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I’m Back, with an iPhone 6 Plus

February 12, 2015

After a long sabbatical, enforced by family pressures and health issues, I’ve returned to my blog. A lot has happened during my absence. I retired my D5100 and upgraded to a D7100. The iPhone 5 went in favour of an iPhone 6 Plus. Lenses and assorted accessories have also found their way into my bag. I’ve had opportunities to work with clients using Nikon D800E and D810s, as well as the latest offerings from Lumix, so there’s a lot of catching up to be done.

Abandoned and Ignored

Features and Impressions of the iPhone 6 Plus

Firstly, the camera in the iPhone 6 Plus is astonishingly good. I decided on the 6 Plus after reading lots of reviews and visits to the Apple Store.
I acquired it mainly for the bigger screen. I need reading glasses and I use my phone more as a portable web browser and camera, rather than as a phone. If you have good eyesight, small hands and are on the phone for a long time, the iPhone 6 may be a better choice. The screen is clear, sharp and bright. The colours are accurate and text size is flexible. The beat up after dire warnings from those four obese gents, who bent their iPhones when they sat on them, are easily avoided and were ignored. It’s a thousand dollar piece of complex electronic equipment. If you feel the best treatment it deserves is to stick it under your bum, sit on it and bend it, you have more money than brains and should buy something less delicate, like a brick.

I do have one word of caution. The screen scratches easily. After having converted to iPhones since their first release, I’ve been impressed by their robust, but not bullet-proof build quality. I’ve never scratched one, so I treated my 6 Plus with the same care as the previous models. Sadly, I found a scratch on the glass after the first week. Mortified, I immediately bought a very expensive glass cover which, due to an unhelpful vendor, I was forced to install myself. Never again. Dust spots, bubbles and lifted corners. After a few days, I went to a phone specialist, paid less for a better cover and watched it skillfully applied. Get a cover as soon as you buy the phone, but don’t try to install it at home. You’ve been warned.

Beacon iPhone 6

Phone Specs from Apple, with Comments from Me

For the technically inclined, here are Apple’s specs, which I’ll attempt to decipher and show how they will benefit your photography.

The iPhone features an 8-megapixel iSight camera with 1.5µ pixels. In the race for more megapixels and the mistaken idea that more means better, 8 mp is enough. With proper lighting, careful photography and processing, you can can easily produce A3+ prints, or larger. There is also a front camera, not as good as the back one, but great for selfies and conversations on FaceTime or Skype.

Tap Autofocus with Focus Pixels & ƒ/2.2 aperture. The benefit? Autofocus is much improved; faster and more precise. A yellow square appears on the screen, you touch the object you want in sharp focus and take the shot. It works and works well. The ƒ2.2 aperture is excellent in good light, pretty good for interior light and adequate, but a bit noisy in low light. It’s still surprisingly good when compared to some larger point and shoot cameras, but don’t expect miracles.

iPhone 6 Plus Optical Image Stabilisation. This seems to work well. I have photography apps that show shutter speeds. They indicate that the camera avoids shake at speeds a lot lower than I’d expect without it. My feeling on stabilisation is based on the fact that because our eyes are very forgiving, we aren’t good at judging how low a light level actually is. If you rely totally on your judgement of low light, depend on stabilisation and not a tripod, or solid rest for good, sharp results you’re going to be very disappointed.

Plane Tree Toorak

True Tone flash. Nice idea, but pinpoint flashes on camera phones never give good results, unless you really dislike someone and want them to look bad. It’s not flattering for portraits. Stick to natural light. It’s also OK for copying documents, but not much else. It does however, make a very convenient torch.

Five-element lens, Hybrid IR filter, Sapphire Crystal Lens Cover. It’s a good sharp, versatile lens which works well for its intended purpose. It is covered by a sapphire crystal which I hope, is harder than the front glass of the phone, but I don’t intend to test it.

Auto image Stabilisation. This is very evident shooting movies and is in addition to the Optical Stabilisation feature in the iPhone 6 Plus. It gives sharp, shake free pictures at shutter speeds, a lot lower than one without stabilisation.

Auto HDR for Photos. HDR or High Dynamic Range is a way of increasing the overall tonal range of a picture. When there’s strong light and deep shadow in a scene, the camera sensor struggles to get a good exposure. You get an image either too dark, or too light. HDR takes a light and dark image simultaneously then combines them, to give a picture with a tonal range impossible to capture any other way.

Improved Face Detection. The camera automatically selects faces, in preference to other parts of the scene and gives them priority focus. This feature is much beloved by those addicted to selfies.

Exposure Control. Probably the most exciting and useful feature to be incorporated into the system since the first iPhone camera. Incorrect exposure, due to strong side or back light sources, ruins more pictures than anything else, other than camera shake. To operate it, you touch the screen when the yellow focus square appears, you tap it and a line appears beside the focus square with a little sun. Slide your finger up and the picture brightens, slide down and it darkens. Everyone I’ve shown how to use it, thinks it’s a miracle. I do too! You do need to take care, not to go too far. Shadows darken quickly and highlights burn out easily.

Panorama (up to 43 megapixels). This feature still blows me away. Slide the picture type selector at the bottom of the camera screen to Pano. An arrow with slider appears. You choose the direction you want your panorama to start, press the button and move the camera horizontally keeping the arrow level and move at an even speed. If the arrow dips, you see it and can correct, if you move too fast, you get a warning to slow down. Press the shutter button to stop, wait a moment and there you have it, a brilliant panorama. These panoramas can give you wonderful, large prints. Good panoramas are difficult to master. Because you cover such a wide area, light levels can cause problems, as can people moving. It takes practice, but there’s no better way to show a big group at a party, or an awe inspiring landscape. You don’t need to use the full range either, you can make smaller panoramas to give the effect of a wide angle lens.

Burst Mode. This is an excellent way to take a large number of small, bad photos, quickly and effortlessly, instead of a single good one that results when you take a bit more time. Use movie mode instead. No prizes for guessing I’m not a fan.

Photo Geotagging. Always forgetting where you took the shot? Then this feature’s for you. It records the latitude and longitude in metadata and if you import the photo into Lightroom, it shows you on a map, where you took the shot. If you want to keep your locations secret, make sure you remove it before posting to online picture galleries, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Picture Processing My real joy with the iPhone 6 Plus is that powerful processing is now included in the software. It’s slightly hidden by menus, but worth finding. For those allergic to reading long instructions, here’s the precis version. When you check your images in the photo gallery, there’s blue type that says ‘Edit.’ Touch it and the the edit suite opens up which allows you to crop, brighten, colour correct and change the look of your picture quite radically. There are sub menus that feature exposure, white points, shadow adjustment and a range of semi-professional controls. My favourite photo editing app is Photogene. It’s been constantly improved since launch and works a treat. Essentially Photogene is a miniature Lightroom, which is now also available on the phone. The Apple one is free, simple and works well, although I’m disappointed there’s no sharpening offered – yet!

Summary I’m impressed with the iPhone 6 Plus. As I’ve come to use it more, I’m finding it’s very competent. I’m continually surprised by the quality of the camera. I’m going to run comparisons using it and the Nikon, to see how far it can be stretched. It’s easy to browse the web, send messages, navigate and I discovered, to my great joy, play music and watch movies. You can even use it to make phone calls. What more could you ask?

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