Harbinger: The iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max
Just a note. My gut is that the new iPhone 11 Pro/Pro Max is a pivot point, especially with the forthcoming “Deep Fusion” mode which combines a series of shots (like stacking) to make a highly detailed shot. The iPhone 11 can also produce DNGs.
The camera now has three cameras:
- An ultra-wide 13mm f/2.4 5-element lens with 120° field of view and a 12MP sensor.
- A 26mm f/1.8 wide, 6-elements, 12 MP sensor with optical stabilization camera.
- A 52mm f/2.0, 6-element lens, with optical stabilization, 2x optical zoom 12MP sensor.
It also works with a fascinating piece of software for video called Filmic, which allows you to use some of the multiple cameras in the iPhone 11. In addition, the iPhone 11 Pro/Pro Max has 512 GB and up to 5 hours more battery time than before.
My best guess is that this event is a toehold on the future and the flag or sign that a beefed-up iPhone can finally handle low to medium photographic tasks, if not right now, then soon.
When you consider you can get DNGs from this camera, Night Mode, and a small host of other features, we have, IMO, crossed a point of no-return. If this is not the next page, then it at least the iPhone 11 sends a signal that change indeed is coming.
The thought of carrying an iPhone, a gimbal, and a few other accessories instead of all the gear I now carry is worth thinking about. No, not for landscapes and the kind of close-up I like, but to be able to carry around a camera in my shirt pocket to address all of the times I wish I had a camera with me is tempting. I am getting one and selling a bunch of lenses.
My comments on the iPhone 11 Pro Max are not meant to mean I won’t be using my scores of lenses (maybe I will sell some of these; I’m not a camera museum! LOL) I will continue to use my APO lenses, etc., especially indoors in the studio for winter. I don’t consider the iPhone a replacement, except perhaps for my Sony RX100, which I never bother to carry around with me. I will use the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, since I need an iPhone a lot anyway. My eye for light and composition works 24x7 and not just when I carry heavy gear around. I can’t imagine how many times I have been out walking or whatever, seen something that strikes my eye, but have no way to record it.
I don’t print photos and have not even one of the hundreds of thousands of images I have taken on the wall. None. I do however blog every day to some 7500 folks who would be happy to see what I can produce on a smart phone. I don’t consider this iPhone as a come-down, but rather as a challenge that I am happy to accept. I also have always wanted to make short, personal, videos and will try that.
I see this as an extension of my photography rather than as a surrogate.
DIGLLOYD: the iPhone is one more tool for the photographer and has its place.
But will it have Eye AF? Too often, the iPhone has given me a blurry face and sharp background—unbelievable given the other sophisticated functions.
On the way
A big downside for me at least is that the iPhone 11 Pro Max weighs another 40 grams or so—that’s a lot—it approaches half a pound! The weight is bothersome already with the iPhone 7 Plus in my cycling jersey pockets in particular.
At right, if Apple has sold me a bill of goods like with the iPhone 7 Plus with its garbage quality 2X camera, the iPhone 11 Pro Max will go back. My iPhone 7 Plus is nearly 3 years old, and its battery is not keeping a good charge, and it’s not meeting my needs for the times I use it for images, so I’m treating the iPhone 11 Pro Max as a camera, loathe as I am to pay the price.
It’s very clear that computational photography has enormous potential. The Apple iPhone is leading in that area, with cameras like the Panasonic S1R with its Multi-Shot High-res mode doing sophisticated things for motion (quite unlike Sony’s lame pixel shift, which is a “dumb” shooting mode generating files you have to process later).
I’ve been using the Pro Camera app to shoot raw/DNG on my iPhone 7 Plus for some time now—it’s the best of the bunch for my purposes. The result from raw are quite good for the 1X camera on the iPhone 7 Plus. In JPEG, results from either camera are frequently garbage —huge amounts of detail smeared away, mottled diseased-looking skin, heavily posterized tonal transitions, etc. The 2X camera I gave up on, so consistently poor are its results. But in raw/DNG the 1X camera is really good and built-in fill flash makes it even better outdoors.
The new iPhone 11 Pro Max I had already decided I have to buy to maintain perspective on the state of the art and its 3 cameras, and also the all-important image stabilization and 12MP front-facing selfie camera. I hate to spend more money on anything with Apple, but it’s now a camera as much as a phone.
Night Mode on the iPhone 11 Pro is an open question—maybe it will solve the #1 problem I’ve had with the iPhone 7 Plus, that is, garbage quality in low light and unusable camera shake.
Nick C writes:
The new iPhone 11 pro max is it. I actually canceled my A7R IV preorder and am selling off my lenses. I did a statistical analysis of the photos I’ve been taking over the last couple of years, and 90+% of the views have been those taken using my iPhone. Add to this that I don’t print, and it’s increasingly evident that the ship for dedicated cameras other than niche use cases is being loaded for departure, if it hasn’t sailed yet.
Add to this—
1. Unlimited photo and video storage in iCloud for instant viewing anywhere. And yes I can still copy the files locally.
2. Freedom from testing stresses: do I have a sharp copy? Is it centered? F*k that sh*t.
3. Banding when pushing exposure? Exposure to the right? Focusing concerns? Obsolete topics. Computational photography makes all the other cameras look defective in this regard.
4. Life is short. Perfect pixels do not replace a light traveling experience where the phone just gets out of the way, is there when needed to take a great looking photo, and disappears in a pocket when not.
5. Battery life so long that you don’t even think about it.
6. Superlative, instant, in the field publishing options that are simply unrivaled.
I am done with high end gear, and feel unbelievably relieved.
DIGLLOYD: tools are tools. If a hammer suits all your needs, start pounding.
seems rather optimistic as to results (personal experience makes me highly skeptical, including pictures of myself that make me look like I have a serious skin disease), but I agree that for the 99%, regular cameras are pointless. The iPhone gets a lot of use in my hands in the field and is a big win for some things, and a losing proposition at other times with hugely disappointing fails—when it’s ugly its fugly. It’s a tool that work well for some things but is like trying to use a hammer to clip a fingernail at other times.
Point 3 is euphoric. Bad focus (background instead of me), blown-out skies, severely posterized skies and skin, blocky shadows, etc have been my iPhone experience. Raw solves that, but not Apple’s horrible JPEG quality in too many cases. Maybe it's better with the newer phones, but I’m dubious—I suppose most people think it’s fine, but shooting outdoors it never is in some lighting and flushed skin or sunburn.
There are no publishing options where I like to shoot (no internet), and I’m not into social media, so point #6 is of little interest. But I recognize that the 99% always have internet along with a deep-seated social anxiety—a need to impress others so as to validate themselves to the point of morbidity—never in the moment, living second-handedly. I wonder if using an iPhone intensively is really a risk to a healthy mind.
Finally, if you’re not in your 50s or older, good luck seeing the iPhone screen clearly in dim light, e.g., the best shooting light! There are also ergonomic and physical factors which make an iPhone highly unappealing in many ways—it’s physically excellent for selfies, and very poor for other things.
Dr S writes:
My wife andI are hiking/traveling in the Canadian Rockies. When we get decent cell reception I do some looking on the web. Since I knew the new iPhone was going to be announced while away I was curious about your and your reader's impressions. So I just looked at the 2 comments on the new iPhone and their view of the change(s) they may make as far as their way of doing things in the future. I read them and here are a couple of my observations as a vacationer.
Knowing that the general population seems to be using their phones as their primary device to view images whether they take it themselves or view any other content I was curious about what the vacationer's are doing.
Well.....the great sites are being recorded by.................phones (iPhones primarily). I asked my wife, a statistical analyst and professor, if she could give a number, what percentage of individuals taking photos were using their phones vs some sort of more serious camera. She acquiesced to telling me what I thought I also saw..... 90% phones in high touristy areas and 70% on longer but not a "bust-your buns" hike.
The numbers of phone-cam users have been increasing and probably will not decrease. I am still lugging around 2 lighter cams and 3 lenses which are lighter than the past but as I age this will change.
When I visited the Rockies 12 years ago serious imaging was with larger cams and many were carrying compact cams. Phone-Cams were non-existent.
I know the arguments for serious, quality imaging and I will continue to use high-end gear to produce great prints that hang on the walls at my office/gallery....and sell to whomever wishes them. I am old enough that innovation will continue long enough until I am not on this earth anymore but in it. However, the new iPhone 11 Pro and Pro-Max seem to be a real watershed moment, more profound than in the past, that will make the Nikons, Sony's, Panasonics, Fujis, Olympus, etc., rethink their future direction.
Indeed this vacation when people ask me to take an image of them at a nice spot "with their iPhone" they comment on how wonderful the image is and I should "be a photographer." I just chuckle internally but also recognize and accept the future is in the pocket. Phones are the primary visual medium and the images they produce seem satisfactory for the public at large.
I always carry a good-quality cam with me everywhere I go but when I get the new iPhone Pro Max, I may get lazy in some instances, and just carry it as my serious cam.....espcially when my bones begin to ache even more.
DIGLLOYD: ironically, what I see people using iPhone and iPad for is landscapes, never taking a picture of the people with them. The generic and usually very poorly framed landscape images wil have little meaning years later and the quality will be marginal at best; the ones in which people of personal interest are included will have lasting interest and quality defects will be of no real consequence.