Monday photos: The iPhone 4S as a camera for food bloggers

A good camera or cameras are an important part of a food blogger's toolkit. Last year when I reviewed my then-new addition to my own camera arsenal, the Panasonic Lumix GF-1, I wrote about the situations for which a food blogger typically needs a decent camera. Cellphones cameras are particularly useful for the second and third situations I listed: shooting in restaurants, and shooting food on-the-road in various situations such as at a market.

I've been using cellphones with built-in cameras since 2003 or so. I don't even remember all the names of those cellphones anymore, though I do remember that I liked the Sony Ericsson phone I owned in 2007 enough to ">draw a picture of it The pictures taken with cellphones were ok for record taking, but not really adequate for publishing. So I always carried around a small point-and-shoot with me too.

Getting my feet wet in the iPhone world a bit more than 2 years ago with an iPhone 3GS did not change that situation much. (I've always been an Apple girl, but was a late iPhone adopter since I couldn't really see why I needed a "smartphone"...until I actually got one that is.) Taking pictures with my iPhone was a last resort that I used only when I couldn't use my point-and-shoot, or later my GF-1, for whatever reason - namely, when I didn't have it on me.

Since I tended to bring my GF-1 with me everywhere, I don't have a lot of food photos taken with the iPhone 3GS. But it was useful in situations where hauling out a camera would have drawn unwanted attention or taken too much time. Here are a few photos I took with the 3GS.

This one was taken in an indoor shopping mall, in a food court. The soda is supposed to be green. It's actually a glass filled with peas, beans and mozzarella balls. (I couldn't see until I adjusted the exposure ^^;)

iPhone 3gs food shot

The following two pictures were taken at an Ikea, in their cafeteria. (Ikea frowns on photo taking in their store, so I found the cellphone useful for taking quick visual reminders for myself and such there.) If you've ever been to an Ikea, you know that they are usually airy, light spaces with plenty of windows. Still, the photos taken with the 3GS tended to come out underexposed.

iPhone3gs food shot

iPhone 3gs food shot

It was a fairly easy thing to fix them if I really needed to use the photos in Photoshop. Here are the Ikea shots after a bit of fiddling with levels and curves and the unsharp mask.

3gs-ikea-1.jpg

3gs-ikea-2.jpg

So the 3GS was a good backup. But still, I somehow did not like the idea of having to fix almost every single indoors photo taken with it to make it usable. So, I still carried around the GF-1. (I also had a Canon S95 for a while, which is a terrific compact camera that can save photos in the desired RAW format, but I gave it to my mother the last time I was in Japan since her old Canon broke.)

I didn't get an iPhone 4S on the say it came out because of the camera, or because I'm just an Apple Fanatic who has to buy everything they sell. I just needed a replacement for the 3GS, which had gotten a big hairline crack on the glass (replacement glass I might add, since I'd shattered the original about a year ago) and my carrier contract was up anyway. But the camera is a definite bonus. Not necessarily because of the obvious, like the fact that it's a 8MP camera vs. the 3MP 3GS. As far as food bloggers are concerned, the important new features are the wider aperture (F-stop 2.4 vs the 2.8 of the 3GS), better focusing, and much better optics. The first may not seem like a big difference in numbers, but believe me it is significant. The shutter speed of the 4S is also a lot faster than that of the 3GS (and of the iPhone 4 too apparently, thouhgh I don't hav first hand knowledge of that). This is usually not a top priority for still food photography, but can come in handy for taking photos of people at the market, of your kids eating, and other such situations.

(By the way, as with any camera, never use the flash on your iPhone 4S to take your closeup food photos. Never. Ever. Always use available light - that is, whatever light you have to work with, be it daylight or artificial light. Food taken with built-in flash always looks terrible.)

Here are some photos I've teken in indoor, fairly low light conditions with the 4S. I have not edited them in anyway, not even cropping, and you can click on each image to check out the fullsize versions on Flickr.

This was teken in the morning on a slightly cloudy day, in a north-facing room. The plate was about 3 meters (3 yards or so) away from the window.

iPhone 4S quick test shots

This one was taken in the same location, in mid-afternoon.

iPhone 4S test shot - grapes

This one was taken in the morning in a slightly sunnier location, but still well away from the window. I am very happy with the color and texture of the croissant.

More iPhone 4S food shots

This one was taken at night, with only artificial room light (a wall light with a typical energy saver bulb, plus a tabletop LED light.)

More iPhone 4S food shots

And finally here's one taken in the same location as the egg and toast photo (my lunch eating spot). Note the clear definition of the baguette.

More iPhone 4S food shots

So as you can see, the iPhone 4S is a fine camera. You can basically shoot without knowing much about cameras or photography. The autofocus works 99% of the time and on the occasions when you want the focus differently, you can do so just by touching the screen. There's also some built-in editing software, though there are plenty of 3rd party photo editing apps for the iPhone that do the job a bit better, should you not want to transfer your photos to a computer for e editing. I can easily imagine someone just using this as their primary food-photography device. It's that good.

The biggest thing holding me back from doing so is that I just find using a cellphone for shooting to be a bit too uncomfortable. Holding and shooting with a 'real' camera like the GF-1, or our in-house studio camera the Nikon D700, just seems more natural and easy to control. And of course, those two cameras still take better pictures. But there's no denying that using DSLRs and a studio lighting setup and post-processing with Photoshop etc. does involve a level of fuss and bother, not to mention experience. If you want to take attractive food photos with the minimum of fuss, it's great to know there are other viable options these days than going the full DSLR route now.

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