Photography on our Hawaiian Islands Tour

January 24 to February 5, 2020
P. Michael Henderson

Over the years of our travels I've used a variety of camera equipment.  I started with a "travel" camera with a small imager, probably a 1/2.3.  (For those who want to know more about camera imagers, see this article on Wikipedia. and this article on imager sizes)  By "travel camera" I mean one that folds up and you can put it in your pocket.  But the problem with a small imager is that low light performance is not very good.  The image comes out with a lot of noise.

So I bought a travel camera with a 1" imager.  While it was better, it still had a lot of noise in low light conditions.

Next, I purchased a Panasonic G85 with a 4/3rds imager.  Better, but not good enough.  Also, the Panasonic was not a travel camera.  It was a "standard" camera with interchangeable lenses - and that made it awkward to carry.

I still wasn't satisfied with the 4/3rds imager and eventually purchased a Nikon D7500 with an APS-C imager - the last step before full frame. I shot our Adriatic trip with the Nikon.  Nice camera, decent low light performance, but big and awkward to carry.  Also, it uses a mirror and each shot is fairly noisy with the mirror snapping up and then back down.  Mirrorless cameras are a lot quieter.

After we returned from the Adriatic trip I heard of the work companies were doing with computational photography.  Actually, I learned of it from the announcements of the Google Pixel 4 smartphone.  So I bought one of the Pixel 4 phones.  With the computational photography techniques the Pixel 4 could produce some very good pictures in difficult lighting conditions.

But I use an iPhone, not an Android phone.  With further research I learned that Apple was doing many of the techniques in the iPhone 11.  So I returned the Pixel 4 and purchased an iPhone 11 Pro.

And that's what I'm using to shoot the photos for this trip.

The iPhone 11 can zoom to about the equivalent of a 250mm lens on a 35mm camera and produce a decent 12 megapixels image.  Zooming further degrades the image.

It also doesn't provide a RAW image - just JPEG.  This doesn't give me as much latitude in post processing but the iPhone does such a nice job of producing the original image that I don't need to make big adjustments in post. 

The iPhone provides a "live" image which consists of a short movie.  I can select the final shot from the short movie sequence.  And the iPhone has the location, in GPS coordinates, in the EXIF data of the picture and that shows me exactly where the picture was taken.

It's certainly not as nice as a full sized single lens reflex camera but it's close.  And I can put the iPhone in my pocket.  The major problem I have with the iPhone is getting the pictures to my computer.  Apple does not make that easy.

So that's the images you are looking at in this trip blog - all produced on an iPhone 11 Pro with minimal post processing.

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One problem I've encountered is that in bright sunlight I can barely see what I'm shooting on the screen.  It's interesting that the iPhone has the opposite problem from a standard camera - it takes good low light pictures but is a problem to use in strong sunlight.

A second problem is that when I zoom out to the maximum, the image comes out looking over processed - just not realistic.

Apple does some strange things with the naming of the pictures.  The standard naming is IMG_xxxx.jpg where xxxx is a number.  But it also names some of the pictures IMG_Exxxx.jpg and some IMG_Sxxxx.jpg. 

The problem with this unusual naming is that the pictures don't wind up in shooting sequence when you look at them on the computer.  When I'm reviewing the pictures, I have to keep switching between the standard naming and the E and S naming to make sure I'm looking at all of the shots for an event.

So far, I haven't been able to figure out why it names a picture with the standard name, or the E or S name.

Summary: Pictures from the iPhone are often not as sharp as I'd like and I don't know exactly why.  Sometimes the area out of focus is on one side of the photo and the other side is good.  Take a look at this photo.  Judy and I are in decent focus but Carol and Tom are significantly out of focus.  The pictures was taken by the waiter but I can't see anything he could have done wrong.

I think Apple needs to do some improvements to the camera, and I expect they will over time - maybe the next generation:-)  But the iPhone does offer some significant advantages so I'll probably continue to use it.  There just isn't a perfect camera.

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I found that the easiest way to move pictures to my computer is to use iCloud.  I use iCloud to backup my pictures so each time I take a picture, it is sent to iCloud as soon as I have Wi-Fi access.  This is a bit strange in that the pictures have to travel to the cloud and then back to me when I download them to my computer.  If we were on a trip where we didn't have good Wi-Fi this wouldn't work well.  But I could still access the pictures by connecting the iPhone to my computer with a cable.  Apple just doesn't make it very easy to access the pictures that way.


[Update 4/2/2022:  I used the Panasonic G85 with an Olympus 12-200mm zoom lens on our trip to Antarctica and it worked fine.  The 12-200mm lens on a 4/3rds camera is equivalent to a 24-400mm lens on a 35mm camera - but occasionally I wanted more than 400mm.  I found an Olympus OM-D M-1 Mark III camera body that will do a good 2X digital zoom in the body.  This gives me the equivalent of an 800mm lens on a 35mm camera.  That's a lot of reach.  I used that camera on our trip to Morocco. 


[Update 4/4/2024:  I've continued to try to improve my photography.  The Olympus OM-D M-1 was a good camera but I still wasn't satisfied with the pictures I was getting from it.  I went back to an APS-C camera, this time a Fujifilm X-H2 with a Tamron 18-300mm lens, and used it to shoot the pictures on our South Africa safari.  I was satisfied with the pictures I was able to take.

An APS-C camera has a crop factor of 1.5, so that 18-300mm lens is equivalent to a 27-450mm lens on a full frame camera.  The Fujifilm camera can do a 1.4x or a 2x digital zoom, and that's equivalent to a 37-630mm or a 54-900mm lens.  Digital zoom does degrade an image but it's not too bad, and it's better than missing a shot.

Beyond that, Apple has continued to improve the iPhone camera and I bought the iPhone 15 pro Max.  The pictures are better than the iPhone 11 pro, but still have some issues, especially with telephoto shots.  Samsung has an excellent camera on their smartphone but I don't want to convert to an Android phone.  I used the iPhone, only, for our last few trips and have been satisfied.  I'll keep the Fujifilm camera but I'll probably only use it if I know we'll have a lot of telephoto requirements on a trip.

I have learned quite a bit about post processing and the software has become much more powerful.  I use PhotoShop Elements and Luminar Neo.  Luminar is especially powerful - I can do some amazing things with that program.

I only use the photos on this blog, so I don't have to be perfect.