Once upon a time, I had a pretty heavy photography hobby. I never was any kind of expert, but I had a decent eye and have many great photos from political protests and pop culture conventions. It’s one of the reasons I’m glad Flickr bent some rules of thumb and let me reclaim my original account but using my preferred eponymous username.
It’s a much less intensive sort of hobby for me now, but I’ve also reached the point in my physical and psychological health that lugging around a DLSR and lens itself becomes something of a noticeable chore and a drain on my available resources—something I need to manage pretty carefully.
I also, to be both clear and fair, have grown increasingly frustrated with what I’m getting out of my DSLR and lens options. To what degree this is the equipment and to what degree it’s simply me, I don’t really know.
I’d become mildly obsessed with the fact that Apple reportedly intends to add a periscope lens to its iPhone Pro models, likely next year. In the past week or so, I finally sat down to look at what Samsung’s own periscope lens produces and that obsession now is something more than mild thanks to TechRadar’s look at the S20 and S22 models.
Specifically, I’ve been focused on the actual optical zoom capabilities, not the additional digital zoom capacity.
Below are photos from Look at the photos in those TechRadar articles, first the S20 then the S22. In the latter example, I think about that white box truck like a polar bear in its habitat at the zoo. Look at what you’d get with that 10x optical zoom.
Alas, most of the reporting about Apple’s planned periscope zoom says that they are looking only at a 5x lens, which seems inexplicable to me given Samsung’s head-start at having a 10x. It seems weird to play catchup but not go as far.
That’s what got me to thinking about that whole thing where we consider digital zoom to be the equivalent of taking a photo at the base focal length and cropping later on. I started to wonder if this still was strictly true, in the age of computational photography. Enter this TidBITS Talk thread about the iPhone 13 Pro which gets into exactly this question, complete with people posting sample images for examination and comparison. The iPhone clearly is not merely doing the equivalent of cropping after the fact.
It’s got me thinking that even though Apple’s periscope lens isn’t until 2023 at the earliest, I might up my Sprint lease to the iPhone 14 Pro this fall, when coincidentally I’m eligible for my next upgrade. I’d at least have the current 3x telephoto lens, and I even could experiment with stacking it with the Moment 58mm telephoto lens, which I already own. It would mean having to wait months beyond the eventual release of a periscope model before that new lease was upgrade-eligible, but it would start me down the path.
I’m not entirely fond of the idea of moving to a Pro phone, as I’ve had and thoroughly enjoy having "only" the 12 Mini. It transformed my cellphone from a nagging, visible presence on the coffee table to just another tool that exerted no real compulsive pull. I’m trying to conceptualize a move to a Pro model as not having to deal with a larger phone but as getting to deal with a smaller camera.
The thing is, despite my hobbyist history, I like computational photography. I often like the stuff I get on my phone more than what I get with the DSLR, except my phone can’t get "close" enough for some things. Professionals and hobbyists alike will talk your ear off about shooting RAW rather than JPG (or, I guess, HEIC) but my own reality is that for the bulk of my heavy hobbyist phase, I shot everything in JPG Fine and only had access to Photoshop Elements. Most of my best stuff is from that period.
I also, as I get older and apparently weaker, like being able to carry a camera around without it being a burden. In many ways I do think it’s true, that old adage that the best camera is the one that’s with you, but it still helps if the camera you have with you is good. Increasingly, I’m feeling like the iPhone cameras, in fact, are good. Not just "good enough", but good, in ways that would satisfy my own creative needs if only we can get over this last hurdle of optical zoom capability.
Writing this all out has all but convinced me to plan on making the switch sooner than later, even absent a near-term release of Apple’s periscope lens. My lease is up in three months. New model iPhones tend to drop around September. I probably won’t divest myself of the DSLR, but I’m thinking its days as my go-to even for things like outings to the zoo are numbered.