Top prize to anyone who knows the song that has given the title to this chapter of my blog. Answer later.
Like many kids after Christmas, I’ve been playing with a new toy. In many aspects of life, I am what they call a “serial monogamist”. I tend to stick with what I like, which is usually something that works for me,. It was usually chosen after hours and hours of careful deliberation. The toy on this occasion is (only) the 3rd “smartphone” I’ve ever owned. It’s an iPhone 7 Plus.
When I bought my iPhone 4, life had me working increasingly as a one-man band, needing to be self-supporting with data and access to information. Its camera was, to me back then, just an extra, and a very optional one at that. If pressed, I’d use it as a visual notebook, but that was about it. After all, I had “real cameras” if I wanted anything serious, didn’t I? And I’d still maintain that that was a justifiable point of view, even then.
Upgrading to an iPhone 6 was a game-changer. I’d gone freelance. The trainer wheels were off, as it were, and in the areas of work I was involved in, particularly early on, there was a premium on being versatile, mobile and, above all, to have backup in case of disasters. You learn as you go along, and the lessons can be hard. Like turning up to a shoot, seventy miles from home, with both of my DSLR cameras, both minus their batteries, which were being recharged – back at home. No time to get there and back, no one to borrow from. The shoot had to be done with the iPhone. And it was. And it was fine. And I lived to fight another day. And I was impressed.
In past blogs here I’ve made no secret of how attached I had become to that iPhone. Possibly a quarter of the images in my recent exhibition began life as iPhone 6 frames. I do a lot of image stitching to make larger, detailed panoramas etc, but there were even a few shots in that show that were simple, single iPhone frames. OK, the image resolution may have been pushed up before they were printed, but the basic images used were very fit for purpose from the outset.
And now, I’ve taken delivery of Apple’s current flagship, the 7 Plus. It’s larger, but still perfectly pocket-able. A number of reviews I’d read while wondering whether to take the plunge assured me that in many ways, the 7 Plus was the “photographer’s phone”. I’m now testing the thing to see if I believe that. This blog is only a first instalment. I’ll keep you posted about how we get on.
I’ve struggled with illness and injury recently, and my opportunities to get out and shoot old haunts has been a little limited. That’s not been helped by major construction work along the River Medway path to create a cycleway, involving months of path closure – and months more still to come. However, that’s a story for another day. And then, life’s fruit machine came up with a row of cherries this week when I found myself both fit enough and ready to put the iPhone 7 Plus though its paces, on a brilliantly clear, cold and utterly, utterly still morning somewhere along the river path where access was still possible. Believe me, it was a belter of a morning!
I’d pretty much set the ‘phone and its apps up from the backup of my iPhone 6. I’d fussed around trying unsuccessfully to find a replacement for my favourite mobile stitching app, Autostitch. That’s still a work in progress. You’ll find some scathing reviews in the App Store of some of the turkeys I’ve tried to use, by the way. I have PTGui on my iMac at home, which I still rate as the best image stitcher for that combination of speed, quality and versatility, but often, I want to produced some joined up work while out and about, and I’d had a very happy relationship for over five years with the original Autostitch. It’s gone because Google bought out the company that made it, and then stopped offering it. Thanks a bunch.
That aside, my “in-phone” camera app needs are modest, and restricted to simple adjustments, cropping, etc. Oh, and storage space. The 16gb of my iPhone6 might have sounded adequate when it was new, but I’m now in a world where I have 128gb at my fingertips. I have also to keep reminding myself that my “workhorse” Nikon cameras are 12 megapixel models, and that I now have a “mobile phone” with a camera boasting that same number. OK, on a tiny sensor, but wow!
I also didn’t set out to do “this was then and this is now” head to head comparisons. What’s the point? I wanted to test out whether I could live with the new girl and whether, when I pressed her buttons, she came up with the goods.
The button pressed most often is, of course, the on-screen shutter button. On many occasions, I’ve been grateful for the simulated shutter sound the earlier iPhones provided to confirm a photo had been taken, and for the ability to turn this off when doing more candid work. What got me was that the iPhone 7 Plus was, by default, silent. Full 30 minutes of experimentation failed to uncover how to make the shutter make the shutter noise, and I eventually resorted to an online search. This reassured me that I most certainly wasn’t alone in my frustration and wonderment at what Apple had been thinking. The remedy is there to be had, but finding it is utterly unintuitive. I’ll leave you that joy yourself if you’re making the same upgrade.
And can any adult in their right mind tell me what Apple’s “Live Photo” thing is for? I was warned to turn it off, because it degrades images shot in low light, and the images taken with it comprise a piece of video and then a jpeg file. What? This eats up storage on the phone like mad, and on any device you download to. The articles advising on this “innovation” said that you can turn it off, but forgot to mention that, as soon as you next turn the iPhone 7 camera back on, “Live Photo” turns itself back on too. Again, there is a solution if you delve deeper. Intuitive it is, once again, sadly not. I’ll leave you to search that one, too.
But, oh the image quality! Initially, I thought (sceptic that I can be) that the larger screen, and a Retina screen at that, might have been flattering what I was taking. As I mentioned, the day was blessed with possibly the most perfect conditions I’ve ever experienced out by the river, and I was prepared to be flattered. However, downloading stuff when I got home revealed that I was indeed mining pure gold.
I shot occasionally in the “mono” setting, in keeping with a New Year resolution to shoot more black and whites.
Four images were stitched in PTGui to produce this. It’s a nice, classical, monochrome image at one level. But look how the 7Plus has even been able to capture underwater detail in the centre foreground. There was nothing like a polariser filter involved, and no post production editing save stitching and cropping.
The Medway where I was shooting was quite astonishingly clear that morning. At one place I stood, I could see leaves very clearly through more than a foot of water. There was a branch reflected in that water, and I wondered if, by chance, the 7Plus could catch both. There was going to be a “depth of field” pun in there somewhere originally. This was a test passed with flying, if rather muted, colours.
Remember, this is a mobile ‘phone camera, being used hand-held we’re talking about!
I’m also (predictably) a fan of the “panorama” facility in the standard Camera app on the iPhone. Here’s the stretch of the Medway I was shooting on the day in question. One sweep, a single panoramic frame:
This episode has become more than long enough. I’ll stop here, but, like Arnie, “I will be back”.
Oh, and the song behind this time’s title? “Better Things” is by Ray Davies of the Kinks. He got awarded a knighthood in the recent New Year Honours. He’s long been one of my heroes, and I was slightly sad he didn’t tell them where to stuff it.