The saying goes that "the best camera is the one you have with you." This is arguably true, now that cell phones have improved tremendously. Indeed, we used our collective iPhones along with my big Canon beast (the 1Dx) on our recent holiday in Ireland. We took tons of "snaps" of the places we went, over 200 in fact. The majority were iPhone images. They will end up in the album I'm printing, no doubt. However, my larger reason for posting is that we professional photographers often hear that the ubiquity of the cameraphone is ruining the profession. After this week, I really disagree. You see I discovered there's a big difference in how I use my cameraphone versus how I use my pro gear. It reminds me of the difference between my mom grabbing birthday party photos with the 110 Instamatic complete with flash cube versus the formal, professional portrait. All those little 4x6 outtakes of little moments are vastly different from the annual portraits we had professionally done. I undoubtedly treasure both. The snapshots are just that: quickie grabs of moments, not necessarily well lit or well posed. They're instants, as the camera name "Instamatic" implies. In case this is before your time, here's a link to the Wiki site for the Kodak Instamatic: https://g.co/kgs/6YjcJB We have hundreds of them stuffed in albums and envelopes. Arguably, we do the same with our cameraphones in the present day. They're perfectly fine.
So, what are the differences then? Well, to me there are two big ones: expertise of the user and the quality of image data. I can and have taken perfectly nice photos on the run with my cameraphone. How nice they are depends on how cooperative my subjects (aka my family) want to be. They're pretty over it with my pro jargon and have no patience for letting me pose them effectively. They really don't want to hear it when I want them to move out of the blaring, noonday sun and into a well lit but shadier area twenty feet to the left. They just want me to take the damned picture already. So, fine. Lots of those images are meaningful to me, and will wind up in prints to be held privately for us. We'll do what families have always done, laugh and talk about what we were doing when those snapshots were taken. They're far different from the formal portraits of our family's also recent graduations for example. Because it was a big life event, my recalcitrant family tolerated me going pro on them. The results are no less pleasing, but far different in the skill demonstrated to capture my family in their best looks.
Now, part two: image quality. This is really about the technical aspect. Probably to 99% of consumers and clients you don't know and I would bore you quickly to tears if I tried to go into a lengthy discussion. So, I'm going to illustrate very subtle things with the two images here. So we know what's what, the left hand image is from my pro camera and the right from the iPhone 6Plus. They were taken in the same area at the same time of day. Pay attention to the very dark rocks. These were taken in full sun against very bright sea and sky. The iPhone wasn't able to pick up all the texture in the rocks. Side by side you can see that the rocks look super dark and that's about it. Even once I got the image into editing software, there wasn't much I could do. The iPhone camera just wasn't robust enough to get data intense info from the ultra dark rocks. Even I can't create data that isn't there, so the image is what it it. Perfectly nice for our album, but not professional grade. Right from the camera the image taken with the Canon 1Dx also had very dark areas in the rocks. The big difference was that the huge sensor and processing capacity of my gear provided much more data to mine when taken to developing software. I could pull up much more detail in the rocks, the fields in the distance, and the sky at the horizon. Will this matter to most users? Probably not. Where it matters most is in the big occasions: the time capsule images you want to frame, to see every day, to print out in wall worthy formats.
I have to conclude there is a place for both types of photography. Both can and should be treasured in their own special way. Snap away. Use a great consumer lab to print. (Always print. You'll look at them more. I promise.) But finally, ultimately, when it really counts, and you want to look back on the years to remember your loved ones in a special time in their lives, professional portraits are the best investment you can make. A professional portrait photography artist has the skills to create that for you.