iPhone 4, iOS 5, and Photography

I have sold all of my camera gear: Canon 35mm f/1.4 L, Canon 20D, Sony NEX-5, Canon S90 (lost this one in South Korea actually), and accessories over time. Now I am left with the camera in my iPhone 4. There is truth to the saying that the best camera is the one you have with you. No matter how exceptional the other camera is, if it is in the closet when you need it, it is of absolutely no use. I’ve found this to be true so many times and decided that extra camera gear is not necessary since I will almost always have my iPhone 4 with me when I need to take pictures.

The announcements made during WWDC 2011 were exciting, but the improvements to photography that Apple has made and will make available in iOS 5 are noteworthy. I couldn’t wait to fiddle with iOS 5 so I took the route of downloading the iOS 5 beta, restoring my iPhone 4, and bypassing the security stuff. I must say pressing a physical button (the volume up button in this case) is a much more satisfying experience than touching the screen.

There is one thing though. I’m right handed. I have my iPhone 4 in my left pocket, use my left hand to take it out, and hold it with my left hand. My right hand does all the multitouch gestures. In this scenario I almost always flip the bottom of the phone up toward my right hand (counter clockwise) when I want it in landscape mode. I think this is just a habit, which was formed because I instinctively think the screen-based shutter button should be right where the physical Home button is, in both portrait and landscape orientations. I don’t think this will continue to be a problem once I get used to using the volume-up button as a shutter, but I just wanted to point out that this new feature will require a change in habit for me.

Now this isn’t an original idea by Apple. Taptaptap had this exact feature on an older version of its Camera+ iPhone camera app. I wish I had purchased Camera+ before Apple decided the volume-up-button-as-shutter feature wasn’t acceptable. It’s quite ironic that Apple has brought the feature back, essentially tearing it off from Camera+ and adding it into its own Camera app. The reason for Apple’s disapproval was that this feature required altering hard-coded functions for physical buttons, which was (and still is?) a no-no. I’m not certain that Apple will allow third-party developers to change physical button functions when iOS 5 ships, but here’s hoping Taptaptap will be able to incorporate back the volume-up-button-as-shutter feature in a future release. One feature that makes Camera+ my go-to camera app over the built-in Camera app is the dynamic adjustments, by touch, of focus and aperture. This is absolutely brilliant.

Apple has taken a different approach in the iOS 5 Camera app by allowing you to lock both focus and exposure and compose the shot. I haven’t played around with this as much as I wanted to, but it seems focus and exposure are linked. Unlike Camera+ you can’t independently manipulate focus and exposure. I don’t know which method I like better but right now I’m leaning toward the implementation found in Camera+: independently manipulating focus and aperture seems to work better for me.

The next feature dovetails well with why the iPhone is the best camera: press the Home button twice and you’re presented with the usual media playback controls, the unlock slider, and now a camera icon. Touch the camera icon and Apple’s Camera app launches saving you precious seconds to grab that photo. One of the reasons why it’s so great to have a camera with you all the time is that inspiration strikes whenever. And when whenever happens sometimes it doesn’t last very long. So the combination of an iPhone 4 that you always have with you and quick access to the Camera app works well together to quickly capture that inspirational moment. I wonder if you can change the default camera app to something else…

To conclude, the new features in iOS 5 greatly enhance the attractiveness of the iPhone 4 as a photography tool. Not all are unique, like the volume-up-button-as-shutter feature, but all the enhancements together solidifies the iPhone 4 as the best camera that you will almost always carry with you. That’s definitely the case for me. iOS 5 can’t come soon enough.

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