iPhone – The Ultimate Snapshot Sensation?

The other morning we awoke to snow.

With school closed, we hit the slopes. Or rather a local field with enough of an incline to have fun on a sledge with.

Keen to have a photographic record of the occasion (only the second day our son has had even a vague opportunity to go sledging in his five years alive) I grabbed the fabulous Ricoh GRD III.

Out in the snowy fields though, the Ricoh wasn’t working out.

I have it set up predominately for contrasty, inky, grainy, b/w shots, mostly of decaying stuff up close. Which isn’t well optimised for spontaneous happy colour portraits of kids playing in the snow.

Not feeling inclined to delve into the Ricoh’s settings for endless experimentation (and not wanting to spend this precious time with a camera instead of the kids) I put it back in my bag.

Instead, I reached for my iPhone, which is always set with a colour filter called “Transfer” by default.


Except for unlocking the phone with my passcode, and opening the camera app, I was in pure point and shoot snapshot territory.

Which is exactly what you need for these kind of occasions.

After editing I came away with half a dozen lovely photos of the kids which are currently on rotation in one of our recently acquired digital camera frames (more on these in an upcoming post).

For this kind of photography the iPhone is pretty much unbeatable.

Always with me, very small and light, quick to set up, simple to use, zero post processing.

As I’ve concluded a number of times before, the iPhone is the ultimate modern snap shot sensation, ready to capture moments where most other cameras would take too long to switch on, set up, capture, edit and process.


Which has, once again, got me thinking about the limitations of my iPhone. Why don’t I just sell everything else and use it full time?

It’s not the lens, or the sensor, or the filters.

The standard camera app is great for snapshots, and if/when I want more control I use Hipstamatic for manual focus, a certain shutter speed, or a greater range of filters.

Even the handling, which leaves a lot to be desired compared with a dedicated ergonomically satisfying compact like the Ricoh GRs or Pentax Q, is fine for snap shot occasions, and can be tolerated for everything else.

No, I realised what really limits me is the fact I get the dreaded “iPhone Storage Full” message far too frequently.


With past camera phones, storage has never been an issue.

My Sonys had some kind of memory card that was upgradeable, the Samsung I had prior to the iPhone used a similar micro SD card.

Buying my iPhone I naively thought that it would serve as my iPod and camera phone, as well as being half a dozen other devices.

But even with on average six music albums, 100 photos and a modest set of apps, I know I’m soon going to be on dangerous ground. Which is pretty pathetic, considering what the phone can do.


So, whilst my iPhone ticks a multitude of boxes, its storage is its Achilles heel.

And why is it supposedly 8GB, but the settings say Capacity 5.2GB, significantly less?

Anyway, because of this, three years later I’m seriously thinking of a replacement. Which won’t be another iPhone – they’re just too expensive for what they are, and even more so to have one with a decent storage capacity.

My attention has turned back to Sony who supplied my camera phones for some seven or eight years previously.


The cameras are well regarded (Sony of course provide sensors for pretty much everyone else these days it seems) and memory is expandable. If I want to explore Hipstamatic type processing/filters then apps like Snapseed have legions of fans.

Or I just take “neutral” photos with a Sony and set up favourites in Hipstamatic on my iPad, as I do for my Ricohs and iPhone.

Plus I’d actually be able to store more than half a dozen albums and 100 photos on it without it maxing out.

Any updates, I’ll let you know.

How much do you use a camera phone for photography? What have you found its greatest strengths and biggest frustrations to be?

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

29 thoughts on “iPhone – The Ultimate Snapshot Sensation?”

  1. Hi Dan, Over the years I’ve used many different camera phones and being honest I’ve had some mixed results…. recently I’ve been using a Nokia 5 as my phone and camera for those “on the hoof” shots, I have to say that it’s been far easier for doing processing… as I don’t have to do any at all, previously I’ve used iPhones and although they are very good, they are also thirsty to run, memory wise
    I do think that although these cameras are getting better there comes a point in time where they just don’t cut the mustard … for capturing those instances like you mention they are spot on, can’t be beaten, one phone that a friend has that seems to be very good camera wise is the Samsung galaxy s8…. but they are expensive…. unless your willing to shell out each month for a contract,
    One thing that may be useful….is having a look at the numerous sites that offer reviews on phones, as I do know that there are a few Chinese offerings that aren’t common names but are on the ” edge ” and favoured by reviewers some as being excellent value…and have excellent cameras….



    1. Hi Lynd, is the Nokia 5 an android phone? Yes I’ve heard of a few of the Chinese ones that are becoming increasingly popular, and more expensive. I don’t use a phone hugely for calls or even internet, so don’t want to pay a fortune each month when that could be out to something more useful.

  2. Dan, I use my very cheap camera phone for photos when I don’t have my little digital camera and mainly just record a few photos to keep having as my wallpaper and main page on my phone. I rarely if ever share my photos with friends, I don’t take family snaps or share like my friends do showing me their families and places they have been. I was thinking of having it as my main camera but I like having a cheap phone and at the moment a cheap camera. xoxo susanJOY

    1. Just getting a cheap phone and forgetting about photos altogether is an option. It’s now like I don’t have any other cameras! My Nikon compact has done a pretty great job for seven years, I just like the added convenience and immediacy of the iPhone.

  3. Dan, Congratulations on the snow! Your little guy looks pretty thrilled. We just got another foot yesterday, I wish I could send you some of ours. I hear you about about the iPhone memory, that is annoying that one can’t add memory. I only recently got mine, but so far I love it. Actually I took some of my very favorite pictures on my cheap L.G. Android phone, but the lens flared terribly, and the phone itself became buggy. (within two years) I decided I wanted out of the whole Android/Microsoft thing, and I like the simplicity of the Apple products. I honestly can’t say my iPhone SE takes better pictures, but I do see a lot less flare from the lens. And I seldom have to edit the pictures..

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Jon. The snow didn’t last long, only about four or five days. That was out one and only sledging opportunity so I’m glad we took it!

      The later iPhones are probably better with memory. If I got one again I wouldn’t consider below 64GB but then the prices become crazy, like over twice what I paid for my iPad only a few months back. I do love Apple but just can’t justify the expense currently.

  4. I pay 99 cents a month for iCloud storage so I never get that “phone full” message. Also, I have a 32GB iPhone.

    I’ve used my iPhone for this kind of work and it does a good job. Except when it’s cold. Both my iPhones 5 and 6S have not liked temps below about 32 degrees F. They shut off when out in that kind of cold for too long.

    1. How does the iCloud storage help though if you’re out with the phone and not online, then you max out the storage? This is what happens with mine, it doesn’t save photos to iCloud then delete them from phone to free up storage when I am online and obviously it couldn’t do this at all without an internet connection.

      I had to google what 32 degrees Fahrenheit was. You mean below freezing. 😀

  5. I highly recommend Google’s Pixel 2!

    Fantastic image quality, and you get unlimited photo storage (high quality, not original) with Google Photos (saying that, not sure this is exclusive to the Pixel!), so you can have your phone automatically back up to the cloud, then remove the photos once it gets too full. It has a handy little feature that allows you to only remove images that have been successfully backed up.

    Another thing I like about Google Photos is that you can view everything online and manage your photos online far better than iCloud’s offering (I used to have an iPhone, trying to manage the photos on the web interface was some kind of nightmare). And, you can link your Google account to your WordPress account as well 🙂

    1. Very interesting you should talk about this… I have a follow up post upcoming, and I’m also finding that Google Photos is an excellent resource and it’s potentially changing my photography workflow quite dramatically. And no you don’t need a Google Pixel, I have set up an iPhone and Android phone to automatically back up full resolution photos to Google Photo whenever I’m connected to Wi-Fi. I also have it on my iPad and MacBook so you can see my whole batch of photos in one place, on any device. Very streamlined…

      I haven’t linked it to WP yet though, how does that work?

  6. Dan, the Nokia 5 is a Android based phone, and I must say for the times when needed, it’s been more than a willing friend to accompany me and record the points of interest…..that’s as much as I look for in a “phone” to be honest, it’s called a phone for a reason, if it took as good a pics as my camera it would be called a camera…… I’m waiting for the time when excellent cameras have a “phone” facility….. at that time, I think I will let go of the stock of cameras and lenses I have, and then I will be able to go on holiday with the money gained, and take my “real” cameraphone with me, ensuring I am able to take excellent shots and make the occasional call home….until then I’m stuck with what I have and the quest for a single camera continues…….



    1. Lynd, that is an excellent suggestion. I know more recent digital cameras have WiFi capabilities and can be set up to automatically sync to online storage, as well as touch screen.

      There must be a design for a device that would have great ergonomics as a camera, but also with some basic phone capabilities…

  7. I recently picked up an updated (2017) iPhone SE with a nifty 12MP camera, 2G RAM, and 128MB of on-board memory. I chose the new SE because I love the classic design being small enough to fit in my trouser pocket (no euphemism there okay), and I can use it with one hand (leave it). It is white and silver, and have great battery life, and standby times are off the charts for iPhones, especially the newer models.

    BUT it is still just a mobile phone. And I treat it as such. It is a mobile phone that has amazing capabilities, and quick on the draw. However, with my workflow being what it is at the moment, I’m not able to generate any form of link between the handset and a physical negative that I can use in the darkroom.

    What I do notice with using a mobile phone/camera, and when I still used a digital camera, is how easy it is to rattle off 10 (and many more) is rapid fire mode of pretty much the same scene. I never had time to scroll through hundreds of ‘similar’ images. It always used too much brain power to choose the ‘correct one’ to work on.

    This was one of the reasons to stick to film… sharpening my eye, and realising that you can’t take a picture of everything you see. All that does is tire you out, use up all your memory on your SD card, take forever to sort through and do post processing, and the image sits on your social media platforms to be viewed by a few thousand (if you’re lucky – ref Flickr algorithm), or viewed by tens (if you’re unlucky – ref Flickr algorithm). More damaging is that (in my opinion) it gives one WAY too many options, be that, choices in operation, processing, or images to scroll through.

    but, I digress 😉
    For me, the iPhone SE I currently own is great to capture daily memories of family, friends or curiosities. It certainly is better than a length of string at keeping to touch with everyone, and mum’s just a call away (including video), but will never be my main shooter.

    1. Anton, in many ways this sounds like the ideal next phone for me. I do like the size and features and iOS of mine, but just the issues with storage, and I’m finding too now battery life is making it frustrating. Everything is starting to slow down too. I stripped it of everything a few months ago and started again, but even with the fairly minimal set of apps I use it seems to struggle a bit now. Having said this, as much as I love Apple and use my iPad and MacBook, I do fancy a change on the phone front. And whilst 128GB should be enough for anyone, I still don’t like the fact that Apple make that storage fixed, with no option to upgrade/expand.

      I don’t ever go for the rapid fire, burst mode, machine gun approach, because of exactly the reasons you state! I’m not that keen on editing my photos when I have a small amount, it’s much worse when you have three, 13 or 30 near identical versions to choose between!

      “All that does is tire you out, use up all your memory on your SD card, take forever to sort through and do post processing […] More damaging is that (in my opinion) it gives one WAY too many options, be that, choices in operation, processing, or images to scroll through.” Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!!

      1. sorry mate…. that should be 128 GIGAbytes not MB….!!
        and THAT is more than enough 🙂

        Regarding the burst mode. That is one big issue with iOS ver 11.2 that I is used on the SE. The software for the camera has an automatic ‘burst’ mode of sorts. Hold you finger on the trigger for slightly longer than neccesary, and you will end up with a ‘live’ image. That is basically a short video (or possibly a GIF) The software assumes we don’t really know when we actually intended to fire the trigger. So it takes a second or 2 in front, and behind, creating the GIF. But also keeps the instant we did fire the trigger. All those images are stored. And sorting through your camera rolls gets a bit messy. Then add to that your HIPSTAMATIC files… Straight and Modified with the H/Matic adjustments. But all can be modified on saving… so not a lost cause…

        so, that’s 128GB of storage 🙂

      2. Yeh I knew you meant 128GB, I didn’t even notice the typo.

        I took a photo of my son the other day, and when you scroll through and stop on it, it moves every so slightly. I had no idea why. I guess it’s this burst thing you’re talking about. Pretty pointless!

        Can you set it so that’s disabled?

  8. you can disable it, but the iOS seems to prefer you not switch it off (so constantly switches itself on after you switched it off) – something about out feeble brains not being able to cope with making decisions or something… #themachinestakingover 😉

    1. Grrr, hate it when technology thinks it knows better… Microsoft Word comes to mind when you’re trying to format a document a certain way and it keeps changing it because it thinks it’s more clever…

  9. My iPhone SE is definitely the go to camera for family snapshots for me. I have a 32gb model but store very few pictures on it. I tend to upload them all to Google Photos every few days then delete them from the phone. Upload is automatic once you open the Photos app. I also use Photos for any filters – usually just “auto” – and if the picture is still in the phone, it adds the filter there too. A nice, simple work stream.

    1. I could probably get away with the SE and the connection with Google Photos, like you Richard. I just got fed up with Apple and am trying something else with a Sony Xperia Android phone. Plus even the SE I find expensive for what it is.

      I agree the Google Photos app gives a very simple and likeable workflow. And actually despite using Hipstamatic on my iPad previously more than I used it on my phone, I seem to prefer using Snapseed on the Xperia rather than the iPad. Just fits in with that simple workflow again and means I can created a finished photo with just the Xperia and no other device.

      1. I couldn’t really get to grips with Snapseed, which is a shame as generally Google products are great. I got the SE for a very good price – only a small increase on my existing SIM only contract – in an arm-twist phonecall to EE! I have an Android phone for work (HTC) and that’s good too.

      2. That surprises me with Snapseed, I was/am a big fan of Hipstamatic, but I have found Snapseed more intuitive and fun, and a cleaner more logical layout.

        I like that you can either just pick something like a Vintage filter and it’s like a lucky dip, or you can then go further and within it adjust parameters like the strength of the filter, contrast, brightness, and so on.

      3. My experience of Snapseed was prior to trying Hipstamatic (on your recommendation) which I do really like. Having just looked again, I hadn’t realised that it would simply apply a filter to a picture on your phone (the “save” function is buried a little) so I thought it duplicated your images in the way that VSCO does. D’oh!!

      4. Richard I still like Hipstamtic and one advantage it does have over Snapseed is you can take photos with the presets applied, and choose whether to also keep the original version or not. Snapseed as I understand it can only apply the processing after the photo has been taken.

        Yes to save on my phone (Sony/Android) you make any adjustments then tap the Done button. I just remembered our daughter has it on her iPod Touch and I think to save you have to export a copy or something similar, it’s slightly different than in Android.

        I like that it’s very easy to edit – you can take a photo, tap the image when it appears in the corner of the camera screen, tap Edit > Snapseed and make your edits. Or you can go into the Snapseed app and open an image that way.

      5. Interesting – I’ll try it on my Android phone and see how that plays out. I do like my iPhone, but love Google products. I’d like to see how good a high-end Android phone really is.

      6. Richard, can I play devil’s advocate (excuse the turn of phrase!) and ask how would you define “good” or degrees of good in an Android phone? Or put another way, what’s been lacking in Android phones (or indeed iPhones) you’ve had/used?

      7. Sure, no problem at all! 🙂 Because it’s new, relatively uncluttered and has the latest iOS running, my iPhone has a very slick user interface. It’s a joy to use: bright, simple, nice to look at, very smooth. My company HTC on the other hand is not such a high-spec phone. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, but it isn’t as slick an experience as the iPhone is. There’s also the fact though, that I am much more used to iPhones than any other kind. I guess I just want to see if something like a Google Pixel is as pleasant to use as an iPhone SE. So to me, I suppose “good” is more of a subjective experience once things like relative technical specs are evened out.

      8. Yeh Richard I think you’re talking about the quality of the design and the user interface. Which Apple are, on the whole, masters of. (On the camera front this is a major factor why I’ve settled on the Ricoh GRD III and Pentax Q – both are wonderfully designed.)

        I think a fundamental reason is Apple design everything from the ground up – the hardware, the software, the cloud infrastructure. This is why in my view they have always been light years ahead of Microsoft – the latter can be on any number of different PCs with any combination of memory, HD, graphics card and everything else. None of it designed in unison so far more chance of things not working together as they should. Apple make everything together, to work together. Same with the iPhone, MacBooks, iPods, whatever.

        Google until I think quite recently were in a similar position to Microsoft with Android. They designed the software, then a few dozen (or more?) manufacturers used that OS in their own phones. Now with devices like ChromeBooks and the Pixel cameras, Google have followed Apple’s path and done it all themselves. I haven’t used one, but I would expect a Pixel to be very slick to use, especially if you also use GMail, Google Photos, Google Play Music, Google Docs etc. In my eyes they’re in a position now that no-one else except Apple have ever been in. Which is great news for all of us. My recent experiment in reincarnating my wife’s 2009 HP laptop as a ChromeBook has further excited me about how good Google are now.

        That said about Apple and Google, my Sony Xperia is pretty slick. It’s not super high end, a ZX1 Compact, but I think it’s essentially a smaller screened and bodied version of the ZX1, which is pretty high end. Anyway, it’s not an iPhone, but it is probably the most intuitive and pleasant to use non Apple phone I have used. And obviously being Android it all seems to work seamlessly with Google’s online apps mentioned above.

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