Mark Llobrera

Marius Masalar: “iPhone 11 Camera Retrospective”

I’ve long enjoyed Marius Masalar’s observations about photography gear and workflows, and his latest post looking back at a year spent with the iPhone 11 is written from a perspective that mirrors many of my photography concerns. I appreciate a good long-term review—lots of details usually float up to the surface after someone has used a tool over time, details that may have gone unnoticed early on.

I was particularly interested in how Marius felt about the iPhone as a replacement for an everyday camera. He’s shot with both the Fujifilm X100 and Rich GR-series cameras, which are prime-lens models that generally fall into the always-with-me category. Here’s what he had to say:

  • The iPhone is turning a corner where its unique combination of hardware and software prowess make it an objectively superior casual camera even for professional photographers

I want to dwell on that last point for a bit. Like other people in the tech community, I’ve been reflecting on my usage of the iPhone as a casual camera. In my case, it would serve as a replacement to a dedicated casual camera like the Ricoh GR III. This is obviously not a common situation among general users, but I suspect many photographers find themselves at a similar crossroads.

For the last 12-plus years I’ve always had some form of dedicated camera (currently a Fujifilm X-T30), ranging from dSLRs to fixed-lens compacts to mirrorless interchangeable-lens models. My phone, on the other hand, is a first-generation SE. The output is not great unless I’m in good light—when Marius talks about previous iPhone output being “a low-fidelity sketch of a scene, not something worthy of display”, I feel that. It’s getting long in the tooth, though, so I find myself asking whether an iPhone 12 mini might be a good replacement. And if it is, is it simply a replacement for my phone, or something more?

I wish Marius had spent a little more time unpacking the intersection of size/image quality/processing/haptics that he touches on here:

The Ricoh produces nicer output, but that output requires more editing effort to achieve. It’s comfier to hold and shoot with, but it’s another thing to carry, small as it may be. Besides, if I’m bringing a dedicated camera, why not bring my main camera with me for maximum quality?

Judging from the output of recent iPhones, we’ve largely hit the sufficiency mark for image quality—most folks can take a pretty good photo with an iPhone (or Google Pixel, for that matter) in an ever-expanding range of situations. The three-lens (wide/normal/telephoto) setup of the iPhones Pro is close enough in spirit to the 28mm/50mm/90mm setup that I used to shoot with, with the advantage of being able to swap focal lengths with a swipe. Going from shot to processing to posting all happens on one device, which is still something you can’t do on a dedicated camera unless you have around $6K.

On the other hand: I still love composing with a viewfinder. I love the tactile dials on Fuji cameras—seriously, just look at that newest X100V. It’s also nice to separate photography from the many other distractions on my phone.

I think in the near future my strategy might involve using an iPhone (probably a used 11 or 11 Pro, now that folks are selling theirs for the latest models) for wide-angle shots and video, and using a dedicated camera for everything else.