In this day and age, cell phones have come a long ways from their beginning. They have endless uses now, not just the ability to call someone while you are away from your home. With all of the changes to technology, cameras were integrated into the cell phone many years ago now. If you had an early version of this, you probably thought it was the coolest thing ever. You had a small camera now that would fit in your pocket, and also double as a cell phone. If you also remember, those images were very poor quality when first introduced. Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was pretty awesome too, you could quickly take a picture of whatever you wanted even without a big, bulky camera by your side. Or, you could now take pictures of your friends and save them so that when they called, you would see that picture. This was amazing! Since then, camera technology as a whole has gotten better, trickling down to the cell phone category. Some people are so proud of their cell phone images, that they base an entire artistic media around using them this way. Apple even has billboards and TV commercials focused solely on the use of their cell phone as a camera and how amazing the images are from their product. Don’t get me wrong, even as a professional photographer, I use my iPhone camera every day of the week for a variety of reasons, even though I have thousands of dollars of professional photography equipment at my immediate disposal. I always have to purchase an upgraded size iPhone to handle the amount of images I know I will have on the thing, along with music, e-mail and whatever else. In a time of many households without home phone lines (I blame telemarketers for this trend…) generally someone always has their phone on them or near them. And with two young children of my own, you always have to be ready to capture those amazing little moments of change, accomplishment, or just cuteness at any given moment. And this is why I can fill a large capacity iPhone in a short period of time just like many other people.
That was about the end of the list of positives to using a cell phone as your personal camera; the convenience and accessibility. Again, I am guilty of using my phone on a daily basis to take pictures. And at the end of the day, there is usually time spent reflecting on the day’s little moments with my family, I review my images with my wife and my children regularly. For most people, this the end of the life cycle of those images. They may never see a computer hard drive and almost definitely never see a piece of photo paper or go into scrapbooks or frames. And as someone that appreciates art and photography, now I would ask, what is the point of taking the pictures in the first place? To look at once after right after you took it, maybe to post to Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or Flickr or whatever social media outlet you prefer? I don’t know anyone else, including the others in my household, that regularly export their phone images to a computer. Which means, when the 2 years are up and it’s time to get a new phone, will you even miss all those thousands of pictures you took that you were so proud of? You’ll probably miss them, but for most, that still doesn’t instill the desire to spend the time exporting all of them and cataloging them. Which for me, not doing this would be absolutely horrible. As much as I hate to admit, my daughter’s first words and first steps were both captured on cell phones! Later the same day, I made sure to catch the same things on a real camera, but in our memories, we know that the first official occurrence was only captured on a phone.
So why is this a bad thing? It depends on if you care about preserving those moments, or you are okay with them just fading away into the past as blurry memories. As someone that loves the visual arts, I appreciate the quality and longevity of printed or physically created images. To me, a photograph is the same as an oil painting, just produced differently. So when the time comes to print a photograph, of course I would want the best possible image I can get. Think back to those early cell phone camera images, even on the phone you took it with, they were blurry and sometimes hard to see, and that was in daylight. Don’t even think about trying to take a picture in low light with one of those! My point being, those images were of horrible quality, nobody would have spent $0.50 to print one of those because they just looked like someone was moving while taking a picture. You were better off using a disposable camera back then and going that route. To a professional photographer, or even an amateur, or even just as someone that appreciates good images—cell phone pictures on current phones are the exact same. This is because digital camera technology has come a long ways, making the lower quality versions of it seem like junk in comparison. The newest version of an iPhone has a 12 Megapixel camera built into it. For those that don’t own real cameras, that probably sounds great, that’s more Megapixels than the previous model and maybe even the competition. And the higher the Megapixel number, the higher the quality of the image you get right? Here’s the issue I have with this. You can literally walk into any store that sells cameras and spend $50 on a point and shoot camera with 12 Megapixels, and it may even be waterproof for that price. So when you’re pulling out your $800 iPhone, you must remember, that you’re really pulling out a $700 phone, and maybe a $100 version of a point and shoot camera. It is still a phone, regardless of being “smart” or not. So how does that stack up to a real camera? My current professional grade camera is 36 Megapixels, and at a few thousand dollars for just the body of the camera, it is only at the equivalent quality of a 35mm film camera. For those that are serious about film photography, you probably preferred a larger format film than 35mm like 2.25″x2.25″ or even larger to get crisp, sharp images. So your $800 phone camera that you use, is not even going to get the quality and sharpness of a disposable camera from the 90’s… Usually these images don’t even look good on a desktop computer screen, even though they may look perfect on your phone. So when the day comes and you decide to print pictures of your family or kids to hang around the house, you will deeply regret only using your cell phone to take pictures. You may have already learned this if you have tried to print even 4″ x 6″ prints from your phone. When you see hallways or staircases lined with family photos, those are typically larger than that, 5″x7″ or 8″x10″, sometimes even larger. You would not be happy with the results if you tried to print something this size off of your cell phone pictures. They will look blurry at best, and pixelated at the worst, and those won’t make for proud family photos hanging in your home!
How do you overcome this predicament? One option is just to hire a photographer for all of your life events. People that go this route, usually try to keep the same photographer over many years and even a lifetime. Doing this gives you consistency in the quality and style so you know what to expect. But also this becomes a much more personal and family oriented experience for you and the photographer. When I get the chance to watch a child grow from just a bump in Mama’s belly, I feel way more attached to the subject matter because I’ve gotten to watch the little child grow and develop over time, just like my own children. And for some children who don’t like being in front of the camera, a familiar face can lighten the stress that comes with being a model, which also allows the photographer to know what works and what doesn’t for that child which will yield better results every time. I know this can get costly to do this regularly for your family and children. But at the minimum you should at least get a family portrait done every year by a professional. You will thank yourself and your kids will thank you someday. Everyone loves to reflect back on their years developing as a family, it usually gives some good laughs in the end too. It’s too easy to get caught up in life and forget to get those monthly baby pictures of a newborn or the yearly pictures of your family, everyone says they’ll get to it but few actually do…
At the very least, invest in a small point and shoot camera for $200-$300, it will fit in your pocket well and you’ll be pleased with the results in most cases. For not much more money, you can even get a Digital SLR camera, which opens up a whole world of options for creativity, allowing you to change lenses and other accessories to take great photos. These will be much larger in comparison, and definitely won’t fit in your pocket like your phone, but when you’re around the house, if kept in an accessible location, or thrown in your car when you go out for the day to have fun, it’s not as inconvenient as it seems. And you will be much happier with the results in the end. One downside that I fully understand, is that you can’t just post the pictures straight to your social media outlet like you can on your phone. I understand the desire to do this. But technology has come a long ways, some cameras do have technology to transfer your images straight to your phone or tablet. And worst case, you wait a couple hours to get home and do it from computer. The world can wait those couple of hours I promise. They’ll still like the photos of your baby seeing a monkey at the zoo for the first time, and it will even be a high enough quality image you can print it and save it forever.
I know that not everyone is a snob when it comes to picture quality. As a photographer it is my job. My standards for what I would call a good image are probably ridiculous compared to the average person out there. But sometimes we don’t know what good is until we are exposed to it. If you’re a Starbuck’s coffee drinker, think about the first time you had your favorite drink there compared to making coffee at home… There is no comparison in taste. The price may be higher, but it sure does taste better. The same goes for pictures. If you have the means, don’t settle for the low quality images that may spend their life and fade away in your cell phone. Use a Photographer for those special moments, or get yourself a simple camera to use instead. We have no problem spending a few hundred dollars every couple of years to upgrade our phone to the newest version… spend that same amount once every 5-10 years and you can have pictures to be proud of, which you can use for more than just social media posts.