Is My iPhone Good Enough for Travelling?

Every trip I am faced with a dilemma.  What camera do I bring?  Trust in my big DSLR or hope for the best with my tiny iPhone.  It’s always a balance between convenience, quality and connectivity.  Every trip is different and I have to carefully weigh these three considerations when making the final decision on what photography gear to bring.

Convenience

There are several highly-skilled photographers in my family.  The camera is massive. The lenses are massive.  The tripod has to be massive to hold the camera and the lens.  They have numerous accessories and expensive, complicated software to process their photos. They are careful and calculated and concerned with things like white balance, aperture, depth of field and everything else that real photographers know about taking stunning photos.  And their photos are. Absolutely. Stunning.

I am not one of those people.  My photos are often taken quickly, with very little set up because I’m on the move.  Some of my photos are taken from bus windows.  Sometimes, there are people walking through the frame and sometimes we’ve arrived in a place and it’s dark or foggy or snowing.  Sometimes they’re slightly out-of-focus or a little blown out. There’s also the fact that I don’t want to be a target for opportunists so carrying around a lot of expensive gear might not be the safest idea.  And of course, weight is a factor.  I’m often backpacking and there is no way on God’s green Earth I am lugging along a tripod and three lenses on an 18-mile hike or when there is a weight restriction on baggage.

There’s also the DSLR learning curve to consider if you are not already a proficient photographer.  Whereas learning a new app is usually pretty simple, especially if you have basic photography knowledge.

Quality

But I still want great photos.  And I think everyone can agree that mobile photography can be good but it can also be really bad.  The size and quality of the photos from the phone just don’t compare with the quality and potential corrections available in Photoshop or Lightroom on a laptop with the larger RAW files from my DSLR.  So what can make it better?  What can I do to enhance my mobile photos?  These photos will not be printed or sold; they will be stored online and posted in my blog, on my Facebook page and emailed to friends.  For this, I don’t need the high-quality photos of my DSLR.  For this, I would like to get higher-quality photos from my phone.

Connectivity

I currently have an iPhone 5 and there are some features I like about it that my DSLR can’t do.  It has time-lapse and slow motion – both fun to use for videos.  And it’s very quick and convenient to be able to edit and upload the photos from my phone to social media immediately.  All of which I cannot do with my DSLR.

So after doing some research, I took a chance and invested in the iPro Lens System for my iPhone.  This starter kit gave me three lenses – a macro, a telephoto x2 and a super wide angle.  The iPhone already has a fairly wide angle shot and the panoramic mode is quite interesting to use.  The super-wide lens is between the two.  These lens securely mount onto the phone case that is included in the kit, with a simple twist.  Other, cheaper lenses are on offer but they are magnetic and could fall off if bumped.  In comparison reviews, the lower quality of the cheaper lenses is noticeable as well.  The iPro system is from Schneider Optics, which is known for high-quality lenses.  But they are also considerably more expensive.  iPro makes a phone case for each of the iPhones as well as the Samsung Galaxy S4.

The kit looks like this:

2016-03-01 18.36.51
The kit comes with a phone case that has a mount for the lenses, a super wide angle, a macro and a telephoto x2 lens as well as a storage cylinder.

And when it’s all set up, it looks like this:

All Set Up

I’ve had this little gorillapod tripod for years, having used it with my numerous point-and-shoot cameras, and the headphones are the ones that have the volume control on the wire.  Pressing the Volume+ button acts as a shutter release.  This way, you don’t need to worry about shaking the camera when pressing the screen.

I kept the photos below in a large format because I wanted you to be the judge of the quality for yourself.  This was a huge question I had.  When I enlarged the image to fit my 17″ laptop and the large feature image as the header of my blog, would they still retain their resolution?   Would it still look good?  If I needed to correct the colours, was there enough info to work with?

So, here’s what I came up with.  (Note:  These shots don’t have great composition because I was more concerned with the resolution of the image than composing a beautiful photo.)

The Macro Lens

Macro with Phone
This is a macro shot of a rock with lichen on it. This was as close as the phone alone could handle.
Phone with Macro Lens
This was as close as the phone could get with the macro lens. Notice that the photo is much closer but there are numerous sections out of focus.
Phone with Macro Lens and HDR App
This is with the macro lens as well as using the Pro HDR X app for higher dynamic resolution. There is more in focus and the colours are vibrant.

What I learned about the macro is that macro lenses have a very narrow depth of field.  Using the Pro HDR X app allowed me to focus on three different distances and the app combined the three photos into one.  It’s not perfectly focused but I’m still happy with results considering it’s my first try.

The Telephoto Lens

Phone Alone Zoomed In
This photo was taken with the phone’s camera zoomed in to its maximum distance. On a mobile device, it looks fine but on a larger screen, it becomes grainy.
Phone with Telephoto Lens
Phone with telephoto lens zoomed in. Much closer but the quality is quite bad.
Phone Alone
Here is the same photo taken with just the phone camera, not zoomed in at all. The quality is much better and the photo can be enlarged to certain degree and remain a decent photo.
Phone with Telephoto Lens No Zoom
This is taken with the telephoto lens, not zoomed in. The photo is not as close as it is when zoomed in but the quality is higher so edits can be done and the integrity of the photo still remains fairly in tact.

What I learned about the telephoto lens is that you get a better quality photo using the telephoto lens instead of the in-camera zoom.  Here is another example.

Clover and Her Stick
Just the phone camera was used in this photo.
Clover and Her Stick Up Close
Here is the same shot from the same distance using the telephoto lens.

 

The Super Wide Lens

Sunset on Sunday Lake
This was taken with just the phone. The focus was my bad; the phone shook when I took the picture.
Super Wide Sunset
This is the sunset with the super wide lens. I had to move the phone to the left because the wide angle was so wide that I was getting part of the gazebo in the frame. (You can still see it in the corner.)
Winter Scene
Here is another picture from just the phone.
Super Wide Winter Scene
This is the same scene with the super wide lens.
Wide Angle Winter Scene Edit
Here is the same shot with some editing to straighten it out and to make the colours a little more vibrant. This is closer to what it really looked like.

The verdict?  Well, it all depends on what you’re looking for but I am happy with the results so far.  Next weekend, I’ll be heading downtown to try my hand at some interesting street photography and find out more about what the lenses can and can’t do. I also have some learning to do with the new apps I’ve downloaded that try to mimic certain aspects of real photography.

Other Considerations

A couple of other issues arose as well.  Taking photos in the cold weather drained my battery very quickly.  Some winter hikers put adhesive toe warmers onto the back of the phone to keep it warm and save the battery.  Others store it in an inside pocket.  Buying a backup battery pack is definitely something I need to do.

The other important thing to consider is storage.  I hadn’t emptied my camera roll before going to the cottage and I ran out of space within 50 photos.   This becomes an issue if you are travelling somewhere where there is little or no connectivity.  If you can’t upload your photos to Drive or Dropbox or whatever online storage you have, what happens when you run out of space?   The first is a Leef iBridge 32BG Flash Pen Drive and the second is a SanDisk iXpand 32GB Mobile Flash Drive.

 

The last thing I will say is that I will be upgrading to the iPhone 6 when my current contract is up since reviews say that the camera in the 6 is far superior.  Luckily, I will only have to buy a new iPro case to go with the new phone and not the whole kit again.

I’m just learning about how to take better phone photos but if you have more info to add or apps to recommend, I would love to hear about them.  As of right now, I’m the only one I know that has these lenses and who is trying to enhance my mobile photos so any advice is appreciated.

 

 

 

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