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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