iPhone X… just for the camera?

When Apple did their annual phone hardware announce last year, I couldn’t have been less excited. I was reasonably happy with my 6s, but it wasn’t acting ideal. A replacement I got under AppleCare after my original 6s started having problems charging, this one worked alright, but was having some weird performance problems.

After the close of last year’s event, I felt no urge to get any of the three new phones. If you follow me on Twitter, you likely heard me <meh/> and yawn about the event – I felt I’d probably be waiting until next year’s announce to see if my mind was changed.

But I’ve had a few frustrating experiences that indirectly motivated me to get the iPhone X… all of them related to photography.

I travel a fair amount – generally every other month for work. When I travel, and while I’m home, I really enjoy taking photos, and I’ve gotten to the point where I really love how iOS and iCloud handle photos. Is it perfect? Heck no. But it’s good, and reliable. Over the past 6 months or so, I’ve had multiple experiences where I saw something interesting (often in nature), tried to quickly take a photo, and my 6s acted stupid. The camera software would behave so poorly that I thought I’d snapped a photo, only to wind up with photos of a table, or my jeans.

Also, while the 6s had let me capture some great memories, I’d come to the point where I just wished my iPhone camera was better. With the 7, Apple had focused on this, but I was really far behind. Intriguingly, a colleague who is a better organizer than I started categorizing his photos by the device used to take them. He showed me this, and I was kind of impressed – it was neat looking at older photos from a digital camera, through to newer photos from his iPhone 7. In my closet at home, there are hundreds of slides from my youth, which my dad took. These memories, locked for decades in their little Bell & Howell cube cells, have been a labor of love, and a pain in the ass, for me to convert to digital images. I hate photos in shoeboxes, and on old PC or Mac HDDs, lost to time. I love the fact that when I take a photo, it’s there, and rapidly in iCloud. Lose a device? <meh/> As long as you had Internet access, you’re fine.

For me, the camera is a key function of my phone now. It’s irreplaceable in many ways. Sure, I use many other phone functions (Web, email, phone, navigation), but the camera is something I really extract a lot of joy from.

So as I contemplated these leg and table photos that my 6s had given me, I started thinking. I had done a lot of (black and white) photography in high school, including setting up a darkroom in my brother’s bathroom (which had no windows) while he was abroad for a year. I enjoyed photography a lot, and I like to think I’m pretty good at it. Even looking at dSLR’s, though, felt cumbersome. I really don’t find joy in learning the custom configuration of a device – and modern digital cameras are insane. Add in the cost (easily talking >$1,000 when you figure in additional lenses, memory, a bag, and more), and it wasn’t appealing. In the end, I looked at a high-end and lower-end Canon, and a mirrorless Olympus. Many of these cameras tout 4K video capability, which I actually found frustrating. I’d be paying for technology that I have literally no interest in using on that device. Throw in the hassle of dealing with memory cards, and this didn’t sound appealing.

I also feel like digital cameras – in my household, and I know a few others – wind up being drawer liners. That is, you buy it, you set it aside, and because you don’t keep the batteries charged up or carry the cumbersome bag around with you on day trips or travels, you never have it to take photos with when you really need it. But to me, a great camera in a smartphone makes a lot of sense, because you’ve almost always got it with you, and you’re not likely to miss chance photos.

So I found myself contemplating the iPhone X or the iPhone 8 Plus. The Plus is just too huge, IMHO, so it was down to the iPhone X. 2018: The main reason I would get a new phone, was actually to get a better camera.

So why iPhone X, just to get a camera?

  1. The iPhone cameras – particularly the iPhone X, are really good, even with some low-light photography
  2. The phone itself is incredibly fast – I indeed haven’t missed a shot since I got it. I do wish the camera “clicky” button from the lock screen was faster…
  3. Photos go straight to iCloud, and can be managed or manipulated easily on my iPhone or MacBook
  4. There are some cool tricks it can do, including Portrait, etc… but that’s not news.
  5. Conceptually, there are attachments/hacks I could use to use camera lenses with my iPhone, but I don’t honestly see that happening
  6. I can take 4K video too, if I want (I did go for the X with larger storage, although it feels like potential overkill).

I’m still getting used to the iPhone X. Maybe it’s my tiny t-rex arms and small hands, but it feels heavy vs. my 6s, and it’s just slightly too big. But the battery life – for something with this performance – is crazy good. The screen is gorgeous (I’m already used to the notch), and the device is so fast. If I had two complaints, it would be that the glass is just a fingerprint magnet, on both sides of the device, and the buttonless UI still has some rough edges/glitches. Face ID works quite well; not perfectly, mind you, but really well. Given my experience with Windows Hello on a Lumia 950 (let’s just say the phone was really lucky I don’t have a hammer in my apartment), Face ID is wonderful. (To be fair, Windows Hello – using facial recognition – works much better on my Surface Pro 4 than Face ID, but… it’s a journey.

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