The new iPhone 11 is a remarkable advancement in mobile photography and will have many benefits for the non-professional. It could even make unnecessary the lower end market of photography — namely the point-and-shoot. And it could replace higher-end cameras for certain things, like street photography. But for people looking to get very serious about, or make a living from, photography — the term “Pro” on the iPhone 11 should be taken with a grain of salt.
This list isn’t meant to diminish the accomplishments of what camera phones are becoming capable of doing, but to put them in perspective with the needs of hard-working professionals. It’s not pro photographers doing the reviews of the new phone, it’s tech writers. And what’s obvious to a professional photographer is not necessarily so for someone who doesn’t do it day in and day out, for a living. And so if you’re wondering just how far the iPhone 11 might carry you in your career as a photographer, just keep in mind…
IT DOESN’T HAVE A HOT SHOE
If you look at the glowing reviews of the iPhone 11 and the promise of replacing your “real” camera, the images they show are always in non-professional situations. The low light capability is often impressive, but it’s hardly a magazine cover type of image and is nearly always using existing or available light.
More often than not, a professional shoot needs to happen in a controlled environment with a number of artificial lights that can be shaped to create the right mood. Just take a look at any high-fashion magazine or the cover of Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, or even the images of e-commerce brands. Those shoots are all controlled with at least one off-camera light — usually with modifiers, like softboxes, grids and barn doors to establish exactly the right lighting condition, both in and out of a studio. Unless you can afford extremely expensive continuous lights, you’re doing this with only moderately expensive strobe lights, which have to be controlled by a transceiver that attaches to the top of your camera, in a hot shoe. Which the iPhone 11 does not have.
Not everything is about the detail of a natural light image, or better low light capability. A professional camera is a tool that can do a lot of things outside of capturing images. Having the hot shoe to control off-camera lights is just one example —there’s many others, like tethering — but it’s the huge one.
ITS LONGEST LENS IS ONLY 52MM
Now, a 52mm f/2.0 lens is a wonderful lens to have and offers fantastic imagery for everyday shooting. But everyone from sports photographers to portrait photographers to wildlife photographers need lengths well above that. The most flattering portraits are obtained between 85mm and 200mm. And if you’re on a platform at a stadium, hired to get the action all the way across the field — you need upwards of 400mm or more. I don’t even shoot my kids playing soccer at less than 70mm.
A good amount of professional shooting relies on getting very very close to the action — and a photographer can’t always use his/her feet to get there. These kinds of jobs can only be done with high-end SLRs.
IT DOESN’T HAVE REMOVABLE MEDIA
There are a whole bunch of reasons that a photographer needs removable media in a camera — but the major one is that a professional shoot can yield thousands of shots, and you’re often swapping out cards. Being able to switch to a new card when you’ve filled up your card is essential and, in some tough situations in photojournalism, so is being able to hide or protect it. The iPhone 11 offers a finite amount of storage space and is completely intertwined with the device itself.
The iPhone 11’s top storage amount is 512GB, which is quite big and perhaps enough for any single shoot. But you’ll fill that up quick as a professional and be in a position of having to do quite a bit of media management on it. The phone is not ideal for the normal pro’s workflow, as getting images on and off the iPhone is not efficient — especially when you’re not at home. I don’t always have the luxury of heading home and offloading all my images in between shoots. Having cards is a must in a lot of situations.
A BACKUP IPHONE 11?
Another obvious drawback to the use of an iPhone for professional shooting is that most people will only have one of them. This can create major difficulties on many levels: weddings, for example, where you may want to hire a second shooter. Or in any situation where you actually might want to use your phone for something else — like communications, behind-the-scenes, playing music, etc., which is the normal use of the iPhone at shoots. So, what replaces the iPhone while you’re using your iPhone?
But the real dilemma with having just one is that it becomes a real situation when something goes wrong. Most pros travel with at least two camera bodies and sometimes upwards of five! A professional is tough on their equipment and expects them to have problems. What if you’re in extreme weather and it causes some malfunctions? What if an object hits your camera, or you drop it? What if you end up in a situation where you’ve run out of power and need to swap a battery? These kinds of issues happen regularly. We are not just picture-takers, we are also problem-solvers — and those solutions often necessitate having backup equipment: bodies, lenses, batteries, etc.
COMPLEX SITUATIONS DEMAND COMPLEX STYLES OF SHOOTING
And finally, while the images you see in reviews are quite good — and even on par with a lot of lower and higher-end cameras, on occasion from a detail perspective — they are not taken in very complex situations. Recently, I’ve been shooting dance programs for a local dance company. The high degree of difficulty in this kind of shooting is typical in a lot of professional shooting, especially for events. The programs feature a variety of different light set-ups. A number of split-second decisions need to be made as I shoot this kind of event — many of them are a combination of creative and technical decisions that happen on-the-fly. The action is happening so quickly, I can’t afford to take my eye off the camera, and so my adjustments are all happening with my hands on the controls and from my physical memory of how to adjust ISO, shutter speed, aperture as well as zoom and manual focus — simultaneously. An impossible way to shoot with the iPhone. Not to mention you can’t get as close to the action with one, either.
None of these scenarios are uncommon for professionals, which is what make it an “obvious” list. There are certainly more complex issues in professional photography not discussed here — we didn’t get into tethered shooting, the use of a digital tech, remote shooting, use of tripods, higher-end studio work that necessitates medium format shooting and so much more. But there are also esoteric ones associated with our equipment. For example, not discussed here is just the idea of using something so ubiquitous as a device owned by over 100 million people in doing something that a client is paying you for. Even if perhaps it might be an okay tool to use — should you? Will a client properly value your services if you show up with a tool she/he already owns?
It doesn’t get talked about much outside of photography circles, but there are certain visual signals that a professional photographer is able to convey with professional grade equipment. And it’s not uncommon for a photographer to show up to shoots with more, rather than less, simply for the optics of it. And while this seems unnecessary, it’s also human nature. The people who pay good money for great images also want to feel taken care of and in good hands — sometimes that sense of assurance is easier to give with a well-packed Pelican case than through an Instagram feed.
Josh S. Rose is a professional photographer, living in Los Angeles.