Why the iPhone Xs is the Only Camera You Need on Your Next Vacation

Oct 10, 2018 · 8 min read

Are you like me and wondering if the new iPhone cameras are good enough to replace the need for lugging a DSLR (compact or full frame) along on trips?

Or do you just want to know how to efficiently take and share great photos? Read below for my tips to get the “max” out of your new iPhone.

iPhone Xs Series vs DSLR

Trying out a new camera at one of the most scenic places in the planet, Zion and Bryce National Parks, USA is risky business.

But I really wanted to see if the latest iPhones can shoot comparable to prosumer DSLR cameras. It was tempting to bring along my Sony A6000 mirror-less DSLR camera to this bucket list destination.

As this was a hiking trip I was looking to go lightweight and avoid damage to my DSLR. Luckily the day before I left the new iPhones shipped so I could try it out for in the real world.

Below are my findings and tips on using the latest iPhone cameras.

All pics in this post taken and edited using only the iPhone Xs Max

Using the iPhone as your Primary Camera

To get the most of the camera here is my process for taking and editing photos, all on the iPhone.

  • For best results use iPhone X or above as it has most options and is a big leap over other models.
  • The iPhone Xs and Xs Max will offer the best capabilities with the Max’s battery a big advantage on vacation camera duty
  • Take a lot of pictures! I averaged 10 to 15 photos taken for one quality keeper
  • Skim through photos and use Favorite feature to tag the best ones

Adjusting for Light

Many people are unaware of this next tip and it is by far the most important when light conditions are challenging such as sunsets and bright daytime photos with backlighting.

TIP: Touch the screen to force the camera to focus in different areas. This alters the exposure and is often the only way to capture clouds at sunset or get a blue sky when there is bright sunlight behind your subject.

Sunrise over Thor’s Hammer at Bryce Canyon. Perfect time to try out different light focuses to get the shot you want

Panoramas

Did you know you have a spy camera in your pocket ‘007 would only dream of back in the day?

TIP: Take a couple panos at each scenic vista. When posted on Facebook these capture the detail and are converted into 360 degree viewer. FB does not reduce quality on 360 panos like they do on normal photos so you get to keep full detail.

Wide pano that looks great on Facebook 360 degree viewer

Vertical Panoramas

Rarely used but effective in cases when you cannot capture the whole scene in normal photo mode.

Use pano vertically to capture tall buildings or stunning vertical landscapes


The iPhone Xs does an incredible job of stitching the photo together even when people are moving as you shoot

Know your Audience

Most people will be viewing your photos on mobile devices, so think about where you want to post photos as you are taking them.

  • Selfies and Instagram- shoot in square mode to guarantee the shot will work.
  • Facebook- majority of shots should be vertical. How often will people turn phone for your landscape? Not that often even if it is beautiful.
  • Prints and desktop wallpaper- shoot horizontal more than vertical but a mix is good

Use Vertical Shots for Facebook

Shoot vertical more than horizontal as that looks better on facebook mobile which is where most people will be viewing.

Find patterns to add visual interest to photo sets

Color Filters

Once you are done shooting for the day it is time to crop and enhance photos with filters.

I typically use the built in filters in the Edit menu. This is an area Apple is not strong in, but it is slowly getting better.

Tip: Avoid using the same filter for all photos, use a variety of filters to make the photo set more interesting.


Portrait Mode

Portrait mode is one of the reasons to upgrade to newer phones. Use it for photos of people or flowers or to really bring focus to an object.

Tip: In iPhone portrait mode, the background blurring can be adjusted after the fact. You can even eliminate the blur if you like the background.

Super sharp photos are possible in portrait mode

TIP: Watch out for the lens flare on the camera this can sometimes mar an otherwise stellar shot. The dual cameras sometimes generate two bright green dots. Try to avoid this by using your hand as a shade or change the angle.

This photo is pushing the iPhone Xs to the limit, Portrait mode combined with Smart HDR

Wildlife and Plants

As you travel take a moment for photos of flora or fauna to avoid a monotonous set of landscapes. Portrait mode is often the best for close up flower photos.

Flying insect on Buddleia bush near Escalante Utah

Zoom into this image to see the incredible detail captured by the iPhone Xs in portrait mode

Black and White Photos

Challenge yourself and try to include one or two black and white photos. Shoot in color but use built in filters to black and white. This will test your composition.

Look for decay or aged things in B&W shots — this adds a great effect and variety to a set.

Desert Varnish at Calf Creek

Movies

Record some quick movies for ambient sounds and for GoPro like action. Keep your videos to 30 seconds or less as people have a short attention span.

Facebook still greatly reduces quality on uploaded videos so there is limited value in uploading scenic videos.

Processing Images

  • During downtimes and where there is no internet is the time to review and tag photos
  • When you are traveling you want to be ready to upload once you get on WiFi or LTE so get your album ready offline, then you can go to Facebook and post in a small window of time.
  • On phone view each image
  • Find the best image of each “shoot” you did.
  • Click heart icon to favorite
  • Click Edit
  • Adjust cropping if needed
  • If portrait adjust depth of field if desired
  • Try built in iPhone filters, using multiple different filters is good to add variety to an album
  • Adjust lighting if needed, most commonly contrast, exposure or shadows are adjusted. Many photos will not need this.
  • Try black and white filters this can sometimes make a photo look like a timeless classic. It also adds variety to a photo set
  • After the best photos have been favorited click the arrow button on bottom right and add to an album ( optional step but nice for future use and Facebook uploading)

Water always adds a nice touch to a photo set

Tips for Facebook Albums

1- In Facebook go to your profile and click add photo.

2- Pick the iPhone album you created or just go to Favorites.

3- Pick the best photos first as they will display “above the fold” then pick all the rest but in a semi random order to avoid repetition. Mix the first few photos, if you won’t capture interest in the first 3–4 photos your album will be skipped.

4- Avoid uploading more than 25 images or so in a set. Break it down to multiple posts as audiences may have a short attention span. Group posts to a theme or a day.

5- Don’t be afraid to leave out some images for Facebook, likely you will upload less images than you favorited. This is last chance to be an editor. Less is more.

6- Add captions (nice but optional).

7- Note on panorama, Facebook does not reduce quality of panoramic photos. So these photos can be zoomed in fully and have a very high quality.

8- Share!

Summary

The new generation of iPhones combined with Facebook is a killer combination for taking and sharing photos. Panos converted into 360 viewer on Facebook is next level technology, and allows you and others to experience a place unlike that which has been possible in the past.

These phones with smart HDR and software driven AI processing make everyone a much better photo taker. The Xs phones are buttery smooth and are a joy to use for both trips and everyday photos.

The most challenging day for the iPhone Xs was on a partly cloudy day, where the HDR mode was kicking in a little bit too aggressively. Some of those photos ended up having high contrast and washing out the colors. I did find that in Settings > Camera you can disable Smart HD which restores back the HDR option on the camera.

Even though the phone has a great camera, Practice Makes Perfect. So sake a lot of photos and use favorites to make it easier to share.

DSLR obviously still has a place in the amateur photographer’s arsenal, but this place is shrinking faster than expected. The DSLR advantage is becoming limited to specialized situations such as action sports or super hi pixel files for printing.

Thanks for reading my review and happy shooting!


All photos Copyright Dustin Pease 2018

Dustin Pease

Written by

Photography hobbyist and javascript software developer

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