Monday, June 1, 2020

Cell Phone Cameras

Three Women and a Baby
Wal-Mart, LaFayette, GA
iPhone 6S

As I wrote in my previous post, the subject of photography is not the subject of photography. At its basic level, photography is about pictures, not the tools and processes involved. (Although I'm a photographer, so I do love those tools and processes.) But in a way, those hordes taking pictures with their cell phone cameras have it right. They care nothing about the tools and techniques of photography; They’re only interested in getting a reasonably clear picture they can send to friends or family. They care about who or what they are photographing, not the act of photography itself. In other words, they are the direct descendants of all those who heard George Eastman's slogan "You push the button, we do the rest" and lined up to buy his pre-loaded, ready-to-shoot cameras.

That's not to say that cell phone cameras can't be effective picture-making tools. They have their limitations, but some serious photographers have elected to work within those limitations, have made cell phones their primary cameras, and have done significant work with them. I respect that.

Personally, I like cameras. I like holding them (don't call it fondling, please) I like reading about them, and I especially like using them. I like using cell phones for making calls and checking my messages. I don't especially like making pictures with them. But they have their uses. When I wanted the serial number and other information on the manufacturer's label on my broken pressure washer so I could order a new part, I took a picture of it with my cell phone. When the fine print on a label is so fine I can't read it, I take a close-up picture of it with my cell phone and enlarge it so I can read it. But taking pictures with it? Not so much. And yet. . .

Although I almost always carry my camera, I don't take it into stores. I need to get over that. Many years ago I was carrying my camera in a store and was told cameras were not allowed. I think they thought a competitor was spying on them. Now, of course, everyone has a picture-making device, so I doubt if they're still trying to enforce that policy.

Gossiping Village Women
Vernazza, Cinque Terra, Italy
Canon EOS 20D, EOS 24-85 f3.5-4.5 EF lens

But I was in my local Wal-Mart and my camera was in the car when I happened to see three ladies and a baby sitting on a bench in front of the beauty salon. I was immediately struck by the resemblance to the four gossiping ladies in Vernazza, Italy, but walked on by because I didn't have a camera. Then I thought, "This is too good to pass up!" So I walked back and asked the ladies if I could make their picture. With what? My cell phone, of course. It was a long way to the car.

It's not what I would have preferred, but the exposure is good, the color is good, and I have a picture I would not otherwise have.

But next time, I will carry my camera.

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo
For the glory of God alone


  1. I use my iPhone camera a lot because it's always with me. I do wish it would let me choose a different effective focal length, though. I think it's either 24 or 28mm (35mm equiv) and that's too wide for most of what I like to shoot. So I use the camera in a pinch, but never for primary work. I could, if it let me dial in 35mm or 50mm.

    1. As always, thanks for commenting, Jim. As you can see, I do use my phone camera, but only when it's that or no picture!

    2. I also wish my iPhone had something other than its very wide focal length. The newest phones have three lenses with 52mm equiv described as telephoto. I wouldn't mind having that, but I need both kidneys . . . .

  2. I've got a Contax IIIA which is my B&W camera, and while the camera is awkward, it's still fun to use and gets carried almost everywhere, along with my cell phone. So I think I'm well-equipped, if somewhat eccentric . The cell phone is handy when I visit family picnics.

  3. That Contax is a really cool camera, Stephen. I've always considered it better than the Leicas from that era. The great photojournalist Leonard McCombe used one. As for eccentric, not to me.

  4. I was only told once in a Korean store that cameras weren't allowed, but the greeter waved me in when I showed him it was a film camera.

  5. Thanks for commenting, Marcus. I'm going to start carrying my X-Pro1 into stores and other places and see what happens.