Smartphone as camera

Last week I spent 11 hours in a huge, crowded theme park. I saw rides, sweaty children, overpriced commemorative plastic cups and lots of people taking photographs. There was the occasional weirdo with a DSLR (who can navigate an amusement park with one of those monstrosities?), but most people were point-and-shoot photographers. And most of them were using phones.

As the camera optics in smartphones improve, I don’t know how camera manufacturers are going to keep up. I bought a Canon PowerShot about a year ago and rarely touch it. Why should I? My iPhone 4S is always with me. It’s got 8-megapixel resolution and a flash. It’s small, light and has decent storage. Plus, the iPhone lets me immediately edit and share photos in a huge number of ways. The Canon makes me wait until I’m home. Even then, I must connect to a computer, upload the photos, get them into an app and then work with them.

My own observations suggest that people use phones to take casual photographs more often than point-and-shoot cameras. That’s anecdotal, of course, so let’s look at some empirical data.

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Blurry iPhone 4S photos [Updated]

I’m a week into owning an iPhone 4S. It’s a great device, and I’ve been eager to play with the improved camera. I’ve only taken a handful of photos, but so far I’m a bit disappointed as I’m getting a lot of blurry pictures. The iPhone 4S camera seems very sensitive to motion, both on my part as the photographer and my subjects.

I’m not sure if the problem is me, the camera or bad practices, so here’s a look at what I’ve been shooting. Suggestions/comments welcome.

Updated with input from readers after the break.

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iCloud Photo Stream pushed me back to Camera+

For tweeting, at least.

iCloud’s Photo Stream feature is handy, in that it pushes photos shot with a compatible iPhone, iPad or iPod touch to Apple’s servers and then back to other authorized devices. Meanwhile, iOS 5 has tweeting built in, so there’s a temptation to shoot photo with Apple’s Camera app and then tweet it from the Camera Roll.

That’s fast and convenient, but also a hindrance. Specifically, my iPhone, iPad and Mac are now cluttered with space-hogging one-offs I shot for the sake of a tweet or a Facebook update. [1.  I know what you’re saying. “Stop shooting stupid crap for Twitter.” No.] What’s worse is that you can’t delete such throw-away photos from your Photo Stream with an iDevice. Instead, you’ve got to visit and click “Reset Photo Stream,” which nukes the lot, good and bad.  That’s why I’ve started using Camera+ again for tweeting pictures.

When Camera+ was released, it didn’t put a copy of each shot it captured into the Camera Roll. You could move photos to the Camera Roll manually, but it wasn’t automatic. Tap Tap Tap “fixed” this recently with an opt-in setting that I immediately enabled. I’ve since shut it back off.

I understand that I can tweet a photo with any number of Twitter apps, but the one I use on my iPhone, Twitterrific, places photos it shoots into the Camera Roll. I also realize that people who lack my impulse control problem only share photos they want to keep. For you, this is not a problem.

As for me, I want to share photos of my kids, etc. with my Photo Stream recipients, but I don’t want to clog up those machines with pictures of the dumb things I photograph at Burger King. Thanks to Tap Tap Tap for keeping this legacy “feature” intact.

iPhone 4 photos

I took some pictures with the iPhone 4 today. In my limited testing, I noticed that the Camera app launches much faster than it did on my 3GS. The auto-focus also seems more responsive. Overall, the picture quality is impressive, especially for a camera on a phone.

One issue stood out today. While shooting the general store in the gallery below, I had trouble with exposure. The store is white and on a cloudless day it really washed out. Once I got some dark leaves from a nearby tree in the frame, it looked better.

I shot outdoors (a bright, largely cloudless day) and indoors under fluorescent and natural light. I also shot up close and far away. I’ve still got to test low light conditions, digital zoom and video, so another post is forthcoming.

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The Photos app has some nice new features under iOS 4. Places works much like it does in iPhoto ’09. The iPhone will geotag photos it shoots and place them on a Google map. A pin appears on a location with associated images. Tap the pin and a thumbnail appears representing those images; tap it to open a gallery of just those shots. Photos tagged with a different camera and synced to the iPhone will also appear on the map.


If you’ve synced photos with Faces data, the Faces icon will appear at the bottom of the main Photos screen. Tap any face to open an album of related images.

You can re-size images shared via email or SMS. For example, when emailing the photo below, I could select between four sizes, including the original. It’s quite nice when you’re on a slow network, have a limited data plan or want to send a shot to someone who can’t accept (or doesn’t require) large files.

The available sizes depend on the size of the original file as well how many images you’re trying to send.

Finally, you can set an image to serve as wallpaper for the home screen, lock screen or both. One disappointment is that  you can’t create new events, tag faces or move photos between albums with the iPhone. I was hoping this would be a part of iOS 4.

In short, the new camera is a nice update, though I’ve got to do more thorough testing. I like the updated Photos app too, even though I didn’t get some features I wanted. I’ll shoot and report more soon.