Today’s Wrong­ness Ex­hib­it is iPhone 7 vs Le­ica M9-P: A Side-by-Side Pho­to Com­par­i­son by Michael Zhang, which demon­strates  —  any fool can plain­ly see, look at the pho­tos  —  that an iPhone 7 takes pic­tures just as well as a $9K Le­ica com­bo.

The wrong­ness here is ex­treme and, I think, in­struc­tive.

Let’s start with the pic­ture in Zhang’s piece, of a Ja­panese shrine in the rain. Let’s see; it is medium-distance, even-depth-of-field, well-lit, and low-dynamic-range. Which is to say, about as easy to get right as a pho­to­graph can be.

The kind of sce­nario where you don’t need a Le­ica; in fac­t, maybe you don’t even need a re­cent iPhone. To il­lus­trate, let’s stay with a Ja­panese the­me.

Japanese lunch

Not a bril­liant pic­ture, but a rea­son­ably pleas­ing ren­di­tion of an ex­treme­ly pleas­ing meal eat­en in good com­pa­ny.

In good com­pa­ny in 2009, to be pre­cise, and pho­tographed with an An­droid Devel­op­er Phone 2, which has nev­er been com­pared fa­vor­ably to any Le­ica pro­duc­t. I’m go­ing to dec­o­rate the rest of this piece with some more old-phone pix.

Vancouver Olympics

Shot with a Nexus One

What I’m say­ing is: Giv­en de­cent light, a near­by sub­jec­t, and enough time to set up, ba­si­cal­ly any mod­ern pho­to­graph­ic de­vice, whether equipped with a cel­lu­lar ra­dio or not, will take a damn fine pic­ture. So why does any­one need a “real” cam­er­a, Le­ica or lesser?

What mat­ter­s? · The list is pret­ty short:

Do you have it with you? Ob­vi­ous­ly the most im­por­tant fac­tor, be­cause no cam­er­a, no pic­ture. Win­ner: Phone-cam.

Can you shoot fast? Most of the great pic­tures are found not planned; and aren’t there for long. Win­ner: “Real” cam­er­a. But, I no­tice that the phone re­views are now start­ing to fo­cus in on how fast you can get ready to shoot. Al­so, in this re­spec­t, the Le­ica is a poor choice be­cause it’s man­u­al fo­cus: Any mod­ern Fu­ji/Sony/Canon/Nikon/O­lym­pus will be way faster than ei­ther the Le­ica or the iPhone.

Japanese train platform

Shot with a Galaxy Nexus

It’s not close; A good camera’s ex­ter­nal con­trols and viewfind­er and hand-feel work to­geth­er and at their best van­ish, leav­ing the feel­ing that it’s just you and that light you’re chas­ing.

Can you shoot some­thing that’s not near­by? Win­ner: “Real” cam­era (with big glass). This might be the sin­gle biggest short­com­ing of phone-cams, and I don’t see a good so­lu­tion. It’s oc­curred to me that you could point the lens out of the top of the phone and shoot look­ing down at the screen; but mod­ern phones are just too thin to hold a rea­son­able sen­sor side­ways.

Re­lat­ed: I’ve no­ticed that when I’m shoot­ing with my Fu­ji, late­ly I rarely use any­thing but the love­ly lit­tle 35mm and the 55-200mm zoom.

Can you iso­late your sub­ject with boke­h? Win­ner: Devel­op­ing story… The iPhone 7 claims that by com­bin­ing their two cam­eras and a bunch of post-processing, you can get that clas­sic “Fast 50” por­trait feel. I’m skep­ti­cal but pre­pared to be con­vinced.

Barcelona Subway

Shot with a Nexus 5.

Can you shoot in lousy light? Win­ner: Uh… The phone-cams are re­al­ly catch­ing up here. My cur­rent mo­bile is a Nexus 5X and I’ve got some startlingly-good low-light shot­s; they say the lat­est iPhone and Google Pix­els are even bet­ter. But stil­l, when I crank my Fu­ji to ISO6400 with a lens that opens up to f/1.4, that’s an­oth­er world. Put an­oth­er way: With an ac­tu­al cam­er­a, I just don’t wor­ry about light.

Once again, this is an area where that Le­ica doesn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly shine, com­pared to its cheap­er com­pe­ti­tion.

Can you print big pic­tures? Win­ner: Both. Un­less you’re do­ing glossy-magazine work or pho­tos that will dec­o­rate the sides of build­ings, a hand­ful of megapix­els is all you need; where by “handful” I mean what­ev­er any­thing sold in the last few years has to­day.

Take-away · Yes, mod­ern phones are al­so high­ly com­pe­tent cam­eras; bet­ter, in their sweet spot­s, than any­thing you could buy just a few years ago. But pa­thet­i­cal­ly worse, in ways that al­so mat­ter, than the cam­eras my Dad used in the Six­ties.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Roland Tanglao (Oct 06 2016, at 08:12)

after 300,000 photos with cameraphones and 100,000 phones with digital cameras, i'd have to say it's a YES AND. YES to cameraphones taking the place of point and shoots and so-called real cameras for 99% of people especially now that we will have real zoom; AND yes to enthusiast cameras for the 1% who like real haptics and fast responsiveness and old skool bokeh and all that old skool stuff. My only question is: how long can the 1% market survive and how big is the the 1% market? My guess is forever but it will shrink and the cameras will go up in price!


From: Gordon Haff (Oct 09 2016, at 14:44)

Hi Tim,

I don't have an iPhone 7 (and probably won't) but I found this a fascinating read about its "out of focus" feature:

I agree with your general comments. I do a fair bit of my photography with my iPhone 6 and use my Fuji for most of the rest. Though I wish they'd update the X-e line body. I still have my Canon full-frame (and, in fact, am about to finally buy a Canon brand ultra-ish tele after selling a third-party lens I never really liked) but I definitely don't use it as much as my smaller cameras.


From: Andrew (Oct 13 2016, at 11:41)

The Leica is a terrible choice for comparison; it's a fundamentally 7-year-old design (the M9-P has the same sensor and processor as the M9, released in 2009), and it's not too hard to find current gear that outperforms it, quality-wise, for less than a quarter of the price. I think the whole thing is clickbait.


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