The camera industry has been in trouble for many years now. But at a recent interaction, Kazou Ninomiya, Nikon’s top man in India, suggested that camera business will benefit from its main rival, the smartphone, if even a small portion of the millions of people experiencing smartphone photography decide to graduate to a DSLR. After what happened on September 7, that might not be that easy.
It’s too early to say if Apple’s iPhone 7 series is really innovative, has the design excellence we have come to take for granted and is the overall the benchmark phone it is expected to be. However, I have no doubt this is the best camera in a smartphone. There are two things smartphone cameras struggle with, despite all the advancements in technology. First, they are not really good with zoom — optical or digital; and second, they lack the subtle photography elements like background defocus and bokeh which you exploit on a DSLR. Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus gives you both.
In fact, the iPhone 7 Plus has a dual-lens camera set up on its 12MP sensor. It has a wide-angle ƒ/1.8 aperture, and a telephoto ƒ/2.8 aperture, both of which fire at the same time. Apple uses some software wizardry to stitch the two together and given you a stunning image. I tried out the camera soon after the launch. It was stunning in two ways. One, I have never seen a camera zoom in so fast, not even a point-and-shoot camera. Two, I have not seen a smartphone image that does not pixelate when it has been shot at maximum zoom.
Incidentally, the iPhone 7 Plus offers both digital and optical zoom. The 2x optical zoom can be accessed using a virtual button and the 10x digital zoom is achieved using a dial in the app. However, I could not try out if the bokeh effect was as stunning as Phil Schiller showed the world on stage, as the portrait mode was still not available on the app.
It is very unlike Apple to showcase something that it is not really ready. But with Huawei P9 already in the market and LG announcing the V20 a day before in San Francisco itself, there would surely have been some pressure. However, none of these dual cameras compete with Apple in terms of technology. Both are different executions trying to achieve different final results. Apple, meanwhile, is trying to give you a perfect zoom, from within the wide-angle shot itself. Basically, you would be able to zoom in on anything in the frame. I was fondly reminded of Nokia 808 PureView, though Apple hasn’t really tried to overwhelm with megapixel numbers here.
I have been using an Apple iPhone 6s Plus for a few months now, and the camera on this phone has given me the confidence to abandon a DSLR camera even while on assignments. The iPhone 7 Plus gives me the promise of something better. This phone, and the slew of other dual camera rigs that are going to hit the market in the coming months, are not competition for the other phone cameras out there, but the very concept of an affordable DSLR.
There was another significant change on the iPhone 7 series, one that was not welcomed all that much if initial responses are anything to go by. Apple has opted for the lightning port to power the headphones of the future, and abandoned the ubiquitous 3.5mm jack. Again nothing new given that at least a couple of other brands have opted for USB Type-C to carry its music to the headphones.
However, with Apple biting the bullet the impact on the music industry will be huge. Remember, how the shift to the lightning port hit the entire music docks business? Thankfully, Apple is offering an adapter to help you get over the initial heartburn. In a few months, the music industry too would have changed.
Incidentally, Apple isn’t all that ruffled by the criticism to this move. I overheard someone say that “if the only fault they can find with the new phones is our dropping a century old technology, then we must have done something right”.