6S and 6+ are great for selfies.  I also like the editing features of Apple’s phone.  I also like the iCloud connection to the phone slightly better than Google’s on line system.  I greatly miss the Motorola’s phone camera’s capability to activate with a double wrist twist.  That is a much better system for taking candid shots or just taking shots quickly than Apple’s 4 step system.  With Apple you have to wake your phone, unlock, activate the camera, and take the shot.  With Motorola you double twisted your wrist and put your finger on the screen where you wanted the camera to focus.  Very quick.  But the Apple 6S takes a shot almost instantly once it sets focus.  The Motorola sometimes has delay.  For child pictures with fast moving kids the iPhone is much better.  For landscape shots either will work well.

Smartphone cameras even the one in the Apple 6S are not a replacement for a full featured camera.  They are good pocket cameras, but there are lots of things they do not do well.  A couple of examples are 1.  Bringing distant objects closer and still have a sharp image.  2.  Shots of people in groups are enhanced tremendously when people and things that are not the subject of the picture are attractively out of focus.  That is bokeh and you need to use lenses that are good at this.  Cell phone cameras are usually not.

Update August 7 2016.  Here is what cell phone cameras don’t do well.

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pink white flowers

blue flowers

The three pictures above were taken with a Nikon D5500 set to take raw pictures.  I used 55mm – 200mm zoom medium telephoto.  And the f-stop was around 4.  Plus I used a polarizing filter to cut down on the light that flowers sometimes reflect.

A few days after I took the above flower pictures I got these with the Apple

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In my opinion the above shots are great.  Very good color rendition.  Very good exposure.  I edited them only in Apple Photos.