Here's Why the iPhone Is the Best Camera for Beginners

Here's Why the iPhone Is the Best Camera for Beginners

There have been plenty of occasions where someone has asked me which camera they should buy up to a certain price point. My first question almost always is to ask them what smartphone they currently have. The reason for this is because smartphone cameras have come such a long way that they’re now viable tools for photography and video.

I’m pretty certain that many other professionals have recommended that beginners use their smartphones too and there are several reasons as to why this is brilliant advice. I should clarify that this is not aimed at people who are looking to operate as professionals, nor is this a sponsored or affiliated post in any way shape or form.

It’s Not the Camera   

I imagine that almost every professional at some point in their career has told someone that it’s not the camera but it’s the photographer. This is especially true if you’re a beginner because in my experience, many who are just starting out as photographers or as videographers tend to focus on the gear more so than the actual craft. This is predominantly why saying it’s not the camera is a great way to get beginners to start thinking about the important aspects; like composition, lighting, use of colors, and storytelling. Of course, as you progress in your career and become more adept at your craft, the tools you use will start to become more important to your preferred workflow. For beginners however, that’s not necessarily the case and it tends to be more important to draw their focus to the subject as opposed to the gear. On that basis it doesn’t matter if someone who’s just starting out is shooting on an iPhone, a medium format camera, or a Red. Chances are the results they will be producing will be very similar regardless of the gear.  

The most convenient camera to shoot with on a small plane.

Works great for cigars too.

It's Not the Settings

When you’re starting out in photography trying to figure out all of the settings can be a little overwhelming. Understanding how the exposure triangle works in any given scene can be a little tricky. Of course, these are settings that professionals and experienced photographers should know, however, if you’re just starting out, it’s really not that important.

The most important thing about photography and almost any artform is composition. A badly composed image is a bad image regardless of if the settings are correct. For this reason, starting out with an iPhone can be great way to develop the properly valuable skills.

The interface of the iPhone camera allows you to step away from the settings and focus on the content. Adjusting the exposure with an iPhone is extremely intuitive and easy to do. If a scene is too bright or too dark then one can adjust it with a simple tap on the screen. Developing skills related to good composition, lighting and use of colors are far more important than knowing what ISO you should select. What’s even better is the fact that if someone did want to understand camera settings then there are apps that allow you to shoot in manual.

My favorite photography app is ProCam which offers some brilliant options including full manual controls. For video, many people seem to recommend Filmic Pro although I don’t personally have any experience with this app. In any case the point is that with iPhone you can avoid being bogged down by settings and instead just go out and shoot.

Does it matter that this image was shot in auto? 

Why iPhone and Not Any Other Phone?  

Simply put, the current iPhone is the most well-rounded smartphone for photographers and videographers. In terms of photography the iPhone offers incredible image quality for a smartphone especially with features like "Deep Fusion." This individual feature produces images with a great deal of detail and low noise even in tougher lighting scenarios.

The other reason is that the iPhone for a number of years now has consistently offered the best video features. Even now, none of the other major manufacturers offer video features that are as good as the ones in iPhone. Features like being able to shoot at 4k 60 fps and Full-HD at 240 fps are not available in any phone from any of the other major smartphone manufacturers. These types of features aren’t even found in many top-end DSLR and mirrorless cameras which makes iPhone a fantastic choice. Due to this iPhone is a more well-rounded device for both video and photography.
 

The Best Camera 

This is probably one of the biggest cliches within the photography industry, but, it’s still relevant and very true. The best camera is the one that’s with you. Your smartphone is almost always with you and it makes sense to make full use of it. In my experience there have been a good number of individuals who have wanted to get into the industry only to end up wasting money on cameras and lenses. They ended spending up a good deal of money on a new gear, only to find they hardly ever use them. This is a very common mistake that many beginners seem to make. It takes far more effort to pack a bag with cameras, lenses storage cards, and charged batteries and many times people just forget.

The other reason is that it's difficult to go out and shoot with equipment you don't fully understand. Most of your time will be spent trying to figure out how the gear works or trying to figure out your mistakes instead of actually shooting. The camera then becomes a hindrance and that saps away any passion you initially had. It would be prudent to build and develop your passion for photography before spending lots of money on a camera system you may not fully understand or appreciate.

iPhones now offer incredible options both for photography and videography. Not only that but in this small compact device you have three very useful focal lengths to shoot with and an interface that can be described as idiot proof. With these three focal lengths you can comfortably shoot many of the different genres within photography.

If you are building an interest in photography, then my advice would be to avoid spending lots of money on a new camera and simply use your phone. 



I have comfortably shot architecture with just an iPhone and it performs extremely well in many situations. 

The Best Device to Learn on

Smartphones like the iPhone are incredible devices to learn and develop new skills. This one device can take photos, edit images, and upload them onto all of the major platforms. You can learn how to edit your images while you edit your images all on one portable device. If you’re unsure of something or there’s something you’d like to learn then it’s so easy to open up the YouTube app and search for whatever you’re looking for. Smartphones are the only device that allow you to do everything related to photography up to a certain point. For a beginner, almost everything that’s required to learn and develop their photography skills are available within this one device.

Final Thoughts

Our industry has a very steep learning curve. Couple that with initial cost of equipment and it can be quite off putting for people looking to explore their talents. Based on that it makes more sense to just use the best device you probably already own. As many people have pointed out, devices like the iPhone have democratized our industry and this I think is a wonderful thing.

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73 Comments

Robert K Baggs's picture

It's certainly a fair point and I'd agree with all of it if it wasn't for the iPhone section. Samsung have phones that record 4k video at 60fps, plenty of manufacturers have phones that record at 240fps, and Google Pixel 4 XL is even leading the way with astrophotography functionality. But the premise "the best camera for beginners is a good smartphone" I would agree with.

Usman Dawood's picture

Clearly made a mistake there, thanks for pointing that out. I had in my mind previous less expensive versions of the iPhone which still have those video features whereas previous models of many other other smartphones didn't have those specific video features. In any case that was a mistake on my part, I got it wrong.

Motti Bembaron's picture

This is fStoppers after all, the only phone that exists here is the iPhone :-).

I had Samsung, Pixel, LG and now Huawei, all much better performers than my wife's work iPhone. Not to mention easy communication and uploads to both Apple and Windows machines.

And no Usman, it was not a mistake, it is exactly as you intended the title to be. Good thing most people here are smarter than that.

Michael Dougherty's picture

If you've had all those smart phones to compare to your wife's work iPhone, it's probably an older iPhone. My wife's new iPhone 11 Pro with 3 lenses is awesome. I'm sure some of the other latest premium smart phones are also awesome. BTW, you sure go through a lot of smart phones.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Ah, well, I just take whatever the phone company gives me for free or almost free (with a two-year contract). I really do not spend a lot when it comes to phones.

My wife's current iPhone, I believe, is the 8S (or 8 Plus?) however, my LG G5 was older than my wife's phone. I obtained it long after it issued (hence the deals I get). The Pixel came before that and compared to my wife's then iPhone 6S, it did amazingly well. Both produced quite stunning images, especially the G5.

My P20 Pro has three Leica cameras and no surprise it produces stunning images and videos.

Writing an objective article is not difficult. If you think that a smartphone is a better choice for beginners (i totally disagree) then sticking to one brand, as if none other can do the same (or better) does not feel like an honest article but more like a paid advertisement (which very much could be just that).

Stuart Carver's picture

I just posted on your last article about this, I’ve only had the 11 pro a couple of days and still learning the nuances and features (my previous phone was a 6 so quite basic) but the few shots I’ve taken I’m impressed with.

I also have an Xperia XA2 for work and the camera on that is pretty insane too, took some shots at work and the detail is outstanding.

Deleted Account's picture

Disagree about the iPhone pitch.

Beginners make the most of where they are with what they can afford. My view, the learning journey is not aided or hindered by brand of device.

Full disclosure: tapped this out on an S10e. 😉

Stuart Carver's picture

There are absolutely other phones more than capable of capturing great images.. but this 11 pro is ridiculously good, I’d say it’s the best smart phone on the market now and the camera is a strong part of that, they have blown it out of the water with these 3 lenses and features to assist in getting the shot.

Usman Dawood's picture

I made a mistake, Robert pointed out exactly why in his comment.

Bruno Araujo's picture

iPhone is just an easy to use. It is created for "stupid" ppl. You need to read this https://topspying.com/hack-iphone to activate it!

Tony Northrup's picture

Spot on. A smartphone allows students to focus on composition, storytelling, lighting, etc. They should upgrade when they need bigger lenses, a flash trigger, or one of the other (increasingly few) things a real camera can do that an iPhone can't. The iPhone 11 Pro's super wide lens and stunning low light go really far. Even if they later get a real camera, they'll still constantly use a good smartphone camera.

Pedro Pulido's picture

Will it help you learn the triangle of exposure? will it make you understand photography ? nop. then it's not the best camera for beginners. might be the easier, but not the best.

VINICIUS YUZO ZUCARELI's picture

Agreed.

It is the best camera to learn to use full auto.

You MAY learn composition, but you will never learn about light, for example, since it does everything automagically.

If one can't afford a proper camera or point and shoot, then whatever smartphone they have will have to suffice, but if one can afford an iPhone (even an older one), they sure as hell can afford a camera.

Heck, if I sold off all my camera gear the best iPhone I could get is an iPhone Xr

Usman Dawood's picture

composition, lighting, colours and storytelling are far more important fundamentals. The exposure triangle isn’t as important they’re just settings.

Also yes you can understand about photography, of course you can.

Pedro Pulido's picture

as a tool to learn photography, which is what you defend here (best camera for beginners), again, i have to say, i disagree. It will make people happy with the results because it's a decent camera, yes. But totally unaware of what they are doing. They will see the results but not understand the process. How is this good for a beginner?! It's EASY... not good. they're not learning.
Yes, you can be a master with a phone and create great compositions and story telling... but if you don't know the exposure triangle you're lacking basic abilities to give you the creativity you need to actually create with total freedom. How else will you learn the effects of F-stop and depth of field for example ??

So again, it's the easiest solution for a beginner and also cheaper if you wish to buy a new phone anyway. But it is not the best as it will not help you learn the basics.

Usman Dawood's picture

"Of course, these are settings that professionals and experienced photographers should know, however, if you’re just starting out, it’s really not that important."

Logan Cressler's picture

I disagree with the iphone pitch, and I am an iphone user. I still have a 6s+. Its not the phone that matters, its that people use it. Period. Thats the end of it. It doesnt matter what camera people are using. The phone is so great because people always have it on them and can take a lot of pictures.

Taking a lot of pictures intentionally is how you get better

Phil Tography's picture

I agree with most of what you are saying but the phone can matter a great deal. I had the 6s+ also and went to the 11 pro max this year and the difference is astounding. My 6s+ was just used for family snaps or to quickly capture a scene when I didn’t have my big camera gear with me and after editing got some great images but I use the 11 pro as a serious photographic tool which I would be fine printing 8x10 with all day long or even larger in some situations which I very rarely do anymore anyway. I’m sure when you upgrade and experience the difference you would agree the phone can matter a lot.

Logan Cressler's picture

You changed my mind. Before the 11 pro max no one could take a single good picture. Before DSLRs no one could take a professional image either. And art? Damn, that didnt start happening until people invented medium format digital cameras.

Phil Tography's picture

Sigh🙄 as you know I did not say or imply any of that I just thought you may have been open minded enough for another point of view on the matter but that’s my bad for sometimes giving people on forums the benefit of doubt.

Art though I certainly don’t need just a camera or phone to create I can even create art with a pencil or many other different mediums or tools. I have posted some examples below. How do you create or express your “Art”? I would love to see some.

Edit: Also my profile pic was a quick moment with my youngest I captured with an iPad and is one of my favourite images I’ve ever created so you know there’s that.

David Love's picture

And it started the awesome trend of stupid vertical videos, fake bokeh and a zillion selfies and food pics. I'm sure those pics will be studied for centuries.

VINICIUS YUZO ZUCARELI's picture

The problem is that, in Brazil, for the price of an iPhone 11 pro I could buy a 6d mkII, and a couple of really nice Sigma Art Lenses.

Or even cheapen out on the body and buy over a handful of REALLY high quality glass.

Even after splurging on my gear in 2019 all my gear combined costs less than HALF of an iPhone 11 pro. That is compromised of:

- Canon SL2 + kit lens 18-55
- Sigma 17-50 f2.8 DC OS HSM
- Canon 24mm f2.8
- Canon 70-300
- Yongnuo 50mm 1.8
- Flash Yongnuo YN568exIII
- A couple of cheapo tripods
- A UV, FLD and Circular filters

So.... I don't know about beginners, but with the price of an iPhone 11 pro I could kit out an entire photo studio with a few nice lenses and several speedlites, softboxes, etc AND pay a couple months of rent of the space.

Edit: Just so it is more accurate, I went ahead and actually looked the price for the stuff and it is more than half of an iPhone 11 pro. They went down like R$2000 in price since launch. So it would only be the above gear + 2 months rent, not that + more light.

David Love's picture

The fact they even call it a "pro" is funny. Stick to real gear.

Usman Dawood's picture

It doesn’t need to be the latest smartphone. Also many people consider having a phone as a necessity so they’ll have one regardless.

Stuart Carver's picture

But is that camera kit going to let you pay for items, work as a sat nav, manage your email, phone people, text people, browse the internet, do online shopping, manage your calendar, social media, calculator, torch, read books, view the weather, plan photo shoots, manage your finances, read the news, carry your airline tickets/boarding pass, play games etc.

There is much more to a smart phone than just the camera, the point of the article is that most people will have a phone with them and the author is merely stating that currently the iPhone 11 is about the best camera on the market in that sector at the minute.

My advice would be to search for #shotoniphone11pro on instagram and see some of the work thats being produced, its pretty mind blowing.

VINICIUS YUZO ZUCARELI's picture

It is possible to accommodate a very high end smartphone from Xiaomi or other cheaper brand in there that still has excellent processing power and a pretty decent camera.

My Xiaomi mi 8 costs around R$1000 nowadays, an iPhone 11 pro is at least R$6000.

With the R$5000 I can get all the gear I have a few extras.

I've invested around R$4500 for the gear mentioned above.

So even adding a high end, recent smartphone, capable off great photos (specially using GCAM app), I could still build my kit again.

What I am getting at is that the iPhone is no beginner camera, if you can afford you one you can afford a proper camera.

If any smartphone was mentioned I would be inclined to agree.

In Brazil the best selling smartphones right now are Motorola and Samsung A series up to R$800 and they are pretty decent.

Edit:

Just as an added information, I know 5 people that are professional photographers, ie live off money earned in photography, that use a t5i, some with kit lens and others with a bit better.

It would be inconceivable for then to spend money on an iPhone, and those are people whose profession is photography.

These are not beginner photographers. They probably, like me, started with a point and shoot. Something that probably would be equivalent in price with a Chinese brand smartphone.

Stuart Carver's picture

You have to factor in that a lot of people in the UK and US will get a phone on contract so they will buy it over a 2 year period, making phones like an iPhone accessible and affordable. I dont know how other countries operate regarding contracts but very few people will walk in a shop and lay £1000 on the table.

From my observations ive noticed people who previously had zero interest in photography outside of capturing snap shots are now taking more notice of composition, light and things like Bokeh all thanks to the advancements of the smart phone... surely that can only be seen as positive?

The author isnt saying go out and buy the most expensive iphone on the market, he is merely recommending it as one of the best there is... but the whole point of the article is that beginners who are taking an interest already have a great camera in their pocket.

VINICIUS YUZO ZUCARELI's picture

That last point is a good one.

Most people around the world are using a couple generations old mid range phones. If the article was about how even a Samsung A5 2017 has a decent camera and with GCAM can take amazing photos, or how a Moto G7 with it's various lenses are good to learn on, I agree.

And in most countries people will just finance their smartphones over a year anyway, even R$800 is a lot to put on a phone all at once.

And there is no "free" iPhone. To get a U$1000 phone you must already pay over U$100 monthly bill, you could get a decent couple years old DSLR for a couple months of that. And THAT would be miles ahead of iPhone in both quality and a platform to learn on.

I found my love for photos on my old Nokias, I grew this in cheap point and shoots, and then when I had income to spend got my first DSLR a T6, which I sold and upgraded to a SL2 this year.

IMO the best camera to learn on is a cheap point and shoot or used DSLR. Much less money and much more room to grow.

Stuart Carver's picture

Do you have that point and shoot/DSLR with you literally everywhere? im at work right now and could walk straight out of my office and grab a shot with my phone, dont get me wrong i try to take my camera with me as much as possible but its just not doable everywhere.

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