I won’t keep you in suspense; my answer is yes and no. Smart phone photography has taken the world by storm, and with the purchase of Instagram by Facebook, interest in phoneography is white hot. I never did get involved with Instagram only because I have enough social networks to manage without adding yet another, but I do have an iPhone with Hipstamatic, Photoshop Express, 100 Cameras and some other photo apps. Like millions of others, I will often check in somewhere on Facebook and post a smart phone picture with the check-in. It’s fun. I love vintage photography and I really enjoy using my phone to produce reasonable facsimiles of Polaroids and Kodak Brownie photos. Also, I always have my phone with me, so I at least have some kind of camera with me every waking minute, and I subscribe to the dictum: Always take your camera with you. In addition to being with me all the time, it is connected to the web so that I can transmit a photo from almost anywhere to almost anywhere anytime, and that is cool.
The dark, critical side of my mind suspects that the popularity of apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram is rooted in part in their ability to mask the fact that the image quality of smart phones photography is not very good. The dynamic range and tone curve on phones are terrible. The little lenses are weak and the image resolution is at best mediocre. When you apply a cool effect with Hipstamatic, people don’t notice that the underlying image lacks quality. So it was in the days of yore with Polaroids, Brownies and Instamatics, but all of these had better tone curves than the phones.
My problem with smart phone photography is that I love cameras – real cameras, like DSLR’s, SLR’s, TLR’s and even rangefinders. I like lenses I can manually focus, depth of field preview buttons, manual aperture and shutter speed settings, viewfinders, and a body I can grip firmly in my hands (I’m always worried that the damn phone will slip out of my fingers when I’m trying to take a picture with it and smash itself to bits on the pavement.) I love the speed of a good SLR or DSLR, 8-10 fps with quick-as-a-bunny autofocus. Have you ever tried to shoot a sports event with a phone? It’s a study in frustration. Most of all, I love big, sharp images, the bigger the better. In my work, I often need to print photos at poster size or even bigger, and if I need to crop the hell out of a photo, it’s nice to have enough resolution that you still get a printable image even when using a small portion of the original.
When I want a picture that may hang on someone’s wall someday, or appear in an ad in a national publication, my first thought isn’t to grab the iPhone. Call me old fashioned.
Phoneography appeals to the narcissist in all of us. I have seen some great stuff done with phones, but I have also seen a tsunami of trivial images that are pointless and ephemeral. Do I really need to see your coffee cup, hamburger or cat? It doesn’t matter that the photo uses a cool filter that looks like film that was left in the trunk of your car all summer. Would this image exist if it was not easy and the photographer was bored and playing with the phone? Is that photography? I’m not sure, but I know that it is not what I consider real photography.
Smart phone photography has absolutely won its place in the photographic universe. It meets a need. I fully expect “point-and-shoot” cameras to begin disappearing from the shelves, since they are quickly becoming unnecessary as more and more people adopt smart phones. I also know that phones don’t get my photographic juices flowing. The phones are just too slow, too limited, and difficult for me to use to ever consider making one the primary nexus of my photography journey.