iPhone 7 Plus Smartphone Camera Module Review - Genuine Photographic Tool for Stock Photography / Video or just an expensive social media snapshot creator?

 

Above - 100% hand held 100% unedited straight out of camera. HD 1080 shot with Native Camera app.

Above - 100% hand held 100% unedited straight out of camera. HD 1080 shot with Filmic Pro App - 'Cinemascope' Format.

Above - the two lenses field of view. Shot with native Camera app.

Above - The two jpgs. you get when you choose the Depth of field portrait mode. Shot with native camera app.

Above - 4K footage from the iPhone 7 Plus - shot using the Camera app in the phone.

Above is a 100% blowup from a video screen grab off the 4K footage. i.e. Apples '4K photo'. Captured using Snapshot feature in VLC software.

 

Above - Panoramas created by the Camera app. and edited in Photoshop.

Above - 100% detail from and upsized (from 12 to 16MP) .DNG (RAW) file processed in Iridient Developer and edited in Photoshop. Shot with ProCam app.


I'd been thinking about buying the new 'photographer friendly' iPhone 7 Plus for a while. I was interested in it when it was announced, but I've waited until some good picture and video samples appeared. And it was some of the video I saw that finally persuaded me. I would like to shoot more video clips for my stock libraries, but I have no wish to lug around tripods and heavy camera outfits. I've been trying all sorts of cameras for hand held video and even tried some gimbals and a 'steadicam lite' system. None of these has proved as successful as the iPhone 7S straight out the box, as you will see above. The 4K footage is also decent, without scaling the heights of what cameras like the Panasonic GH5 and Leica SL can produce. So in terms of video I'm very pleased. For the stock clips I produce it's ideal. Light, small, unobtrusive with top class stabilisation and good enough quality for what are stock clips intended for internet use. I've been using the Filmic Pro App which allows me full manual control over the footage and some different 'shapes' for the video, including the 'cinemascope' ratio which I like very much.

Now I've always liked Apple's Panoramic feature and the 7 Plus produces well stitched, high resolution pano's that can be up to 180MB in size. I generally downsize these for stock library uploading (to around 50-60MB) which sharpens them up nicely. The two lenses. 4mm f/1.8 (which is approx. 28mm for 35mm) and the 6.6mm f/2.8 (which is approx. 67mm for 35mm) both give decent results as jpg. files using the cameras native app. Though it has to be said ISO's over 250 are pretty nasty, lots of noise and none too sharp. But with the f/1.8 aperture and the stabilisation this is only an issue if light levels are very poor. The built in flash is powerful, but I'm no fan of direct flash and you get what you get with this.

The new feature in the latest Apple IOS is the ability to create raw (.DNG files) but only with 3rd. party apps. I use the ProCam app. and the Red Dot Camera app. for this.

I shot the above via the ProCam app. and the results are definitely better than from the out of camera jpg. All the usual 'tweaks' are available, including keeping the highlights from blowing out, which is useful. Now I've read that firstly Apple .DNG files aren't 'proper' raw files and that raw processing results in noisier images. As to the first I cannot comment other than to say that the .DNG files behave like I would expect in terms of raw processing and for the second this depends on how you process. Again, I get what I expect. However I was somewhat surprised by how good conversions in Iridient Developer were. As you can see from the brickwork image above, these are seriously sharp at low ISO's, even when upsized. 

So, all in all, this is a very useful camera to carry around all the time, which is what I plan to do with it. I have made my IPhone 7 Plus my primary camera and my intention is to sell off most of my other smartphones, since I don't think I'm going to be using them much anymore.

Some not so good things.

  • The digital 'zoom' feature is awful. The quality is appalling even if only a slight 'zoom' is used.
  • As indicated before, the higher ISO's are pretty terrible. This is a 1/3" sensor after after all.
  • You have to buy 3rd. party apps. to get .DNG files and full manual control.
  • It's expensive. But then you knew that already and it doesn't seem to stop people buying iPhones.
  • It's only the 7 Plus that has the two lenses.

However, there are some really good features that, to be honest, I was surprised by how good they are.

  • The stabilisation for stills and particularly video is really excellent. 
  • The two lens system is actually more useful than I thought it would be. Though to call the 6.6mm (57mm) lens a 'telephoto' is pushing it.
  • The .DNG files the camera creates DO make a real difference in terms of improving picture quality.
  • The 'depth' effect does produce pleasing and realistic bokeh. However it's not perfect. If you look at the shot of the two mannequin heads above, you will see a red sign on the shoulder of the nearest head. This is actually on the back wall of the shop but the software has mistaken it for part of the mannequin. It's in focus when it should be out of focus.
  • 4K footage is decent, though obviously you can get better. 
  • With the right app. I can get excellent results for both stills and video. These give me the manual control that I want.
  • The Panoramas the camera are very high resolution and well stitched. However with a lot of uniform colour in the sky banding can appear. 

Now having all this in my pocket is obviously a bonus and as indicated above the 7 Plus is going to be my default video camera. It will also be my default camera for shooting panoramas. But is it an alternative to a 'proper' camera? Well for a lot of people I think it probably is. It is incredibly versatile and will do a lot of stuff and for the most part do it very well. It is also moving into the territory occupied by the budget end of DSLR and mirrorless cameras. And yes you still get better quality from those, but the gap is narrowing all the time and what I can get from this micro sensor and micro lenses is simply astonishing. And for most people, this is enough. A camera like this will not compromise those snapshot memories, either in terms of stills and video. And for me as a professional, providing I only use it in decent light, I would have no problem using it to shoot stock photography and footage. It's easily good enough for both.

It is now becoming the case that top of the range smartphone camera modules, which have already seen off stand alone compact cameras, are on the verge of making significant inroads into those low end mirrorless and DSLR cameras. And of course with what else they offer surpassing them. The 7 Plus is, after all, a phone, an internet browser, a social media direct provider as well as being a torch, a bar code reader, a satellite navigation system and all the other things that the plethora of available apps can make it. No it can't compete with my Leica SL (Typ 601) for image quality and 4K video and it certainly doesn't come anywhere near what my Sigma SD Quattro can produce for low ISO stills, but it can do a job for me. I have no need to carry a spare camera with the 7 Plus in my pocket and if push came to shove and I had to finish off a professional job with it, I wouldn't be fazed. (Though if there was a client around they may well be!)

It is really that good, in terms of what I use a camera for. Obviously not for sports, news and wildlife photographers and some other branches of the photographic profession. But, again with that low ISO proviso, I see this camera is being capable of producing results that compare favourably with 35mm film and 5 year old plus basic digital cameras. There is apparently already a movie shot with this camera and when you see old video and film footage on TV it's obvious how far things have come. An iPhone image could easily cope with an upmarket glossy magazine cover and even an A3 two page spread and I doubt if anybody would complain about the published result.

Finally - Here's a link to some iPhone footage and Apple shot the following on an iPhone which shows just what these things can do. Personally I'm just glad to be able to have something like this with me at all times. 

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