Thursday, January 12, 2012

The iPhone 4S vs. Nikon D40

While I've been working directly with iOS for a few years now, it's only recently that I've come to own a device for my personal use outside of work. Last fall I broke down and obtained an iPhone 4S, and I have to say it's a wonderful thing to have. 

Much talk has been made of the 4S's improved camera and it was one of the clinchers in finally putting an end to my iPhone procrastination. I use the camera constantly-- on holiday, snapping food, and of course casual candids. On a recent trip to Disneyland I accumulated over 300 photos. On a cross-country road trip with Vicky, even more. I'm no stranger to photography (I once took photos with  film!), and I wholeheartedly support the digital revolution. But I did find phones and point-and-shoots to be a bit lacking, so employing a DSLR scratches my photography itch on many occasions.

I decided to give the iPhone 4S a challenge, and popped around downtown Los Angeles snapping pics to compare it against my meek-but-workable Nikon D40. Now the D40, especially in the speed-of-light technology race, is woefully outdated and very much as "entry" as you can get for an entry level DSLR. Surely I would love to rock out on a D90, but as of yet the expense hasn't totally justified an upgrade (it looms, tho). 


The Nikon D40 is:
  • a trusty workhorse
  • malleable to many situations
  • good 'ol DLSR controls for ISO, F-stop, Aperture, etc.
  • decent white balance settings
  • virtually un-fillable SD cards (we're talking thousands and up)
  • Stock 18-55mm lens is incredibly versatile
  • takes Nikon lenses and a multitude of filters
  • somewhat cumbersome
  • requires patience to set up shot
  • often prefers a tripod when you don't have one
  • needs halfway decent knowledge of photography
  • must be adjusted for even small shifts in environment
  • Auto setting tends to disappoint (of course)
  • Still needs dedicated time to "develop" via Lightroom, iPhoto

The iPhone 4S is:
  • convenient as all get out
  • built for spontaneity 
  • magically automated
  • fantastic apps like Camera+, Hipstamatic, and Photogene
  • great in daylight
  • near-instant sharing capabilities
  • surprising quality more often than not
  • automation can be frustrating for photographers ("that's not what I see!")
  • flash pretty much useless
  • white balance is luck of draw, difficult to adjust if at all
  • all exposure or color correction must be done in post
  • decent in low light but noticeably suffers
  • auto-focus can be annoying
  • can be awkward to hold and use





Above you'll see some examples near and around the LA Public Library. Um, no people tho cause that really isn't my thing. I don't want to cloud these comparisons with tech specs, I just want to present the images as I caught them. Of course I did my best to use the appropriate settings for the D40, which makes the instant shots of the 4S all the more impressive. What you should know is that all of the photos are "as is," meaning no post production for color or exposure. There are differences to the keen eye but likely none to the casual observer. I do notice one usually edges out the other, which comes down to personal preference, I'll let you decide for yourselves.

No no one's saying a 4S is going to replace a DSLR, but I got to be honest with you, in comparison to a D40 it comes pretty damn close in alot of situations. What I've noticed is where the 4S excels-- outdoors in the daylight. And  when you do shoot people, it hits the mark. Perhaps it's largest flaw outdoors is the limitation of the lens, if as a photographer you have something specific in mind. I've done some trickery to force its hand indoors, sometimes as simple as holding up a white piece of paper as an impromptu reflector. Overall it performs great indoors, too. Its main detraction may be the automated exposure and white balance, without any of the cool apps mentioned above photos all start having that even keel, generally ever-so-cool-tinted look. As an artist I sometimes see a group of iPhone pics as , well, "cold."

What a DSLR gives you is control, as long as you're willing to learn that control and have the patience to make use of it. At times I love that control and at others the constant clicking back and forth between settings distracts from getting "that shot." But the patience pays off, and shutterbugs can usually get some of their preferred setting in pretty quickly. Also I'll add that the times I've gotten to use a D70/D90 were awesome, they really up the game.

The main win for the iPhone 4S is that it's always with you, just waiting for photo opportunities. Any time. And believe me I've lugged around that D40 all over this damn country (as recently as this past winter break). But as far as grabbing the moment the 4S takes it, leaving little excuse not to snap or document something that catches your eye. That's the cool part, yea?


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