Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet


November 2013

By Mike Gould


The best camera is the one you have with you. And these days, that one is usually attached to your phone. Or maybe your iPad. (For the sake of convenience, I will be talking about iPhones and iPads, as that is what I am familiar with, but the same comments below apply to most smart phones and pads.)

Breaking News
I saw a photo several months ago from a street demonstration in the Middle East somewhere, and there were several people holding up iPads and shooting photos with them. That, I thought, looks really awkward, like holding up a flattened old-fashioned box camera, the kind you had to view by putting a black cloth over your head. But if that is what you happen to be carrying when news breaks out around you, go for it.

Shooting Tiles
What prompted this article was a recent visit with a client of mine, who needed some help setting up a photography area to shoot her glass tile artwork. She bought a "Grifiti Nootle iPad mini Tripod Mount with Mini Ball Head" (from Amazon) and supporting this with a tripod, was using her iPad as a camera to document her work with an eye towards getting it into a gallery. I helped her set up a neutral seamless background (some butcher paper she had lying around), and lit the work with some lights she had. I was going to suggest she use a conventional camera for this, but she said, no, she liked what she saw on the iPad as she set up her shots. And you know, I did too, once we started shooting.

The experience is not unlike the black-cloth-over-your-head procedure mentioned above, only without the cloth. The iPad becomes one big screen showing your shot in all its glory before you shoot it. It has those little bitty 3" screens on most point and shoot cameras beat as far as seeing what you are getting in nice sharp color. I do a similar number when shooting this sort of product with my pro gear: I plug my Canon 5D MKII into my (now extinct, alas) 17" MacBook Pro to see what my shots look like. So that means hauling around several pieces of gear vs. one iPad on a stick.

Now the iPad only has a file size of 5 Mega Pixels, which is pretty small compared to most point-and-shoot (p&s) cameras. (A p&s camera is an all-in-one jobbie, as opposed to the more professional digital SLR, which has interchangeable lenses, etc.) But file size isn't the only criteria with which to judge digital photos; there's the size of the sensor, the quality of the lens, and a host of other techie things I'm not going to go into here. Suffice it to say, the iPad with its 5MPx, has some real quality going for it, especially if you are shooting for the Web or pix to send by email.

Is the iPad always the best choice for photography? Heck no; it's awkward to hold steadily and it doesn't fit in your pocket the way a p&s camera does. But the iPad is a multi-trick pony; it does email, surfs the web, and performs a bazillion other things a camera can't. And hooked up with a stand as above, it makes a pretty nice little commercial camera rig for sharing your art or whatever on the Web.

If you need higher resolution photos (for print, for instance), you bring in a pro ( like me! ), but for modest low-res output, the iPad works a treat.

Is it worth it to go out and buy an iPad just to do this sort of photography? That gets more complicated. The iPad is $500 and that will buy you one heck of a regular camera, although without the nice big viewing screen. I guess it depends on how often you want to be shooting this sort of thing. If you shoot a lot, spend the bucks and get a high-end p&s or a low-end SLR camera with a good lens. Then hook that to your existing laptop and fire away.

But it should also be said that there are a metric boatload of apps for the iPad you can use to further process your pix. I got into this a while back while on vacation sans laptop - I learned how to download photos from my pro camera into the iPad, process them, and then send them off to FaceBook. Try doing that with a point and shoot.

Phoning It In
And then there is the new iPhone 5s, Apple's latest version of their popular smartphone. The new specs are awesome, and I will be getting one Real Soon Now (once the gold ones are back in stock, heh heh). This little rectangular charmer has been getting a lot of press lately, so I will sum up by saying: faster processor, bigger sensor, panorama capability, true tone flash, burst shooting, face detection, HD video, tap to focus, and the same price as last year's model.

It will be interesting to see how Apple's competitors will deal with this, and even more interesting, how the p&s camera market will respond. There has been a lot of speculation that smaller cameras are on their way out, their role fulfilled by that phone in your pocket. I don't see them going away anytime soon; they still have features not found in phones: longer lenses, zoom lenses, bigger file sizes as mentioned above, and they are still a bit easier to hold and aim than a phone.

But phone cameras have made amazing strides lately, and are now a pretty serious contender in the photo market.

Mike Gould is sticking with his professional Canon gear for the moment, was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, builds laser display devices, performs with the Illuminatus 2.3 Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to

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