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Another iPhone Avalanche Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

23 September 2021

With the release of the iPhone 13, you may have heard the thunderous roar of another avalanche of enthusiasm rolling down upon you. Before you succumb, though, have a sip of brandy from the rescue St. Bernard as you sit in the snow and consider what all the fuss is about.

Donner Snow Shed. Kodak EasyShare One at f6.3, 1/1053 second and ISO 80. Captured on Feb. 12, 2007.

Yes, a new iPhone has hit the shelves, the earth has trembled and the drifts are tumbling down in reviews that find it either an "incremental" update or "essential" because it's the "best ever."

Well of course it is. Both. And there will also be an incremental update called the iPhone 14 because the iPhone 13 is not the end of the world. And that will be inevitably be the "best ever." Until the iPhone 15.

But let's not speculate.


We generally appreciate the perspective John Gruber brings to the table. But we think he had a bit too much at the bar (not apparently brandy in the snow) before getting there this time.

He writes:

On the surface, the physics of photography are stacked against Apple. Apple's "cameras" are pancake-thin phones that people rightfully expect to comfortably carry in a jeans pocket. The technically-best photos and videos you can create today are shot using very large, very heavy cameras. But in a very meaningful way, this severe disadvantage works in Apple's favor. It's good to be the underdog. It keeps you hungry.

Oh, please.

Lining up to race Usain Bolt wearing Ugg boots is not a competitive advantage. Not in any "meaningful" way.

But he goes on:

Settling for nothing less than making the best cameras, period, despite the severe form factor constraints of a "phone," is the sort of north star that keeps a company focused.

You may be "focused" in the lane next to Bolt, but you aren't going to win anything in those boots.

We salute Apple for its emphasis on computational photography (which it did not invent) but it clearly isn't in photography to make "the best camera, period."

The Best Camera Period would appeal to very few people. Just ask Phase One. Apple's interest is in producing a camera with broader appeal that smacks down other cameras people can pocket easily.

What Apple is up to, it's worth reminding yourself, is making the best camera in a phone. That's what you meant, right, John?


We had the same reaction to the iPhone 13 Pro review by the otherwise illuminating Austin Mann.

To start with, drag a copy of his leading leopard image to your Desktop and see if you can't improve it with nothing more than an adjustment to Exposure. And if you want to roll up your sleeves, try Dehaze and Clarify tweaks too. In five seconds you'll do better than the computational photography that wrangled that capture.

It's just a horrible image. Not bad. Horrible.

Looking at his macro images we can only think this would be impressive only to someone coming from the iPhone 12 or less, not someone smitten by macrophotography.

They're closer than possible before with an unaided iPhone, no doubt, but they bring nothing new to the genre.

And the claim that "the new 3x telephoto lens is naturally cinematic" is another knee slapper. It's a telephoto. You've used a telephoto focal length before, haven't you, Austin? Perhaps not. But yeah, it compresses the scene.

To his credit he does admit, "My eye isn’t accustomed to seeing this kind of depth compression from my iPhone." Coming from there, sure. Coming from Hollywood (or Cinecittà), uh no.

But that's what you meant, right, Austin?


On the other hand, Scott Kelby is peeved the iPhone Pro has only got a 3x zoom. He's not upgrading from his 11 until there's a 10x zoom.

We do remember the brief innovation 3x zooms were on digicams long ago, quickly supplanted by folding 10x optical zooms even on very compact digicams. Then, of course, the 25x superzooms came along and then....

Then there's Mike Johnston who can't decide if the 13 is what he should replace his 7 with. He's gotten a lot of advice comparing the advances of the 13 to the limitations of his 7 but just maybe the 14 would be even more compelling.


And here we are with our iPhone 6 Plus. We'd used cell phones for a while before getting an iPhone. An AT&T model with a black-and-white screen that resembled a small rodent followed by a Motorola Razr V3 with a 176x220-pixel color screen. The Razr took 640x480 (VGA) photos, like the first digicams in 1998.

Then we bought our first iPhone in November 2014. That was the 6 Plus we still use.

We're pretty hardened against the iPhone upgrade cycle, you might say. Seven years without an upgrade proves it. We also graduated from high school 51 years ago (we have the golden diploma to prove it), so marketing shenanigans and peer pressure just don't work on us any more. We're broke and running out of peers anyway.

We look at our iPhone more as a sketching and note-taking device more than an alternative to our cameras. It's great for getting the specs engraved on a hot water heater release valve that's leaking but not so great for sunsets.

You might suspect that other things are more important to us than the latest fashion in iPhones. Like software updates. We never miss those.

That's our idea of computational photography combined with non-artificial intelligence -- our own.


We hope you've had enough brandy to feel a bit better about all this snow by now. There will no doubt be more when the next iPhone arrives.

Meanwhile don't believe everything you read. A lot of it melts in the bright light of day.


I also get good results from my 6+ and D200.

However, I do not want to go back to turntables and analog records despite people claiming the sound is better -- it's the same, everything else being equal (digitizing at twice the highest analog frequency and all that).

And I do not want to go back prior to 6+ and D200. I'll upgrade my 6+ when security becomes an issue. As for the D200, serious benefits accrue with an upgrade, but I am in the process of upgrading my skills first.

I like your snow shed image, but I have one quibble: I want to see more of the mountain above the snow shed, since this is the reason the snow shed exists. This may be one of those instances where the subject should be near the middle of the image.

Thank you for your columns!

-- Walter Sapolsky

Those are certainly good reasons to upgrade, Walt, as opposed to the annual ritual we're complaining about. As for the mountain image, we take your point. We'll have to revisit that image* with not only the Easyshare JPEG in portrait orientation but the Nikon D200 version we shot in landscape orientation we shot as a Raw file.

-- Mike

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