9.15.2021

The iPhone 13 Pro is the final, critical piece in phone photography's near total dominance of the camera market. Not a satire.

 


Early on, in the first years of Apple's iPhones, I was a skeptic and thought we'd never hit a point at which the vast, vast, vast majority of camera users would not only find a phone camera to be acceptable for serious daily work but would also prefer using a phone to using even the finest and most fully equipped, standalone camera. But that's where we are right now. Today. 

For me the tide started to turn with the introduction of the Apple 10 (X) cameras. I bought an iPhone XR and even though that phone camera is limited to a one lens camera it has proven itself as good in many video shooting situations as the best hybrid cameras (which with their lenses cost four or five times more!). I skipped the next two iterations of iPhones because I felt certain that the next tipping point would come with the inclusion of a good, longer tele focal length. That just happened on the Apple iPhone 13 and 13 Pro.

After I played with the XR for a while I added a few things to the package to make it even more useful. Things like Filmic Pro video software and also an app more aimed at photography; Halide. On the hardware front I added a phone gimbal for shooting moving video. Over time that phone has progressed up the ladder of usability to match most cameras for video and casual photography for me. The one step I looked for was the lens and now both models of the Pro 13 lines have the same capability. One no longer has to buy the larger "Max" version to get the lens and camera performance potential at the current state of the art. 

While hardware and firmware, as evidenced in the new line of iPhones, has progressed both rapidly and steadily so has widespread professional acceptance of the content being generated. It's not a race for equivalency, it's a race to replace one form of imaging as the dominant and historic style with a newer and highly accessible, even more kinetic style of imaging. And one that is very accessible to the masses in middle class and wealthy countries around the world.

Photography as I practiced it ten, twenty and thirty years ago is pretty much dead now. Frequent shows of prints in galleries, and print sales to individuals seem absolutely passé. In the days of pension funds and three martini lunches nearly everyone got their doses of photography from printed magazines like Life, Look, National Geographic, Vogue, etc. We had a de facto standard to aim for.  Most magazines are now either gone or reduced in their reach and demographic. Almost everyone is accessing photography via their phone screens, iPads, Laptops, and, for us older users, our desktop computers. Even outdoor media which used to be the final argument for high resolution cameras have ceded the battlefield to large, bright video screens. 

You may think, when watching some of the promo video footage from Apple that it's all just propaganda and advertising, and that all filmmakers and video producers are using twenty thousand dollar lenses on one hundred thousand dollar cameras to shoot their projects. I have some insight into those fields by dint of having friends who make feature films and others who make corporate videos and commercials. Yes, maybe the top tenth of one percent of feature movies are done with heroic and pricy gear. The next tier down, say a competent Netflix original series, might use Canon C300ii cameras or something similar, but a fair number are being done on smaller and cheaper video cameras (Panasonic S1H) and many, many times the b-roll scenes, drone shot scenes and much more were already being shot on various vintages of iPhones. The revolution has been happening in the background for the last eight or so years. 

Why is the 13 Pro another major inflection point? There are a lot of reasons. Mostly because the image quality has become so good. Another reason is the almost transparent ease of use. The ability to override consumer interfaces and install professional controls. The almost universal familiarity with the interface.  For an extremely potent and easy to use content camera the phones are dirt cheap. If the drone hits the lake you might have to write off a phone but given it's water resistance ratings you'll probably be okay if you salvage the camera quickly and don't let it sink more than five or six feet. At the thousand dollar price point they become both replaceable and, on the other hand, the pricing makes it easy to use multiple phones simultaneously to capture various P.O.V.s and as "crash cams." With the latest version the screens are better, the refresh rates are better, the colors are better and the processing is better (best).  Add to all this the ability to share files anywhere and almost instantaneously.

These will be the first phone cameras to make use of ProRes raw codecs for video recording. This is huge for professional editors. The 4K ProRes codec  is the coin of the realm in professional video. Added to all this is the fact that the new iPhone 13s are computational powerhouses. Already things like video refocus and computational focus pulls from the cinematic mode are features that are currently undoable with other cameras. All other cameras. 

But I get that most of you don't really care about any camera's video capabilities. If you buy a camera only to shoot still images and text your spouse why should you care? But even seen just as still photography cameras the new phones are awesome. The same computational capabilities means you can control the look and feel of each frame to a much greater extent. With new lenses, new sensors and new on chip focusing the only thing the new cameras give up to our regular cameras are pixel size ( which could mean more noise....unless you are shooting static subjects and then the camera will use its computer power to sample many multiple frames and through out noise on the fly) and total resolution. Oh, an lens interchangeability.

For the few of you who still print seriously the higher pixel count of dedicated cameras will probably still make a big difference. For everyone else? Not so much. Why? Because the vast, vast, overwhelming majority of the images generated from now, and into the future, will be targeted to iPhone screens, iPad screens and computer screens. Currently, anything higher than 8 to 12 megapixels will basically have information tossed in the garbage cans of compression and dynamic resizing. 

It was the moment after I saw the final Apple presentation that I knew my predictions about photography were right. Images are now a consumable and not a physical collectible, object. Cameras have superseded photography as "the" hobby. So we long time practitioners will find it hard to give up the pursuit of gear. For artists who just want to capture the images they need the phone is the tool they will want. 

Yep. I'll be first in line to pre-order a 13 Pro (not the Pro Max --- the only difference this time is screen size and battery life). This time around I'll opt for the 512 GB version so I can record lots and lots of 4K ProRes footage. Not for "A" camera interview footage but for cutaways, b-roll, establishing footage and documentary reportage that does not require high production quality sound (although easy enough to do with a separate recorder...). 

And when I finish a production I'll stick the "camera" in my trouser pocket and walk away. 

Does this mean we're going into a full on "cult adaptation" mode with the phone? Naw. I'll keep the Leicas and the pricy lenses around for all those times when I get nostalgic or when I want to make a big print just to prove to myself I can still do it. But for a quick shot of ...... just about anything, anywhere, I'll probably just pull out the phone. Even if the big camera is hanging off my shoulder on a strap. 

You'll likely think of all kinds of reasons why I am misguided, wrong, delusional, too trendy, too quick to try new stuff, have no respect for tradition, or whatever your label might be. You can take pot shots at the messenger but it won't change the fast moving, glacial momentum paradigm in photography. 

We're all amateurs now. We're all destined to be phone camera shooters. But as hobbyists we can, of course, retain the right to shoot with whatever we want. Wet Plate cameras, medium format film cameras, 4x5 film cameras, big Sonys, fast Canons, stately Leicas. But when it all gets crunched down onto a screen we'll probably all be wishing we'd left the big cameras at home and just brought along one of the new phones....

Future arrived. One more blow to traditional camera form. 

Now to find the right Domke strap for my new phone.....

Added after initial publication: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3CZX-lnAIc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKfgdkcIUxw


27 comments:

Anonymous said...

I too feel like this is a turning point. The 12 Pro was almost there. The 13 Pro looks like what we've been hoping for. A lot of older, "real" cameras will be hitting the used shelves in short order. I guess that could be a mixed blessing. One 13 Pro in the pocket and you are ready for a wide range of projects.

Anonymous said...

I photograph moments. My subjects are almost never still or posed. And so far I have found phones too clumsy or slow to capture what I want to shoot. Maybe I should transition to video.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Yes. In the past you found phones too slow. In the past I found using lots of cameras was a slow slow process. Like focusing a wide angle lens on a view camera... But this is a new model with speed improvements everywhere. Perhaps you should try it before you abdicate photography entirely for video. Then again, it might be just the video camera you are looking for.

Frank Grygier said...

When will stop calling them phones?

crsantin said...

Yesterday was my wife's birthday. We went out for a nice dinner. I took a portrait of her using my iPhone 11 Pro max. I'm very happy with it. It's as good as anything I could have done with a traditional camera. I'm using my iPhone more and more when I head out now. I still love traditional cameras and I'll always own several but I'm absolutely convinced by the capabilities of my iPhone. I may keep a specialty camera and a few lenses around in the future. Maybe something special and unique like the Fuji X100 or something similar. Otherwise, it will most likely be my phone from this point forward. Video as well. The iPhone is terrific for video and so easy to use.

Anonymous said...

Kirk

Until today I have considered smartphones, to quote JC, "a tool of the Devil". Don't have one and haven't needed one. There are work arounds. Up to and including go to where the person is you want to talk to, sit down with a cup of whatever, and talk. Carry a moderate amount of cash. Some people here know the drill.

But the telephoto seems to be useful. The examples, stills and video, of all three cameras are excellent. The specs are to die for. Who knows, this may push me over the edge. I do think new cameras like the GR IIIx are going to have a harder time. Maybe traditional cameras will be relegated to medium and long telephotos for birds, other wildlife, and sports.

Jay

J Williams said...

I'm not much on video but it has seemed to me that in recent years the area where iphones were making serious inroads was more in video than in still imaging. Now with this latest iphone it seems they have a good grasp on both stills and video. I would have liked to see the 3 lens setup something like 26, 50, 77 and just use panning and stitching for the UWA needs, but I'm sure I can get along with Apple's choices for lenses. I've still got my iphone XS, but this may be the model that makes me upgrade. Like you I'm glad to see I don't have to buy the oversized Max model to get the latest camera in my phone. I may even get the new watch to go along with the new phone. I recently bought a M1 Mac mini just to see what all the M1 hype was about and I must say I'm impressed. I've never had a Mac before, just iphones and ipads. Apples is on a roll it seems.

Anonymous said...

I watched the Apple keynote presentation in it's entirety shortly after it was released. As usual, Apple made compelling appeals for their latest products. But how much they'd improve my life is another matter! I found the demo of iPhone 13 Pro's predictive focus tracking fascinating, but haven't got the foggiest idea what I'd do with it. In any event, I'll likely get that feature and more by the time I actually do need to buy a new phone (iPhone 16 Pro?). Until then, iPhone 11 is still my "new" phone, and if I haven't used it to create a cinematic masterpiece, it's probably not due to my lack of a newer phone.

Jeff in Colorado

Justin Blakie said...

Kia ora Kirk, I too was fascinated by the latest device launched by Apple. the camera and the video upgrades are very enticing. Like many the iphone will soon be replacing my dedicated camera gear for most of my photography. What holds me back is some of the compromises eg limited tele reach. There are also some details that may be offputting for some too - focus breathing in video cinema mode. Marques Brownlee, one of the better youtube personalities noted this https://youtu.be/C4sAUc_ZGMY . How much of these sort of things deter people from only using a phone is up to them. But for most image makers the phone is the tool to use. i look forward to seeing more of your camera photography and updates on your experiences using one in future posts.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

I haven't checked yet but I'm curious to find out if we can use Apple Watches as remote controls and remote monitors for our cameraphones. That would be great.

Anonymous said...

Kirk, do you have any idea who makes the phone grip/handle shown in the first link you posted? I have a clamp for tripod use but would like a real grip for general use.

TMJ said...

It's very exciting, video is important to me. I wonder which version of ProRes will be offered.? It should make editing smoother; currently I use Resolve, which handles Pro Res nicely. Just add a good quality gimbal to the iPhone 13 Pro and you're done.

Alternatively, add a large bag of frozen peas to an R5.

TMJ said...

And thank you for the videos.
I shall pre-order tomorrow.

Craig Yuill said...

I am not sure that the iPhone 13 is the great technology changer you make it out to be. It elevates the technology to be sure. But smartphones in general became the main still and video cameras for people years ago. Is the ‘13’ really that much better than the ‘12’ or ‘11’? Director Steven Soderbergh used an even earlier model of iPhone to shoot one of his feature movies. And I doubt the ‘13’ will be any good for situations where long-telephotos are needed, or where video needs to be taken in rather low light. Recent cameras with state-of-the-art sensors should do much better in those circumstances.

That said, it is good to see smartphone photo and video capabilities increase over time. I have certainly have enjoyed taking photos and video clips with my iPhone 11. I just wish the premium models didn’t carry the same price tag that some MacBook Pros do.

Anonymous said...

Agree. With both ProRES and ProRAW (love it for stills even in Lightroom ;-) you only need similar capabilities for Audio.

A separate recorder may be interesting, but I often use the Shure MV88+ videokit instead (connects digitally to iPhone and Android, and has it’s own headphones output). The interesting thing is up to 24bit/48 kHz WAV format stereo/dual channel M-S/mono. Also inside FiLMiC Pro on iPhone; a simple in-Ear headphone for monitoring, and you’re go. The settings can be locked, if required, and the systems works on any USB-2 capable computer. The real ringer is MS-recording, that allows you to adjust the stereo perspective all the way from wide to perfect mono (no phase problems) AFTER the fact (kind of the audio equivalent of ProRES for video and ProRAW for stills). You do not have to do anything but connect the critter to reap all the benefits under FiLMiC Pro. Sound is gooood!

Regards, have fun

Anonymous said...

@Kirk FiLMiC Pro has a remote control,App, that allows you to fully control an iPhone from another (or an iPad with the benefit of larger screen and “buttons” for the sausage-fingered parts of humanity ;-)

Anonymous said...

For one-man-band situations, I use the Zoom F2-BT (32-bit float) to place on talent (using lavalier) or on tripod or boom (using I.e. Røde VideMic NTG). The Zoom is extremely small - any iPhone is a gigant in comparison - and the special preamps make recording level adjustments completely superfluous (it’s even impossible - the mike will probably die long before overloading the Zoom recorder;-) It’s the perfect power-on and forget tool for one-man video recording situations. Use one for each talent, if needed.

Regards

granitix / Longviewer said...

I've been thinking that with a few more (silicon not camera) improvements, the 4k-6k video 'screen capture' will be plenty good enough for stills. Once the global-shutter era arrives (again silicon) we're probably there. Then the shutter button can be just another Fn and the Red Button wins out. Shocking for us elderfolk, just another update for the younger ones.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Exactly.

Richard Jones said...

Thanks for your perspective on phone photography!

About 8 years or so ago, I became aware that phone photography was something to be reckoned with. It was on an annual desert outing, and a friend was photographing with his phone. I asked to see some of the images, and was quite surprised at how nice they were. On the phone screen, of course. I asked if he would send me a few, and when I looked at them on my computer screen, they didn't look very good blown up. I understand that today's phone cameras are better. Yet the on-line galleries that I've seen still display the images at just 1000px or so.

(Viewing at small sizes is also the norm with on-line sites, such as Instagram.)

Here are the 2020 Mobile Photography and Art International Competition winners:

https://mobilephotoawards.com/10th-annual-mpa-winners-honorable-mentions/

The artistry is superb without question.

(If you r-click on an image and select "image properties" you see some EXIF and name of phone displayed.)


-Richard



Mel said...

There are golfers who continue to use wooden clubs (actual wood, not the metal "woods" prevalent today) because they like being close to the history and culture of the sport. I'm pleased that film continues to exist because I also like being in touch with the history and foundation of the photography craft. But I agree - images are a consumable and as such people deserve the means to make them that is the best fit for their lifestyle. Kudos to Apple for continuing to recognize this and design tools to fit. Now more than ever people can do what I was taught in photography school - show people something they might not ever see or see in a different way what they encounter every day.

Robert Roaldi said...

A few people I know, including myself, feel no need to be accessible 24/7 by phone/text and may in fact prefer not to be. Maybe they could release versions of these things that don't have phone or texting apps embedded in them, just some way to upload the photos/videos. Would such a product qualify as a point & shoot digicam? (Tongue-in-cheek.)

Richard said...

@Rbert Roaldi. They could do that but it would cost more due to lower sales. But the simple way is to just buy the phone and not put a SIM card in and turn off notifications for any message apps you can’t uninstall and so on.

bp_reid said...

As an aside; Might we soon reach a point where film cameras are more widely carried to augment phones than old fashioned, dedicated digital camera? It certainly seemed lt be heading that way at the arty 'Photo London' show last weekend.

Yoram Nevo said...

Hi Kirk. Your post reminds me that few years ago my friend at work was one of the first people in Israel with iphone 10. I read about the portrait mode (he didn't even know about it), so I put the camera on BW portrait mode and asked him to take a photo. I was amazed. It looked like an old school large format BW portrait. I must say that lighting conditions were terrible - office mixed neon and bulb light plus sunshine coming from the window. And also my friend is a really lousy photographer. I felt then that, like it or not, this is going to be our future

Gilly said...

Kirk you can definitely use your Apple Watch to control the camera on your iPhone. It shows what your camera sees and you can switch a few settings eg flash and HDR. If you have the watch just open the camera app or add it to your watch face.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Thanks Gilly, I'll try it right away. Much appreciated.