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Using my iPhone 4 as a Camera, Replacing my Point & Shoot



I almost always lug around my DSLR when travelling more than a few miles away from home. I often bring it to family functions, out to dinner, weddings and and other events. But as you can imagine, the giant rig isn’t always the right tool for the job and I sometimes substitue my Canon S90, a remarkable point and shoot. But I haven’t used the Canon S90 once since I got my iPhone 4. The iPhone 4’s camera and apps are finally good enough to use as my casual camera. In fact, I’ve been very satisfied with the quality of both video and photos to a point that I now often publish them here on GBM, and various social networking sites.

I spent the past few days in Sonoma at Infineon Raceway for the IndyCar race. HP invited me there to check out how race teams uses mobile workstations and get an inside look at car number 2, which flys the HP flag. I shot more than 4,000 photos with my Nikon D700 this weekend, which amounted to almost 60GB of RAW image files. Editing such a photo session takes a lot of time and patience and is the last thing I felt like doing after standing in the heat of the raceway for several hours.

When I got home I flopped down on my couch I flopped down on my couch and turned on the TV. While watching some mindless program, I took out my iPhone 4 and quickly edited the above video. I spliced together few handheld clips I shot with my iPhone 4 using ReelDirector and added a few transitions. I exported it and fired up the PixelPipe app to upload the video to Facebook. Within a few minutes I was able to share a decent video with my friends and family of my activities for the day. It’s not perfect, but it was a painless experience that didn’t require me to mess with camera cards, sync my iPhone or use a desktop editing application.

I care a lot more about photo quality than video quality in general. Thanks to an improved sensor, better optics and iOS4 apps, I’m also able to capture decent photos with the iPhone 4. One thing that I trade off when using a point and shoot instead of my D700 is the ability to capture the exact moment I want to. One application I highly recommend is Photoburst, which solves this problem. This application takes up to 20 continuous photos in as little as 100ms intervals.

Here’s an example of a photoI shot with Photoburst of Danica Patrick. I simply aimed at pit lane and hit the shutter just before she drove into the iPhone’s field of view. She was driving at a bout 30 mph, which is still too fast to capture using the iPhone’s standard camera and most other camera apps. The above image isn’t as good as what I can capture on my D700 of course, but it’s definitely usable. You can see the throwaway photos in the gallery below, and see how what a difference 100ms can make when snapping photos.

After playing with the iPhone 4 for the past two months I’m a little more comfortable leaving the D700 at home. The ability to edit and share photos and video trumps the firepower of my favorite DSLR, at least in casual situations. Of course the iPhone 4 has its limits and is now match for DSLRs, and many point and shoot camera, when it comes to pure image quality and versatility. As much as I enjoy the iPhone 4, nothing beats my D700 and backpack full of lenses and accessories when shooting moving objects travelling at about 180mph. A handful of the pictures I shot with the D700 are below. As you can, see there’s no contest in terms of quality. The device that’s getting squeezed out here is the point and shoot.

(Click to Enlarge Photos)



  1. DNel

    08/23/2010 at 2:46 pm

    Nice photos (D700), and the video from the iphone was better than I expected. I’m looking to up-grade from a point and shoot but don’t want the size and baggage of a full DSLR. Do you have any experience with the micro four thirds or Sony NEX cameras? They appear to be a more mobile camera platform than the full DSLR’s with near capabilities.

    • Xavier Lanier

      08/23/2010 at 3:04 pm

      Thanks DNel.

      So it really depends on what you’re looking to do long term and your budget. If you want to stay really compact you can get something like the Canon G11. I’ve never bought a micro four thirds or Sony NEX camera, but have heard good things about them. I strongly suggest browsing Flickr and searching for the camera model name(s) that you’re considering. You’ll get a sense of what the pros are able to achieve with each camera, and what people are shooting on a daily basis. Your best results will be somewhere in between.

      Something like the Nikon D700 is complete overkill for most people, but don’t underestimate the flexibility/power of a DSLR. if a point and shoot is a revolver, the D700 is like an M4 (what the Marines use). A camera like the ones you’re describing are like an Uzi. Definitely more powerful than a handgun and more portable, but with a lot of the same limitations as a handgun.

      If possible, buy from Amazon or another retailer with a generous return policy and try it out in the real world yourself. Like any other piece of technology, real world experience is a lot more valuable than spec sheets or listening to a salesperson.

  2. Peter Novman

    09/10/2010 at 2:22 pm

    Those are some pretty impressive photos taken from your phone, and I’m sure at high speed. No blurriness at all. It looks like it won’t be long until the cellphone camera catches up with the digital camera in terms of quality. The focus is amazing. I dare say that they cell phone may even replace the digital camcorder, judging from the video up there. Nice work!

  3. Spindr768

    08/12/2011 at 5:24 am

    Hi there , Your video & photos are amazing ! Coming from an
    IPhone . I just had this conversation at home yesterday , iPhone
    Killing off the point & shoot business …

    I believe it to be true !! I have a Nikon point & shoot , and since
    Getting the iPhone 4 , there’s no incentive to use it …
    While I don’t think it’ll replace my d90 , anytime soon , it’s definitely the practical way to go with kids birthdays and such …

    Look at what the iPhone did to ” Flip “. R.I.P. !!!

    Keep up the great work !! I’m on flickr , under the name
    Kolshack , your welcome to view some pictures I’ve recently posted . Best regards .

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