Checking iPhone exuberance
Did you catch the Brian Williams interview of Annie Leibovitz a week or so ago? When the NBC anchor asked Leibovitz what camera she would recommend, she promptly reached into her purse, pulled out her iPhone and snapped a spiffy portrait of her interviewer. Along the way she extoled the advantages of the iPhone:
One should notice that with nice studio lighting, Annie and her iPhone only had to worry about nice composition. The shooting distance also fell in the iPhone's sweet spot, and there was little need for the dreamy shallow DOF Annie might use in some of her portraits.
Still, I was not surprised by her pronouncement. It seems that lately many high end photographers are more than glad to proclaim the virtues of the iPhone. And so it was that when the teaser said Leibovitz would make a camera recommendation, I turned to my wife and said, "iPhone."
In many ways, it's not surprising the iPhone is garnering so much support among high end photographers. Aside from its artistically minded user interface and the practical fact that it is the camera that always goes with you, it also offers the advantages Leibovitz mentioned: "It's a pencil, it's a pen, it's a notebook... the wallet with the family pictures... it's accessible." Thom Hogan also rightly points out how the iPhone is a camera fully integrated into the online infrastructure through which we share our photos today, an important paradigm shift.
This is all well and good, but noticing how the pluses tend to stray from considerations of what consititutes a well-rounded, complete photographic solution, it all still begs the question of whether the iPhone makes an acceptable camera. We should rightly ask how well a 12x18 print of Brian Williams' portrait would look, how well Annie would have done in poorer lighting, and how many action sequences a pro photographer might be able to catch with an iPhone, say, during a super bowl game -- just to mention a few situations where the snappy iPhone might fall short. The "it's the photographer, not the camera" cliche only goes so far. When money's down and getting the shot is mission critical, I doubt any sane pro would rely solely on his/her iPhone.
In fairness to Leibovitz, she did use the key, loaded phrase "snapshot camera" when referring to the iPhone. That amounts to a wink a nod that it's good for the masses, but not so much for pro usage. That's okay, because most of what everyday folk usually need is just that, a "snapshot camera," and that's perfectly acceptable for situations where high quality demands on the resultant photo are not in play.
Still, I am getting a little weary seeing pro photographers showing off with their iPhones. While on the one hand I don't fault them for liking and even advocating their iPhones, we would all benefit from a little more sober, less toyish exuberance when making across-the-board recommendations for the iPhone as an acceptable camera. Too much exuberance can lead to the expectation by the public that indeed all anyone ever needed was an iPhone, so why hire a wedding photographer (or pay her fees), or why buy a fine print when we can just snap away with an iPhone and get it for free? Yes, the iPhone promises to make photography accessible for and distributable by all. Take it too far, though, and it may devalue the very profession of those who with giddy enthusiam wave their iPhones with a bit too much glee.
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