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Optimizing Phone as both a tool for communication and photography

We selected to update our devices before leaving on a 100 days journey throughout Western Europe. Communication by text was sufficient for our needs. Our photos are precious keepsakes and are of a quality we appreciate. As I research newly released upgraded devices, I am learning appealing improvements such as: 2 hours longer battery life, 3 than 2 GB of storage, greatly improved camera and video capability. With trade in value, the phone would cost around $475, or $19 per month for 2 years. We are retired making the financial investment a very real consideration. Do you recommend I resist this temptation or go for the gold as a tool that will enrich our travels and record of our memories with greater brilliance? By the way, what do these enhanced quality photos look like when our friends and family receive them on their less updated devices?

Posted by
337 posts

From purely a photography perspective:

I think the key question is what device do you have now/are you upgrading from? In other words (to exaggerate a little), if you're upgrading from a 2007-vintage flip phone camera to an iPhone 11/Android equivalent, I'd say it's definitely worth it -- your photos will be much better.

But if you're upgrading from a "modern" smartphone, say anything from the last couple of years to take a wholly unscientific definition, I have to say I'm of the opinion that at this point, improvements in photos will generally come from better photography, instead of better technology.

In other words, while smartphone models generally have incrementally better cameras as time goes on, I think anything from the last several years has a high-quality enough camera for amateur photography; I think that where most people will get better photos is not by having the absolute latest camera but by simply taking and composing better photos (knowing how to use the camera's tools, knowing how to work with light, shadows and subject composition, perspective, etc.)

To be honest though, this would be most helpful if you could provide the exact models -- what do you have now? And what are you considering in the future?

Posted by
2294 posts

And do you use an editing app? I use Camera +1

Posted by
16579 posts

I plan to upgrade my bought-in-2015 Samsung phone before my next trip, to a major degree because you can now get a phone with an optical zoom. I am not at all a serious photographer, but I like to take pictures of architectural elements. Since they are often on the second story or above, an optical zoom will have real benefit for me. I'm not sure a mere increase in megapixels would make much difference, and I definitely wouldn't buy a new phone just for that modest improvement.

A side benefit will be an increase in storage space, though I bought as much as was available when I got the old phone and added the largest SD card the phone would take. I've had to remove apps as I move through a trip due to limited storage space on the old phone; it has been a real problem on long trips.

Posted by
243 posts

I currently use an iPhone 8Plus. Considering upgrading to an 11. Interested in the night feature and broad perspective as well as the overall picture and video quality. Wondering if storage is that much grater. I take a lot of pictures and they are treasures to me. This will be our 5th journey to Europe and with the support of Rick Steve’s guides, we have planned every magnificent step along our way. I will take another photography session at the shop, learning more about editing and managing our wealth of photos. I am definitely an armature, but love taking photos, striving to capture the beauty in the architecture, outside and in, the steps and pathways, the street musicians, the unique and everyday character of the people, their ways, their movement and their rituals, the colors of their wine and cuisine. We will meet our family, 10 of us, in Berlin. From there we will travel to Erlingen in Bavaria immersing ourselves in the magic of the Christmas markets. Our daughter and her husband teach there. After Christmas, off the Mittenwald to play in the snow. To celebrate the new year, we will fly from Munich to Barcelona. We have never been to Spain and we can hardly wait. After 4 days exploring this Catalonian gem, my husband and I will take an excursion to Seville, Granada, Cordoba and Madrid. Is it possible to capture Flamenco? I will most certainly give it a try!

Posted by
867 posts

Storage is a function of how much you are willing to pay. I think the iPhone 11 comes with standard 64 Gig and you can purchase one with up to 256 Gig. The difference per month is not significant, and I outgrew my 64 Gig storage requirements when I had an iPhone 5. I would go for largest amount of storage.

Don't worry about how the pics look on less sophisticated phones. Worry about how YOU like the results, and as has been suggested, get a good editing app to make them look fantastic.

Posted by
2274 posts

I’m one month into owning my iPhone 11 Pro and the photos are astounding. You get a one on one phone tutorial when you buy one and I used it for photography. Plus there are classes at the Apple store which I will take. I bought the phone with the least storage based on my previous usage as analyzed by the salesperson. Most storage is for apps. My photos are stored on the cloud for 99 cents a month.

Posted by
266 posts

One thing to consider. If you are on an installment plan from your carrier, your phone is probably locked and you won't be able to use a foreign SIM card. If you are using an international plan from your carrier, the SIM card is not an issue.

I am planning a trip next March and am currently debating whether to upgrade my iPhone 7+ before the trip. If I upgrade, I will probably just bite the bullet and buy the phone up front.

Posted by
2274 posts

You can buy directly from Apple. They have several installment options including ones that include insurance, upgrades etc. They can link you to your carrier. It took all of 15 minutes at the store but they can do it on the phone. The phone will be unlocked.

Posted by
3116 posts

100 days through Europe — are you aware of the 90 day Schengen zone rule inclusive of the days you arrive and leave Schengen?

I love my iPhone 8 and iPad Mini for all of my photos.

Posted by
243 posts

Regarding the Shenguin (so?) 90 day limit, we originated our 100 day travels outside the zone, so it was not an issue. That trip was last fall. This next trip to Germany and Spain will last 1 month.
Based on shared perspectives, We have decided to get 11 and my husband will keep his 8plus. He is less photo obsessed. Thank you to all. Good travels and Happy Holidays!

Posted by
36 posts

I just upgraded from an iPhone 8 to an iPhone 11 and the difference in quality of photos is significant. I really wish I had this phone for my trip last month. It’s a clear upgrade over previous iPhones.

I got the 64 gig version and backup to the cloud.

Posted by
432 posts

I’m a retired professional photographer. I don’t carry gear anymore. My iPhone is all I need these days.

Your statement that your photos are your precious keepsakes leads me to suggest you get an interesting new phone if you wish but to get a nice little camera, too. Nothing ridiculously complex or large. There are many reasons but this is the simplest: a nice little camera is easy to point and shoot while a phone requires a few more steps including getting it out from wherever you safely store your phone while you’re not using it as a phone.

There are many reasons not to use a camera, too. I just can’t think of any.

If you wish to rely on your phone to document your trip, and millions of folks do, I suggest you get a sturdy neck lanyard rig for it. That way it’s always ready to shoot. On the iPhone, there is a shortcut swipe to bring the camera mode to the front.

To,answer your other question, yes, phone cameras are great and they grab remarkable images. The new iPhones, in HDR mode, for instance, shoot pictures that are 14-20 megs. While you can print that file up to 24 inches without quality loss, if you try to email it to your friends, they are going get a highly compressed and reduced scale version, not the huge original, and they’ll view it on their tiny iPhone or iPad. Unless you are doing extensive—and highly skilled—image editing or getting giant Costco blowups, there’s no practical use for those huge photo files.

Posted by
243 posts

Added expert and practical advice and considerations appreciated. The more intel and variety of perspectives the better (pun not necessarily intended, but it works, so I’ll let it ride).
Thank you again.

Posted by
5305 posts

Dear Zagfam — I don’t have any phone/camera advice, I just wanted to say that your trip sounds fabulous!! Especially the German part, that sounds wonderful during the holidays!

Posted by
2274 posts

If you can wait until after Christmas visit the Apple store (it’s a little crazy at holiday time). Compare the iPhone 11 and 11 pro. As my concern was photography the camera on the 11 Pro won hands down. Even with that I learned a half dozen more features on my 1:1 phone tutorial. I have many point and shoot cameras and a nice Nikon DSLR. They will not see Europe again.

Posted by
30889 posts

zagfam,

If you're using only a mobile phone as your primary source of holiday photos, upgrading to one of the newest models may be a good idea that will produce better quality "keepsakes". The newest iPhone 11 Pro models have three different cameras and in my brief experience these are capable of producing very good results with both still photos and videos. These can be enhanced by some of the Apps that are currently available.

I've been an amateur photographer for over 50 years, and have found that mobile phone cameras can't produce the same quality as DSLR or P&S cameras which have larger sensors. However the quality of phone pictures has steadily been improving due to things like "computational photography". On trips where I'm "travelling light", I normally take a P&S camera along with an iPhone but on trips abroad I always pack along my venerable Canon DSLR. It's a large and heavy camera, but has the flexibility and capability to get the photos I want.

Regarding which phone to upgrade to, that will largely depend on your budget. The ideal solution would be an iPhone Pro Max with 512 GB of memory. However that's at the very top of the price scale and not a model that everyone can afford. Memory of 256 GB is acceptable but I wouldn't recommend 64 GB, especially if you're taking a lot of videos.

Posted by
243 posts

This gathering of perspective and recommendations based on personal experiences with the iPhone compared to camera photo quality has been a very informative basis for my decision as well as other travelers. I will be availing myself of Apple store sessions on improving photography skills to optimize photo quality when putting an iPhone camera into play. Capturing highlights of travelers’ experiences is precious. These sincere, experience and expertise based recommendations are so valuable. Thank you all.

Posted by
606 posts

Zagfam, how are the Apple store training sessions going?

I was always a diehard dedicated camera guy (film slr, dslr, p&s). After playing with my wife's Pixel 3a the last few months, I have decided to order one and am waiting for the delivery. I am finally going to embrace the convenience of smartphone photography.

The dslr still has the advantage of a physically larger sensor and large selection of lenses. However, the technology in smartphones is much more advanced such that the image quality of the two is almost comparable. DSLRs sell in the tens of thousands each year and the models only change every couple of years. On the other hand, tens of millions of smartphones are sold each year and the models improve and change sometimes twice a year. That is where the big market and profits are at and where all the research is being done. Apple and Google phone-cameras keep leap-frogging each other. Your iPhone 11 is probably the leader right now. At this point traditional cameras are playing catch-up to smartphone technology.

Check out this youtube video comparing the Pixel 3a to a Canon 7i:
https://youtu.be/SgxToJwqc1Y

The processing power in the phone easily creates better images, no blownout highlights, details in shadows, and almost noise free night shots. You can probably do better if you shoot RAW in a dslr and spend time post processing on a computer, but that takes a lot of work. Of course, if you want to print large photos to hang on a wall, the big camera will have an advantage. Personally, I have not printed a photo in over ten years.

BTW, one thing I will be nervous about is possibly dropping the slippery phone. I plan to put on a thin cover to protect it. I also plan to put a couple holes in the cover and thread in a wrist strap.

Posted by
243 posts

Hello fun pig and all traveling photographers,
Glad to read of your additional photography insights. I ultimately invested in an 11 and I am finding it to suit my needs well. I have engaged in only one session so far, as we have been so busy preparing for our holiday journey to Germany and Spain. For practice, our rambunctious Irish Setter puppy presents terrific photo opportunities, challenging myself to capturing his beautiful red coat in low light images and the glory of his spirit as he gallops through the forest. I’ll try some slow mo today, and tomorrow I’ll continue with action shots of our grandkiddos playing basketball.
Planning on attending a session to enhance my skill capturing light and shadows before we depart, preparation for the holiday charm of Bavarian Christmas markets and the allure of flamingo in Andalusia. A small added feature on the 11 I so appreciate is the immediate photo access on the opening screen along with the flash light. Also, I purchased the upgraded screen protector that is replaceable for free for the life of your phone, and to reduce the chance of the phone slipping from my hand, the cover has the small retractable grip. The guide at the Apple Store shared her unfortunate experience; her phone was taken by a pic pocket while she was on a crowded tram in France. Zip up that pocket or purse that you carry, one with an uncuttable strap secured across your shoulder. Wishing all fine photo taking as you travel to see more deeply into the art and soul of humanity.

Posted by
630 posts

Have you considered some of the small, add on, accessories available? I just got a new camera and have ordered a set of lenses from Moment to extend the range. https://www.shopmoment.com/

I heard about these guys from another photo bug and thought I'd try them out. I'm also looking at some of the larger add on lenses. When I was at the Edmonds Saturday market (near the Rick Steves HQ, I ran into a lady using a "new gadget her husband brought home". It was a telephoto zoom that basically made her phone into a really nice handheld video camera with a huge zoom capacity. I think it would be great for sports events. there's a lot of new gear coming, and what we consider cameras (or image capture) is changing.

Posted by
30889 posts

Since my previous reply, I've had a bit more experience with the cameras in the new iPhones. Although they've become much better, they still have some limitations compared to a DSLR or a "proper" camera.

I gave the new phone a test at an indoor concert with limited lighting, and in that setting the shortcomings quickly became apparent. Although the night mode does a great job in some situations, it doesn't work as well with motion in limited lighting. The results were a lot different than what I've achieved in the past at concerts with my venerable DSLR.

While the iPhone cameras are good for snapshots and good in some shooting situations, I'll continue packing along a DSLR with two lenses on trips to Europe.