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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.

hailey-bokeh
Taken with 7+ using portrait mode
bokeh
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.

Kodachrome and Ektachrome

I just listened to Sharky James Peta Pixel’s latest podcast.  He made some comments on Kodak, Kodachrome, and other Kodak products.  Just my humble opinion, but many people including Sharky say Kodachrome will not be coming back because the chemicals used for the old style film are too harsh for today’s standards.  So.  Update the product to today’s standards and make the film with the color rendition of the old film.  I mean think about it, Ford has been making a Mustang since 1964 1/2.  They don’t sell you the same vehicle they made in the old days.  They sell you the Mustang experience and look in a more modern car.  Kodak can do the same thing.

kodachrome_box

So just to recap – Kodak should make the new Kodachrome to have the color pallette of the old Kodachrome that people remember and like, but use a more modern chemical set that can pass today’s standards.

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Ektachrome – Back in the day I shot lots of slide film.  Actually I still shoot some slide film.  But back in the day when I shot slide film I mostly shot Kodachrome.  Why, it did not fade like Ektachrome.  I also liked the color pallette of Kodachrome better.  I hope when Ektachrome comes out again this fall that Kodak has a new formulation that does not fade like the old Ektachrome.

Back to Sharky James – From his comments what I get is that film photographers are a small niche and digital photography is what is important today.  To me that is incorrect.  Film photography is a significantly different process than digital and looks different.  When you scan photographic film you scan the result of the chemical film and not the image itself.  So you get the digital image of the chemical image capture.  To my eye in many cases film gives a better image.  They are two different art forms just like black and white photos are different from color.  I would guess that both methods of image capture will be around for a while.

 

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.

Stained glass cieling
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.

hailey-bokeh
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.

Film Review – Going Over The Results From This Summer

This summer we left on an extended motorhome trip from the west coast all the way to an island in Lake Erie Ohio.  We were gone for just over 2 1/2 months and I took about 30 rolls of film with me.  I used Fuji Velvia 50, Kodak Gold 200, Kodak Ektar 100, Kodak Ultramax 400.  In addition I had my iPhone 6S and Nikon D5500 with me.  The film cameras were an Olympus OM2n, Voightlander Prominent, and Minolta 600si.

Film results

  • Ektar 100.  Ektar 100 is a professional quality fine grain negative film that I have shot a lot of in the past.  As usual the results made some of the best pictures of the summer.  The ultimate place to use Ektar is in any red rock country of the west.  Zion or Arches National Parks are two good ones.  When I got my shots back from Zion from this year shot on Ektar the results just jumped off the page saying, “wow these are the best Zion pictures”  We were at Zion for a few days and I used Ektar, Gold 200, iPhone 6S & Nikon D5500.

Zion 5 minolta ektar

The above shot is right out of the camera with zero editing.  This is the Minolta 600si and Sigma 50mm 2.8 lens.

  • Fuji Velvia 50.  I have also shot many rolls of Velvia 50 over the last few years.  As usual the colors were intense.  But so were the shadows.  The photo example I will post here is a beautiful towards sunset shot that was edited just slightly with Lightroom.  Where I had problems was on a day in Theodore Roosevelt National Park we went from landscape to animal pictures all of a sudden and I had problems with the dark fur of the bison.
houses with clouds Oly V50_
This is the Velvia 50 shot with Olympus OM2n 28mm 2.8 lense.  

I shot a similar picture with my iPhone 6S which I will post here for comparison.  The iPhone picture has more editing to get this result compared to the Velvia.

houses for peck iphone
iPhone 6S shot

I like both shots, but prefer the Velvia.

  • Kodak Ultramax 400.  I had not used this film until this trip.  It was really the surprise star of the films I used.  I thought being a 400 the grain would be too coarse but it was not.  And the colors are really great as far as my eye goes.  Not quite as red or intense as Ektar, but more neutral than Ektar.  And the colors pop just fine.
corn palace
Taken with Minolta 600si & 24mm Sigma lens

I tried taking the same shot with my Nikon D5500 and here is the result.

Corn Palace Nikon
Nikon D5500 with kit lens set at 18mm (27mm 35mm equivalent)  

I played a bit more with the Nikon shot last night and was able to improve it a little, but to me it still does not look as good as the Ultramax with almost no editing.  I find both Ultramax 400 and Fuji Superia 400 to be great films and very similar in results.  Unfortunately the Fuji is now only in 24xp rolls.  Since 24 and 36 ex rolls cost the same I will tend to use the Kodak.

  • Kodak Gold 200.  I shot this with my old but really high quality Voightlander Prominent.  The pictures turned out well exposed but in many shots with more grain than I like.  This happened the last time I used this film.  It is the least expensive of the four films.  About half the price of Ektar, but only a dollar cheaper than Ultramax.  Likely I will drop this film from any future purchases.
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Kodak Gold 200 with Voightlander Prominent & 35mm 3.5 lens
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This is another shot with Gold 200 and the same camera and lens as above.  

So is film always better than digital.  Not at all.  For inside shots in places like museums the best camera is either the iPhone or the Nikon with my f1.8 lens.  Neither one of those cameras seems to care about what kind of lighting is in the room.  And the Nikon set up properly in most cases has more detail and can match the film for color.  But if you leave the Nikon on auto white balance and auto ISO and so on the pictures are not going to be as good as the film cameras.  Again I love using the Minolta 600si.  It was easily my favorite film camera to use the summer.  Not as pretty as the Voightlander or the Olympus but super easy to use.

Kodak UltraMax 400

A few months back I bought 10 rolls of fresh Kodak Gold 200 and Ultramax 400.  It took me a while to try the 400 as I thought it would be grainier than the Gold 200.  When I shot some on this summer’s long trip I was pleasantly surprised.  I don’t find that even on my largest most detailed monitor (An Apple Thunderbolt Display – finer than 2K and less than 4K) that the grain is greater than the Gold.  I have been shooting Ektar and Fuji Velvia 50 quite a lot and I have to tell you that the cheaper Ultramax looked very good.  I used it for landscape.

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corn palace

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I was very pleased with these results.  The middle shot of the Corn Palace in Iowa I also took with my Nikon D5500.  I shot this raw and converted with LightRoom.

Corn Palace Nikon

As is I like the Ultramax shot better.  If I twiddled around with the Nikon photo above long enough I might be able to get it to look as good as the Kodak shot.  But only maybe and the Kodak picture had minimal editing.  Oh, and the Nikon picture is a far larger file.

I also shot quite a few people pictures with the Kodak.

jeff cathy jon betsy_

barb behind fox

me in amana

To me the skin tones are also quite good.  I also took a number of indoor pictures with natural light and these turned out quite good too.  These pictures we all taken with my Minolta 600s, which is a late 90’s higher end manual / auto SLR.  The lens depending on the shot is either a 50mm 2.8 Sigma or a 24mm 2.8 Sigma.  Great camera and two really great lenses.

So I give a double thumbs up on Kodak Ultramax 400.  Color saturation to me is very good.  Not quite as much as Ektar, but for a wide variety of shots I like the color rendering better on Ultramax.  Velvia 50 definitely has more color saturation, but is much more sensitive on exposure, and as with Ektar does not look the best with people shots.

The other 400 speed film I have shot recently is Fuji Superia 400.  In my opinion the Superia and Ultramax are very similar.  Both good.  I like the fact you can still get the Ultramax in 36 exposure rolls.

Kodak Portra 400

In the last year I have shot a number of rolls of Portra 400 35mm film.  I only really like this film when taking pictures of people.  Portra 400 in my experience does a very good job of white skin, but any landscape and my results have been just OK.  This compares with Velvia 50 which I find magical, and Kodak Ektar 100 which I get very good results from.  All of the landscapes I spent a lot of time enhancing them.

Sunset Cliffs in San Diego using portra 400.
Sunset Cliffs in San Diego using portra 400.

The above picture is of Sunset Cliffs in San Diego.  I had to do a lot of computer work with iPhoto and Aperture to get it this good.

Shot with Olympus OM2n using 50mm 1.8 lens
Shot with Olympus OM2n using 50mm 1.8 lens

The above picture to me was the surprise gem of the roll as the statue in the foreground is fairly sharp and the background has a great bokeh combined with film grain.  I really like the background which to me seems like an impressionist style painting look.

Combo of people and landscape.  I improved the water colors but put more red into the faces than I like.
Combo of people and landscape. I improved the water colors but put more red into the faces than I like.

Here is an OK picture with people and landscape.  The faces went reddish when I post processed them to improve the landscape.  I know I could have spent more time and adjusted just the faces back to better tones, but that is just more work than I wanted to put into it.  Most of the time when taking Velvia the shots come good right out of the camera.

If I was going to a family gathering or one of my grand children’s birth day parties Porta 400 would be the film to grab.  It seems to nail face tones every time.  But for landscapes Velvia would be my choice.

Two Big Advantages Of Film Over Digital Photography

The first huge advantage of film over digital is that you can use Velvia 50 with film cameras.  This film has been praised by many many others, but I just want to add a bit more.  Gosh this stuff makes beautiful rich opulent pictures.  I just love the colors it makes.

The red camellia colors on my retina screen are gorgeous.
The red camellia colors on my retina screen are gorgeous.
That chair is silk.  Velvia makes it richer than in real life.  And it is rich looking in real life.
That chair is silk. Velvia makes it richer than in real life. And it is rich looking in real life.
I love the colors of this faded rose.  On my screen the are very rich.
I love the colors of this faded rose. On my screen the are very rich.

A second big advantage of film is that you can get lots of great cameras who’s lenses are capable of great looking bokeh.  These pictures were all taken with an Olympus OM2n with a f1.8 50mm lens.  To my eye these pictures show great bokeh.  You can buy a very good example of this camera today for $100-150.

In addition to the rich red color on the rose, look at that bokeh.
In addition to the rich red color on the rose, look at that bokeh.

This next picture is just to pay respect to the wonderful effects you sometimes get with film.  I took this picture last summer and forgot it was in the camera.  This is at the top of a mountain in WA State and the fog effect is dreamy.  It is perfect to my eye.

If you don’t have a film camera now would be a good time to buy one.  I have noticed prices going up a bit on some cameras and skyrocketing on others.  Many of the good rangefinder and medium format cameras have gone way up in price.  What used to be $30 Yashica 124s are now $250 dollars.  And some of the old Olympus rangefinder cameras are now several hundred dollars.

And if you have a film camera and have not been using Velvia, do so.  Don’t let slide film’s supposed exposure fussiness dissuade you.  My old Olympus almost always nails the exposure.  So will your camera.

fog scene