I hear it all the time. “How do you compete with cell phone cameras?” The answer is kind of simple.
Cell phone cameras, like the point and shoot cameras that preceded them, were designed for the consumer market. Not the professional market. By in large, cell phone cameras today are in fact reasonably powerful tools. But they’re powerful tools that have been put into the hands of millions of people who have no idea how to take a picture.
Rest assured, professional photographers need not concern themselves about their futures out of fear of cell phones in the hands of the masses. Here are four reasons why you shouldn’t lose sleep over the advances in cell phone cameras.
Cameras are just tools
The first thing you must remember is that a camera is just a tool, the same way a nice set of pots and pans is to a chef or a pair of skates and a hockey stick are to a hockey player or a football to a football player.
Just because you have these great tools you aren’t suddenly going to be a great chef, hockey or football player — cameras don’t make photographs, photographers do. Pots and pans don’t make the meal, the chef does. The most important piece of gear in your arsenal is the one between your ears. Use it! No camera — cell phone or otherwise — is a substitute for your creative mind.
Manual control is very limited on most cell phone cameras
It’s difficult to get any sort of manual control over your camera phones controls. The only real option is exposure compensation as the bulk of the camera’s functions are controlled automatically.Many professionals want complete control over a scene and it’s near impossible to achieve that kind of control with a cell phone.
What this means is, a cell phone camera’s photos are largely left up to the whims of the computer controlling the camera and most of the desired results end up being achieved in post, rather than in-camera.
That said, there are apps out there that will allow you to control your camera manually. One in particular is called RAW+ and you can get it from the Apple App store. It allows manual control over most of the cameras functions from white balance, shutter speed, ISO and focal length.
It is nice to know that programs like this exist in case I want that kind of control over my phone’s camera. The interface is intuitive, but the reality is, most consumers won’t bother with an app like this. They’ll be much more interested in just pointing and shooting.
Computational photography has its limitations
Interpolative and computational photography are very cool technologies and they’re rampant in cell phones. But they’re still imperfect and those imperfections can rear their ugly heads in the most bizarre ways.
Portrait mode is definitely a thing that allows cell phone camera users to separate the subject from the background. It’s a cool piece of computational photography tech, but it’s imperfect in a way that an optical lens simply can’t be.
A good example is this image where I used portrait mode and focused on the wine glass below. The cell phone’s computer did a good job identifying the “bulb” of the glass, but look at the stem … what stem? This sort of thing will happen with subjects other than people all the time. With optical lenses, you won’t experience this issue.
Controlling an external flash and achieve the look you desire is difficult with a cell phone camera
One of the single most important ways professionals differentiate themselves from amateurs is with external flash. Professionals like to manage lighting of a scene is with external flash units. There are continuous lighting and semi strobe units out there like the Profoto C1 and C1 Plus that will allow the photographer to control the lighting of a scene. But without manual control over the camera itself, it can still be difficult to achieve the precise look you want in your image.
If you’re going to go that far out of your way to light a scene, then why would you do it with your iPhone?
To wrap up this article, I’d like to make one other very important point. Recognizing again that the camera is just a tool, I would like to remind everyone that in the right hands, a skilled photographer can in fact capture amazing images with a cell phone. It’s not just the tool in your hands that matters, the one between your ears matters considerably more.