I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

The camera you have with you

Like many of the people likely to be reading this, I bought a digital SLR a few years ago and developed a photography hobby. Then, also like many of you, my iPhone’s camera slowly took over my casual photography needs, and I stopped bringing the big SLR with me most of the time. The iPhone camera was good enough for most uses.

Today I migrated to a different photo-management app, like I do every year or two because I’m always dissatisfied with them. (From Aperture to Lightroom this time. I’ll explain why another time.) In the process, I got to skim through most of my photos from 2008.

In retrospect, my progression clearly forms three stages:

  1. The Rebel XTi, from 2006–2008: Mostly orange, mostly blurry photos of mostly boring objects as I learned how to use cameras.
  2. The 5D Mark II, from 2008–2010: Technical excellence, slowly building compositional skills. I still have this camera, but its usage sharply dropped off after 2010, because of:
  3. The iPhone 4 and 4S, the first iPhones with relatively decent cameras, from 2010–present: My photos took a huge technical nosedive compared to the SLR years, but my composition improved and I took far more photos. (Instagram also encouraged this.)

As part of my 2012 computer-setup shuffle, I also replaced my laptop with a Retina MacBook Pro, and the first thing it screams for is a high-resolution desktop wallpaper. Great, I thought, I’ll just use one of my photos. (On my desktop, I use a solid gray background, but on my laptop, I like to have a bit of fun. And it would be a crime to put a solid gray background on that screen.)

Almost nothing I’ve shot since 2010 is usable.

The Rebel photos look decent. The 5D Mark II photos look great. But photos from the iPhone 4, and even from the 4S, don’t hold up. They look fine on a 3.5-inch screen, but they look terrible on my big desktop monitor and abysmal on the Retina MacBook Pro.

Most of my favorite photos from the last two years only look good on small screens.

How do yours look? Are you happy with them? Will you continue to be happy with them when they’re displayed on large, high-density screens or printed in the future?

For me, this is a wake-up call. I’m going to try carrying the 5D with me a lot more often (the pancake I ordered should make it more bag-friendly), and when I’m in the house, I’m going to reach for it instead of my iPhone much more often than the current rate of “almost never”.

Because as fun as it is to share iPhone photos conveniently on Instagram, that can’t be my only photography: I also need some photos that won’t look like shit when I look back on them in the future.