Why on earth would some one want to shoot with a 35 year old film camera when you have a perfectly good smartphone? 

This article is not about comparing two photos side by side, figuring out which camera renders sharper images. No sir — it is time to sit down and do some armchair over-thinking instead!

It has been established, that smartphones can take decent enough pictures these days. But is it really all about image quality and sharpness? Might there be other, more important reasons to shoot with a so called real camera?

I used to be a smartphone shooter as well. I bought my first iPhone in 2010 and even back then, it was a relatively capable camera. I used it as my “main camera” for few years, because I saw so much value in a small camera that was practically always in my pocket. These days I don’t shoot with my iPhone almost at all. I could live with the image quality, if I’d absolutely have to, but the actual reasons boils down to practical things such as usability. 

Comparing apples to oranges?

Is there any point in comparing an iPhone with a 35 year old film camera? Well — yes and no. On face value, it seems quite pointless, but I wouldn’t be thinking about it unless people didn’t keep asking why I’m shooting with that old hunkajunk when I have a perfectly good camera in my pocket. So why indeed one chooses to carry around an old mechanical camera instead of settling with an iPhone, which after all seems like a completely good option? I think it is a perfectly reasonable question.

Sure, smartphone as a camera is nice to have. For serious photography though, the idea makes me feel very uncomfortable. If there wouldn’t be anything else to consider than sharpness, I could see myself settling for one. But there are about million other things to consider besides the obvious.

Just for argument’s sake, let’s pretend the image quality wouldn’t be an issue, what other reasons could there be? Of course the potential image quality between a Leica M6 and an iPhone isn’t a fair comparison, but let’s say they’d be completely on the same line in that regard.

Keeping the ‘film vs. digital’ question out of the equation

I’d also like to keep this question separate from the whole film vs. digital discussion. There are million reasons to shoot film over digital (and possibly vice versa, but what do I know about that…) — one being for example the archival capabilities of a negative, compared to the relatively short and uncertain life-span of a digital file. Where the photos from my first iPhone may lie today, will remain a permanent mystery. Forever lost perhaps. Do you still have yours?

Why smartphones are not so good for “serious” photography?

If I’d have to argue what would be my main deal-breakers with an iPhone as a serious camera, here’s what I’d see as the main shortcomings.

  • It takes several valuable seconds to get the phone out of the pocket, unlock the screen and launch the app. If I have my Leica on my neck, which I always do, it’s ready instantly. No missing the subject because of that.
  • Shutter release of the iPhone is laggy. There can sometimes be up to 1—2 second delay between pressing the shutter and the picture being taken. 
  • The phone can ring while shooting.
  • Any number of other distractions might occur, for example messenger notification.  
  • The phone can run out of battery. 
  • The phone can crash.
  • It’s not reliable in any other way either.
  • The phone is very vulnerable to the elements and can for example freeze even in the most moderate winter conditions. A battery-independent mechanical camera will, on the other hand, eat eskimos for breakfast.
  • You can’t leave the smartphone on stand-by in order to walk around for a while, without the phone eventually going to sleep. 
  • Really small sensor. 
  • Very limited optical capabilities. 
  • The touch screen might not register your gestures. 
  • The touch screen might not work at all if there’s a one drop of rain between it and your finger tip. 
  • You’d be distracted by Facebook in no time. 
  • Smartphones are stupid and I use one more than enough already. The appeal of film is to enjoy the haptic and tactile medium.

In addition, I really don’t see the the image quality as anything to write home about. It is good for what it is, but personally I don’t enjoy at all the look of software interfered photos or the lack of dynamic range.

Old hunkajunk or not — I just like my camera

Just in case you were wondering why I specifically decided to compare the Leica M6 to the iPhone, out of all old cameras, it just happens to be my only camera at the moment. (And it definitely isn’t a hunkajunk, even though most people don’t know what it is.) I settled it for several heavy reasons, most of which having to do how the camera actually works. Many of those reason are practically just the opposite of the ones I argued against the iPhone.

I’ve become so used to shooting film these days that I don’t usually even rationalise or explain it (or my gear choices) too much. The simplified answer it that I just like it so much.