Editorial Videos

The iPhone Fashion Shoot Controversy

When Lee Morris over at FStoppers posted on YouTube a stunning video of a fashion shoot taken with an Apple iPhone 3G, he was not prepared by the controversy that would erupt.

Many comments on the shoot pointed out the fallacy of trying to prove the point by using expensive lighting.

Joshua Schnell of Macgasm rebuted the piece by correctly pointing out that “You can get amazing photos out of any piece-of-crap camera if you spend a ton of cash on lighting your subjects.

Lee Morris responded by restating the aim of the video: “So before I say anything else let me start by saying; I created this video to simply show that you should not be limited by your camera. Obviously there was a lot that went into this shoot including a professional model, hair and makeup, a studio, lighting, and a retoucher. We may create another video in the future where we shoot with only natural light but this video is simply about the camera. There are so many photographers who are obsessed with noise, sharpness, color, dynamic range, megapixels, chromatic aberration, moire, distortion, etc. So many photographers get wrapped up in the technical side that they forget how to take compelling images. This video is for them.

Fstoppers did a fantastic job with their iPhone 3G fashion shoot. We understand where they are coming from: their premise that consumers should not be so engrossed with noise, CA, equipment, etc. is correct. It’s just that their video using expensive lighting equipment and perfect studio lighting may have proved the very opposite.

Therein lies the problem we see too often on the Web: how easy it is to do something with a piece of crap. That equipment does not matter. That you should not be so concerned with noise, CA, etc. All true, mind you, yet all so misleading — depending on how you word your article title and actual content.

See, it’s one thing to say that “A good photographer can take good pictures with any camera.” and quite another to say that “You don’t need good equipment to take good pictures.” Though both statements are true, they can also be misleading to consumers trying to find a good digital camera for their family pictures. Certainly if they went and bought the wrong camera, they will not be able to take good pictures, especially low-light pictures, which seems to be the holy grail of picture-taking for most point-and-shoot photographers.

With a good camera, consumers should stop being so engrossed with their equipment and start learning about lighting, composition, etc. In other words, concentrate into becoming a better photographer. I believe that is what Lee Morris was trying to get across.

But, if the camera did not matter at all, then why doesn’t Lee [or the other photographers who keep espousing this view] use an iPhone [or an Olympus DSLR, which he so flagrantly and unfairly dissed in the opening minutes of his video], from now on for all his shoots? Obviously, that ain’t gonna happen. Yes, you still want to use the right equipment for the job.

Similarly, taking test shots in perfect studio lighting can also be deceptive. Your camera will never be in such an ideal lighting situation so the test does not prove anything, period. Many test reviews do just that: shoot ISO tests in a studio setting with perfect lighting or even take their high ISO tests in bright daylight. No one in the field takes high ISO pictures in bright light. To be relevant, any test should reproduce as close as possible the actual environment most people will be taking pictures in. In other words, high ISO tests should always be performed in a low-light, preferably standard room lighting, situation.

Great video. May have simply proved that the iPhone can take great pictures and video in a perfectly lighted studio setting. In real life? Still not bad from what we have seen around the Web, just not great.

So, what is it? Does the camera matter? You’ll read both sides, and sometimes heated, exchanges on this subject. The truth, as is often the case, lies somewhat in the middle.

Does the camera matter?

  1. No: a good photographer can take good pictures with any camera.
  2. No: a crappy camera [pardon the language] can take good pictures if the lighting just happens to be perfect, whether in a studio or in the field.
  3. Yes: you will not be able to take good low-light pictures with most point-and-shoot cameras (including the cameras on mobile phones, no matter how many megapixels they sport).
  4. No, not if you have a good camera: the improvement should come from you becoming a better photographer. This is the point that most who espouse “the camera doesn’t matter” mantra is trying to make. With a good camera, stop nit picking on the faults [since no camera is perfect] and concentrate on learning and becoming a better photographer, so you can do #1.
  5. Yes: that is why professional photographers buy the best.