First off, let’s get one thing out of the way: the camera that comes inside phones is not really a camera. There has been so much talk about camera phones that it has come to be an accepted part of our world to assume that these things are indeed cameras. Any cursory glance at Facebook™ and Instagram™ will immediately confirm the “fact” that our phones have cameras in them. They do not. They do, however, have recording devices built into them that resemble still and videos cameras, that approximate what a real camera can do.
Surprised? Well, you shouldn’t be.
Phone manufacturers have been essentially touting these devices for years as cameras and that’s fine. They serve the same functions as a camera, but what they really are capable of barely compare with even the most basic of point-and-shoot cameras and do not in any way resemble what your DSLR is capable of.
So if this is all true, what are phone “cameras” good for anyway?
For one thing they have eliminated the need to carry around a point-and-shoot camera. Why carry both when you can get a reasonable approximation of one with the other? Their portability makes them perfect for the digital age where computers rule our lives. Shooting at parties and uploading to Facebook™ and Instagram™ make life very convenient, sort of like having a photo album you can carry around everywhere with you with no bulk to speak of.
For those of you who are professional or even semi-professional photographers, the iPhone should be your sketchbook. A handy little device that records images that you can later use as references for better photos. For instance, when a camera phone brags about being an eight megapixel camera, that fact is almost meaningless simply because of the nature of the way you hold them to make a picture: try holding your DSLR with one hand. See what I mean? Your camera phone is no different, but you can make a mental note on your camera phone of a particular scene or even use it as a “Polaroid™” device to send preliminary sketches of a still life to a client quickly. They are also great for location scouting. Use it to document where you want to shoot down the road with a model or even as a backdrop for a portrait. Landscape photographers will want to make a mental note of a particular location they may want to come back to when the lighting is more favorable.
No one, well almost no one, has a shoebox or album filled with prints anymore. In that way, phone cameras have lessened our burden, and when people talk about computers reducing our paper usage, they probably didn’t have photographs in mind, but that has been one of the most successful uses of computers and phone cameras to speak of in terms of immediate benefits. Gone are the days of boring slide shows. What phone cameras do best is consolidate our photo experiences, especially the amateur ones, into a neater pile and reduce waste significantly. As a photographer, there are no ways to use your phone camera to replace your DSLR. You won’t even be able to make a print from it, unless you get really lucky, switch on the HDR setting and hold tight. Even then there are no guarantees, so if you intend to make a print, use a real camera.
Here are some things the phone cameras are really good for:
1. Put the time and date stamp in the ON position to remember times and places where you were and when you did it.
2. Scan printed documents. Instead going through the hassle of using a scanner and a computer, take a picture of your document, check or W9 form for your records. Sending them via the phone with text or email is a snap.
3. When you’re traveling, leave the map home. With GPS available, you can even use your phone camera to record subway maps on the ground, signposts and street locations. Just remember if they’re really beautiful to shoot them with your DSLR as well.
4. If you get in an accident with your car, take lots of camera photos! Your insurance company will love you if you do.
5. A number of banks will actually allow you to deposit checks to your account simply by photographing the check. If you are out on assignment, and nowhere near your bank, this is a tremendous asset. Ask your bank if they have this function. If not, find a bank that does.
6. And lastly, a particular favorite: if you’re out on a blind date, take a picture of him/her and send it out to your friends and let them weigh in! That can create a great deal of fun and be a great ice-breaker on a date. Or it can end the date pretty quickly too.
In the end, make sure you use your camera in as bright a light as you can. Shooting at sunset or sunrise will yield a lot of noise, particularly in large monotone areas like sky. And if you’re going to print the files, make the prints small. Your image might look great on the screen, but they will very likely look terrible on paper. A camera phone can be a lot of fun for a lot of different reasons, but don’t mistake it for a camera. It’s a lot of things and has added tremendous value to our lives. Enjoy what it brings to the table, but as a professional, make sure you don’t confuse it with the real thing!