Every now and then, Timehop will show me a photo I took on my phone five or six years ago. Sometimes I'll be able to remember what in the scene made me take it. I imagine my past self swiping through Instagram filters, finding one that had that "something" and feeling pretty happy with the end result. But looking down at the photo now on a retina display phone, the limitations of the old hardware are evident. There's muddled looking contrast and unsightly digital grain, only slightly disguised by the kitschy filter.
I probably would have a hard time telling the difference between a photo taken on an iPhone 6S and a photo taken on an iPhone 7 (not counting the 7+'s fancy Portrait setting). But these cameras do get incrementally better every year, and per my Timehop example, those improvements are even more evident when skipping generations. So for me, the 5s to the 7 is a big jump.
It would be difficult for me to pinpoint just how much better the 7 is than the 5s short of doing shot by shot comparisons, which would likely drive me bananas. So instead I figured I would instead actively shoot and post on the 7 over the course of a week and see how I felt at the end of it.
For this post, I tried to focus on subjects that would typically catch my attention on the street, as well as a few that might be good for showcasing the new camera (such as the flowers and produce below). As an experiment, I edited in the Photos app rather than Instagram. I'm not in love with the Photos app's editing interface. I like the attempt at simplicity with the master Light and Color sliders, but I found myself almost always digging into the subsliders anyway, which makes for a lot of expanding and collapsing of menus. Things would also often get cumbersome after I cropped an image: I would crop it, and then the image would automatically expand under the top and bottom control bars to the edges of the display. So I'd have to tap the image again so that the bars would disappear and I could see the whole thing. Still, every now and then it's good to shake loose of old habits, so I like to think it pushed me to be a little more purposeful in my edits instead of following my rote Instagram editing routines.
Overall, I'm very happy with how these came out. As has always been the case with phones in recent years, in good conditions, the camera on your phone will do a great job. In more challenging conditions, like nighttime on the street or high contrast environments, things get trickier. But even then I still think they came out well. Rarely did I take a shot that I felt was unusable because of the quality of the image (i.e. it's not you, phone; it's me).
Two other neat things, apparently iOS 10 now allows you to shoot in RAW on third party apps. The f/1.8 aperture is also a nice improvement. I could imagine using a third party app to shoot in aperture priority and attempt to squeeze some nicely bokehed shots out of it. But digging into these features does run counter to the sense of simplicity that I've enjoyed while shooting on my phone this week. I like that I can point my phone at something, take the photo, and feel alright about it, and move on. The fact that it's a phone lowers my expectations on what I ought to be trying to control.
I don't think the iPhone 7 quite beats my GR II, but sooner or later I imagine an iPhone will (just as how the iPhone 7 is likely now at parity, if not better than, my old S90). And of course, the biggest advantage that it has over my GR II or my DSLR is that it is always in my pocket. As photographer Chase Jarvis has said, "the best camera is the one you have with you".
But also, it doesn't hurt when that camera also happens to be really good.