As any mystic will tell you, 7 is a particularly magical number. So it’s no accident that Apple doubled down on the religious experience its products can trigger in consumers (ever visit the Apple Chapel on a Sunday?) by announcing its iPhone 7 on September 7. But if numerology was part of the launch strategy, it didn’t seem to take. Internet judginess was swift: AirPod headphones are like a tampon without a string for example. Ouch.
Setting aside whether the iPhone 7 is the new New Coke, I wanted to focus specifically on the photo aspects of the new product, and whether phone photo fans (pretty much all of us at this point) should consider an upgrade. First, the tampons AirPods.
All the chatter leading up to the launch of the new iPhone was about whether or not Apple would ditch the headphone jack. Of course it did, in favor of the new $159 (yikes!) wireless ear buds. And while Apple is shipping a Lightning to 3.5-millimeter headphone jack adapter with the new phones so you can still plug in your old wired sets, the adapter goes into the same port your charger uses, so you won’t be able to listen to a wired headphones while charging your phone.
Another head scratcher: AirPod volume controls are built in, meaning you have to double-tap them to activate Siri, or say, out loud, Turn up volume. Awkward. Cumbersome. And a big deal for photographers, because the volume controls on wired headphones serve the handy purpose of acting as shutter release buttons for your iPhone camera. I asked (okay, typed at) the interwebs whether I could simply say Take photo using AirPods while the iPhone 7 camera app is open, but I couldn’t find an answer. (Comment below if you find out before I do!)
Now that I’ve done my part to beat on the no-headphone-jack horse corpse, let’s look at what’s probably the most interesting, least triggering part of the iPhone 7: its camera. It’s been called the best camera ever on a smartphone, and there’s no arguing that. The image quality has become comparable to point-and-shoots (to the detriment of point-and-shoots, naturally).
Here’s a rundown of the new features, and their benefits:
- 12-megapixel sensor + wide angle lens + optimal image stabilization (iPhone 7): The camera lens has a ƒ/1.8 aperture, which lets in more light, meaning less grainy photos in darker settings. It also means shallower depth of field or more separation between the foreground (subject) and the background. In general, more megapixels = better image quality, particularly when zooming in, cropping and printing. The wide angle allows you to capture more of the scene in your frame. Image stabilization reduces or sometimes even eliminates camera shake/blur/out-of-focus subjects and other elements.
- 12-megapixel sensor + wide angle lens with optimal image stabilization and 12-megapixel telephoto camera (iPhone 7 Plus): Same as described above, but more. The iPhone 7 Plus literally has two lenses: the ƒ/1.8 wide angle lens as the iPhone 7, and a 56mm equivalent telephoto lens for enhanced image quality when zooming in as you frame your shot. Coming soon: More of that “blurtastic” effect called Bokeh. The dual 12-megapixel cameras on iPhone 7 Plus will allow for greater depth-of-field (in effect) to make your subject pop even more in relation to the background, which will show greater, more dazzling blur.
- 6-element lens: The detailed construction of a camera lens is more than we need to get into here, so you may simply take Apple’s word for it when it says this will “enable brighter, more detailed photos and videos.” Essentially this means six small glass elements make up the lens, and generally more lens elements = greater quality images produced (and slightly more physical weight added to the camera itself)
- Image Signal Processor: The camera works faster at taking, processing, editing images, and the camera is more energy efficient!
- 7-megapixel FaceTime HD camera: Ever notice how your current iPhone camera’s image quality is just not as good when hit the camera icon in the upper right-hand corner and take a selfie or use FaceTime video? Well, you’re in luck; the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus has improved that little annoyance. Those images now produce better quality in high definition.
- Quad-LED True Tone flash: A brighter, smarter flash means it can cover more ground and better illuminate your subject – and surroundings. Improved flash means you won’t have to stand at a too-close distance or uncomfortable distance from your subject before the flash has an impact. The Quad-LED True Tone flash should better reflect colors and compensate for irregular lighting.
12 megapixel photo, 6-element lens, 7 megapixel video. Oh, and it does smart phone stuff too. Impressive.
Other iPhone 7 and 7 Plus goodies of interest to photographers:
- Longer battery life
- More storage (choose between 32GB, 128GB and 256GB)
- Water- and dust-resistance
My own POV? The iPhone 7 or 7 Plus cameras would easily help my iPhone photography game — I take a lot of photos with my iPhone 6, and with a new baby girl, I record a lot of videos, too. But, I’ve already got my trusty Nikon D800, which provides me iPhone 7/7 Plus latitude, and way more (I’ve never viewed carrying around my bulky D800 and detachable Nikkor lenses as an inconvenience; my DSLR is a member of my family!). Since I already own a professional-grade rig, the lure of going out of my way to spend upwards of $1,000 on a new phone — mainly for the camera and added storage – isn’t worth it. I’ll stick with my iPhone 6 for the foreseeable future. As my go-anywhere camera, the iPhone 6 camera, though it has its deficiencies (low light struggle, grainy zoom, etc.) is already decent enough for me, for now, for my purposes.
But if you’re in the market for a new iPhone because your screen is busted up, or if you’ve perfected your talent of dropping stuff in the toilet/sink/lake/ocean, then the new cameras on these bad boys might just be enough to sway you. No strings attached.