When I first got my iPhone 3GS I was utterly disappointed with the camera. Being a photographer, my expectations were not exactly high, but I did expect on having a usable camera in well-lit situations. On first inspection I immediately wrote the “3 megapixel auto-focus camera” off as nothing more than a gimmick. For months I seldom used the camera for more than MMS, which was cool for pranks and what not but nothing worthy of Flickr.
Recently I have been pushing the iPhone further trying to squeeze some quality out of its nanosensor. It actually is quite good if the right tools/technique are used. The trick to the iPhone is holding it steady. Darkroom (free) is a great app that uses the accelerometer to shutter release when the phone is steady. Also know that the iPhone’s shutter fires when you lift off the button not when you press it.
The App Store as many free or cheap apps to post-process your iPhoneography. My favorite is Photogene, which really is the closest thing to Photoshop for the iPhone (sorry Photoshop.com Mobile). Photogene ($1.99) is the one stop shop for exposure levels, RGB levels, crop/straighten, and sharpening. Sharpening is probably the most important aspect to processing iPhone photos. The photos are always soft.
Is the iPhone a toy? Yes and no, it does toy-like things and smart-phone things, but the camera really is a toy. Toy cameras have always been the smallest, cheapest, most quirky cameras around and they produce fantastic one of a kind results. The iPhone is similar to a Holga or Lomo in that you never really know what your going to get. For more creative aspects of iPhoneography check out CameraBag ($1.99), which offers many toy camera filters, Polaroid borders, and other one-touch effects.
The all-in-one app is Best Camera, whose slogan says it all, “The Best Camera is the one thats with you”. The guys at Best Camera hit the nail on the head, the iPhone is excellent for being unnoticed. Paul Strand used to use trick lenses so his subjects didn’t know he was photographing them. Regardless of whether or not this type of photography is exploitative or dishonest the iPhone is perfect for this. Street photography is about timing, confidence, and speed/preparation. The “problem” with street photography is that once your subject sees a camera pointed at them the scene is often lost. The iPhone allows you to snap photos of people unknowingly anywhere. People are so accustomed to seeing iPhones they don’t think twice about it. Best Camera ($2.99) offers exposure filters, creative effects, and crop/border tools.
That said, the iPhone 4G camera should have some obvious additions. I would like to see a quicker controllable shutter, 5 megapixels would be nice, ISO control, and if possible a larger sensor (yeah right). There are other more gimmicky things I don’t really care for. Likely additions are a flash (a sensor that small will always be useless in low-light), auto-focus tracking, or even a front facing camera for video chat, digital zoom (a one way ticket to horrible photos). Who knows? I am looking forward to see what Apple comes up with.