The Roundup for November 1-30, 2019 Edition

(Hero Pose by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


For the past many years, each month has come with a set of recurring expenses: reducing the debts of various kinds that were incurred as a result of pursuing my education (and current career). These debts have been a millstone hanging from my neck and, at different times, were the first and last things I thought of each and every morning. They’ve cost me dearly both in terms of finances, in terms of lost opportunities, and in terms of personal loses and sacrifices. They have also formed a core element of my ‘financial identity’ for many years and, with their payment, I’m left struggling to determine what that identity should ‘be’ going into the future. Is my future to (probably without effect) save for a down payment on a property (this is functionally impossible in the city in which I live) or save for retirement (in the hopes that’s even possible) or something else entirely? I don’t know what that identity becomes but I am curious, trepidatious, and somewhat excited to see what the future may hold.


Inspiring Quotation

“Being a strong man includes being kind. There’s nothing weak about being honorable and treating others with respect.”

  • Barack Obama

Great Photography Shots

I found Tom Hegen’s shots to be really eerie this month. He has a series of photos that capture Holland’s LED greenhouses, which I find to be incredibly dystopic. Our future as a species: growing our foods indoors because we have so damaged the natural environment that this is all that’s left for us.

Music I’m Digging

  • Gang Starr-One of the Best Yet // Created using bits and pieces of music that survived from Premier’s death (and acquired following considerable legal contestations), the songs are not all equal. But this by-and-large sounds like a definitive Gang Starr album and it’ll be last we likely ever received.
  • Beck-Hyperspace // Beck’s most recent album is, like most, a partial re-invention of what he is and sounds like. In many respects it’s almost like there’s an element of the Chemical Brothers throughout the tracks, in tandem with Beck’s typical lyrical talents. Well worth the listen.
  • Leonard Cohen-Thanks for the Dance // If you like Cohen’s albums as he aged—namely, as he shifted more to spoken word accompanied with instrumentals—then you’re in for a (last) treat from one of Montreal’s best. The tracks are lyrically held together by Cohen’s sexual interests in the last days of his life, and the emphasis on what he wanted and which was forever slightly beyond him.
  • DJ Shadow-Our Pathetic Age // This is really a two-‘disc’ album, with the first predominantly instrumentals and the second more typical DJ Shadow fare. I’m not the biggest fan of the former, whereas the latter is absolutely amazing. The range of classic hip hop talent on the tracks, combined with Shadow’s beats, are absolutely to die for.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • TVO—Why Conservatives and Liberals Think Differently // Research showcases that there are differences between the tendencies in how persons of different political persuasions think, and not at the level of who they support politically but in how they interpret risk, friendship preferences and more. The guests are clear that some liberals hold some conservative values and vice versa, but nonetheless it’s interesting to have research actually showcasing that some differences are very real and may not be solved by just talking through things.
  • The Current—Ambassador Susan Rice // Rice was comparatively hawkish as compared to Obama, yet showcases how advisors can disagree with their President and still acknowledge that the finals decisions were competent and reflective of different policy preferences. Notably, Rice joins the chorus of senior current and former American national security staff who warn that Canada choosing to permit Huawei into 5G networks will threaten Canada’s ongoing welcome into the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance.

Good Reads

  • Climate Change Is Breaking Open America’s Nuclear Tomb // The Marshall Island, where the USA conducted a vast number of nuclear tests in the 40s and 50s, is threatening to spill contained radioactive contaminants into the Pacific Ocean. Not only is the US government not doing anything to mitigate these risks, but also have only provided $4 million of the $2 billion owed to the Marshall Islands in damages for the government’s experiments. The costs of nuclear conflict, even in the absence of a shooting war, are born very unequally by persons around the world.
  • China’s Internet Is Flowering // Reporting for the New York Times Magazine, Yiren Lu explores just how the Chinese Internet is growing and its implications for Internet developments and culture in the Western world. Key to all of this is, in effect, the mass adoption of WeChat and WeChat Pay by customers and businesses alike. Something that is raised repeatedly in the article is how the business developments in China are linked to at least two key features, only one of which is truly shared by Western regulators. First, there was generally a forbearance on interfering with Internet companies and, as such, WeChat grew to provide a comprehensive platform and accompanying set of services. Second, and unlike in the West, the government has itself sought to encourage the development of e-commerce on WeChat itself. Looking to North America, we can see that efforts by Facebook to develop similarly integrated services are being stymied and, thus, raises the question of whether is is truly possible to integrate the lessons from WeChat into a Western experience.
  • It’s so much more than cooking // I’ve not previously contemplated that cooking is more than preparing the food at hand but, also, the mental labour that precedes the act of cooking: the planning, evaluation of nutrient quotas, shopping, etc. It’s a good and very fair point. And while I agree that women do tend to be engaged in more of the cooking responsibilities than men, at least when in relationships, I do wonder what the shift in demographics in countries like Canada will do for this: given that more people live alone than ever before, will this result in more men cooking than women? And a shift in the equality of shared household tasks?
  • Inside Facebook’s efforts to stop revenge porn before it spreads // While I’m sure this is meant to be a ‘good news’ Facebook story about how they’re trying to combat revenge porn that isn’t the message I take away from actually reading the article. Instead, I get something like: “We tried something to address revenge porn, without consulting anyone, and that didn’t work. Then we had an utterly innovative idea to actually do research to understand the problem. And while we’ve been told that what we’re doing won’t work, and can’t work, and that we need to hire staff to deal with this, that’s not economically feasible so Facebook is instead mostly ignoring that critique and will be relying on a really small product team to solve a problem for which there are no clear solutions. And doing it with machine learning.”
  • A Montreal Bagel War Unites Rival Kings // While the question of whether to restrict how Montreal bagel shops can make their bagels is relatively well known to Montrealers, I suspect this is the first time that the international audience has been exposed to the debate over whether bagel shops should be permitted to continue releasing the particulate from their ovens into the surrounding neighbourhoods. To my mind, it makes sense to require filters and/or systems that capture the particulate smoke elements that are aggravating health issues such as asthma. But, similarly, asserting that the bagel shops should ‘go green’ and get rid of wood burning would fundamentally transform how the Montreal bagel tastes and most likely not for the better.
  • The surveillance industry is assisting state suppression. It must be stopped // This call to regulate the commercial spyware industry, by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, is a poignant and direct assessment of the harms that this industry inflicts on those whom democracies ought to be protecting. I emphatically agree that our governments are failing to protect those who advocate for, and defend, human rights and the rule of law abroad. Western governments can at least start by preventing businesses in their own backyard from facilitating and enabling such oppression and illegitimate prosecution.
  • Tinder Lets Known Sex Offenders Use the App. It’s Not the Only One. // Deliberately failing to protect women across all of Match’s platforms demonstrates a shocking degree of moral turpitude that is underscored by deliberate policy failures in the company. All bad people can’t be stopped from using the apps but surely Match can work to ensure that the meagre protections is has in place on some of its apps are deployed across them all.
  • 7 Rules for Shooting More Interesting Travel Photos // I really appreciate how accessible these ‘rules’ are, and how easy they would be to implement. It also explains how to take some shots—using props—that I’ve been trying to visually figure out for a few months, which nicely explains the magic tricks taken in some of the photos I’ve been reviewing!

Cool Things

  • I am “A Too Much” Woman // Reading this bit of spoken word and all I could think was how well it captured the amazing, powerful, smart, brilliant women I have the privilege to be around, learn from, and stand in awe of.

The Roundup for October 1-31, 2019 Edition

(Evening Horror by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


Inspiring Quotation

“The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it.”

– Chinese Proverb

Great Photography Shots

Really liking some of of these symmetrical smartphone shots!

Lower Chamber‘ by @chasread
Untitled’ by @emilia photographe
Untitled‘ by @mina.juveler
Sucked into the light‘ by @arpixa
Holocaust Memorial Berlin‘ by @iphotokunst

Music I’m Digging

This month’s ‘best of’ songs clock in at about 3.5 hours, and include 56 songs. They’re biased towards rock, rap, alternative, and a bit of pop.

  • Marie Davidson—Working Class Women // This is one of the more novel albums I’ve listened to this year. Davidson is clearly a very gifted artist and performer: the album is as much an aural piece of art that could belong in a gallery, as it is something that’s curious to listen to. It is a challenging album to listen to insofar as it’s really not one that fits ‘well’ as background music. Davidson compels your attention, and you are deeply rewarded to giving it to her.
  • BANNERS—Where the Shadow Ends // The newest album from BANNERS reminds me of their original EP, Banners, and less of Empires on Fire. And that’s a good thing! It dovetails the crooning voice that I’ve come to love, with sufficiently interesting lyrics and melodies that I keep coming back to sample the album time-after-time. There’s nothing on the album quite like ‘Start a Riot’ or ‘Back When We Had Nothing’, but that’s just to say that the album is its own as opposed to trying to mold itself into that of the band’s first album.
  • Phantogram—In a Spiral (Single) // This is Phantogram at it’s best. Hands down: haunting melody, terrific melody, and killer beats. Race to listen to this. You will be rewarded!

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Sporkful—My Food History Wasn’t Lost. It was Stolen. // Colonists to the United States (and Canada) engaged in systematic cultural and biological genocide of the native people’s who predated their arrival. In this episode of the Sporkful, Dan speaks with poet Tommy Pico about building his own indigenous food history, when that history had been systemically eradicated. That discussion is potent, but what is particularly powerful is the poem that Tommy reads over the final 15 minutes of the episode: it speaks to the challenges of growing up as a native person in America and what it means to be confronted by white supremacy on a daily basis.
  • The Economist—The Death of Cash // Cash is a real thing for a lot of people, and this episode does a good job in thinking through how cashless societies are being born, and the associated costs of how moving cashless can disenfranchise the least advantaged persons in society.
  • TVO—Addressing Police Mental Health and Suicide // Policing culture is ‘macho’ in its character and its members have historically been taught to push down their feelings, don’t talk about the hurts associated with their job, and just get the job done. This episode includes raw contributions from senior policing staff on the need to seriously engage with mental health issues and, also, personal stories that reveal how the historical culture has harmed the same staff, and how they are working to mitigate the same harms to contemporary service members. While a single episode won’t change policing culture it’s important and brave for some of the most ‘macho’ people to come forward and be frank and honest about mental health. Only by doing so will mental health issues more generally become destigmatized.

Good Reads

  • What Are “Love Maps”, and Why Do They Matter? // This Medium post outlines the importance, and need in healthy relationships, to really understand the contours of your partner’s past, present, and future. It discusses how understanding more than surface details is critical for long-lasting relationships and why, also, understanding those underlying elements of whomever you’re with—both their more and less positive elements—is essential for providing the support and intimacy that keeps relationships alive and thriving over time.
  • Alexa and Google Home abused to eavesdrop and phish passwords // Installing barely manageable wiretap devices into your home remains, perhaps unsurprisingly, a very bad idea.
  • The Messy Truth About Social Credit // If you’ve ever been curious about China’s social credit system then this is required reading. In short, the system is about building trust in institutions and between individuals predicated on institutional and private company data sharing. The actual workings of the system are different from what exists in the United States but there are remarkable similarities. The social credit system is something worth keeping an eye on but isn’t, at the moment at least, the Foucaultian panopticon brought to life.
  • Every Photo Tells a Story. His Spoke Volumes. // Burgess’ recounting of the life, and photography, of Sam Falk’s reveals how Falks approached his craft and transformed it within the New York Times. But, more substantially, Falks photography serves as a reminder of the world as it used to appear and the vividness of our collective pasts. The past was in motion just as much as today is, and was populated populated by people who were invested in their worlds, who were curious, and who were all as-in-motion as those of us today.

Cool Things

  • Glencairn Whiskey Glasses // I’ve been more assertively trying to learn about whiskey for the past few months, including watching a whole lot of tasting videos from The Whiskey Tribe, investing in a bunch of bottles of bourbon of varying cost, and purchasing some Glencairn whiskey glasses. The glasses, in particular, have been revolutionary: I’ve always sipped from heavy cocktail glasses, but the Glencairn ones are revealing a whole new world of smells. I cannot recommend them highly enough!
Quote

The truth is cameras are mere tools. Film is a mere medium. Digital data is a mere medium. They do not define what we do, only how we do it. Most importantly, they do not define why we do it! I photograph to explore my world and plumb my mind and my creative spirit. I recommend you ask yourself the same: ‘why do I photograph?’

The Roundup for September 1-30, 2019 Edition

(Blurred Vision by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of links! Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


I’ve been thinking more and more about the process of making street photos. When I first started seriously trying to make photos, about four years ago, I pushed myself some to take candid shots of people. These efforts culminated with a transit worker challenging me because I’d taken a candid of him without permission. Now, it was lawful to take his photo—I was shooting from a public space—but the confrontation itself left a lasting impact on me. And, so, I didn’t really shoot photos of people for years because I didn’t want to have that kind of negative experience again.

But for the past few months I’ve gotten increasingly comfortable taking photos that include people. So, what’s changed? First, I’m not really taking photos of people, per se, but instead of scenes that happen to include people. I’m not looking for any particular person and, instead, looking to just fill a scene with humans or interesting subjects. I’m also not being sneaky like some street photographers advocate: I’m making it clear, by raising the viewfinder to my eye, that I’m taking a photo. But I linger at a scene with the camera raised, and don’t move when people are wandering through my frame. They don’t necessarily know if I’ve taken a shot. I just sit with my discomfort of waiting.

I don’t know that I have a lot of great photos, yet, as I’m taking shots of people. There are some that I like but I definitely don’t have a ‘style’ at the moment, per se. But I’m pushing myself way outside of my comfort zone when I’m taking photos that, just two years ago, I felt psychologically barred from taking. By getting out of my comfort zone I know I’m expanding the range of the subjects, and environments, and stories I’m able to capture. It’s hard but, I have to believe, will be valuable over time as I teach myself how to be comfortable working in very different styles and types of making photographs.


I might be shifting how I publish these roundups in the near future; I keep finding that it takes me a long time to get all of the pieces together due to workflow changes over the past six or seven months, and that means these come out once a month or so (at best). And I think I like the idea of stuff coming out more commonly. Stay posted…


Inspiring Quotation

You can’t be what you can’t see.”

― Marian Wright Edelman

Great Photography Shots

I’ve been shooting a lot with my new iPhone 11 Pro the past little while, and so wanted to showcase some really nice shots taken on mobile phones that effectively use negative space.

(Morning sun‘ by @x1234)
(This Place‘ by @joseeh)
(Sometimes God holds you back temporarily until the road is clear to continue‘ by @nnkrenz)
(A lifeguard is like a lighthouse, guiding ships to safety‘ by @rawsdeb)
(G O L F L I F E‘ by @iphotokunst)
(Untitled‘ by @ipiotrxs)

Music I’m Digging

  • My favourite songs of September 2019 are public. Songs bias towards R&B, rap, and alternative (as normal), though with a fair number of songs about the ends of relationships and managing the aftermath.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Documentary – World War Two: The economic battle // This was a really interesting review of the second world war, wherein the core argument is that part of the reason for the UK’s success is that it had fully embraced a market economy and so could focus on certain productivity activities (e.g., factories for building planes and war material) and outsource others (e.g., production of food). This economic position was significantly mirrored by Japan, and contrasted against the economic frameworks of China and Germany. Definitely an argument that I’d never heard, or thought about, before.
  • Commons – Dynasties 2: The Irvings // This season of Commons is surprisingly good. I’d largely abandoned the show a few years ago because I didn’t find the content worth spending my time on, but this season is very different. In this episode, we get taken into the land of New Brunswick and how the Irving family functionally controls it and has deliberately (and in bad faith) signed deals that benefit the company’s bottom line to the detriment of residents of the province. If you want to learn more about one of Canada’s most secretive and wealthy families I can’t recommend this piece highly enough.
  • Lawfare – WTF, Ukraine! // There is a lot going on in the news about Ukraine and the Americans at the moment. This episode of Lawfare breaks down all the major players, the history, and what is really going on in the most recent Trump-related scandal. If you want to figure out just what is going on in under 60 minute, then this is the podcast for you.
  • 99% Invisible – The Help-Yourself City // I really appreciated the discussion of “informal urbanism” that is the focus of this episode. In effect, this mode of urbanism takes place when individual or groups of urban residents transform elements of their city without the permission of the government. It includes everything from neighbourhood signage, park benches and chairs, bus shelters, graffiti, and more. While there are some problematic outcomes to these behaviours—significantly linked to liability when these informal elements of the urban landscape cause harm to someone—it was pretty great to just have a concept to capture these essential elements of living and vibrant cities.

Good Reads

  • Utopia, Abandoned // The rise and fall of Ivrea, a corporate town in Italy that was based around concepts of social justice, modernism, and social welfare, speaks volumes to all attempts to artificially manufacture spaces: while they can be made, the ethos behind them will, eventually, pass away and be replaced with dramatically new social, political, and economic circumstances. And, yet, the buildings and infrastructures will remain. The question that I’m left with, I guess, is how things will age; to what extent should our buildings stand fast against change and defy efforts to rehabilitate them—making us live history by conforming modern life to the architectures of the past—or design them to be mutable and inherently rebellious to their designer, builder, and inhabitants. Should we seek to reify ourselves through our buildings, giving us a sense of stability, or instead acknowledge and embrace the inherent uncertainties of the future?
  • What’s the secret of Filipino food in Manila? // I would never have attributed sourness to Filipino foods. Now I’m trying to go through all that I’ve previously eaten and reflecting on memories of tastes to determine if I just absolutely missed a huge part of the cuisine, or if what I’ve eaten just used different techniques and methods.
  • The Gothic Pedigree of Vampire // Justin Achilli, the former lead designer of Vampire, had an interesting comment on why Vampire possessed a different game structure than Dungeons and Dragons or other games. He wrote: “The overarching story container was not a “campaign,” with its military-conquest connotations, but a chronicle, a record, a retelling of events that happened. And in so doing, it relied very heavily on unreliable narrators, so you were never sure you were getting a clinical accounting of events as much as you were getting a definitely biased perspective of events, unless you were there, and even if you were, you’re not unbiased yourself.” I’d never really thought of how useful it was to just think of how sessions between game systems are designed differently, and Justin’s writing definitely has me reflecting on how I think I try to bridge between the two philosophies when running D&D games insofar as I try to build a series of scenes that make a story, as opposed to focusing on the militaristic languages associated with a campaign.
  • When the Soviet Union Paid Pepsi in Warships // Pepsi sought to expand its distribution during the Cold War and, after some impressive diplomatic hijinks, managed to get an exclusive deal with the USSR. The catch was that the ruble was worthless outside of the Republic and, moreover, they couldn’t be taken out of the country. And so Pepsi worked out a barter system, first for Russian vodka and, later, for old Russian warships (to be sold as scrap), with a future deal meant to give Pepsi a number of functional cargo vessels. Pepsi, at one point, had a fleet of ships that was larger than those of many nations. Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction!
  • The 5 Years That Changed Dating // I appreciated how Fetters examined, in depth, the drawbacks and benefits associated with online dating. Core, to my mind, is how apps have adjusted the spaces where people used to socialize to find potential romantic partners: whereas, once, you went out in the interests of finding someone interesting, now the goal is to just spend time with friends (with no real expectation of finding someone interesting). The article also discusses how the more extensive profiles encouraged on some apps, such as OKCupid, affect the likelihood of a long-term match, as opposed to apps that encourage very short profiles, such as Tinder.
  • The Future of Political Philosophy // Katrina Forrester does a terrific job of working through the importance of Rawls in contemporary Anglo political philosophy. She argues that due to how the theory was presented, along with its failure to address disruptions to liberalism in the 1960s, has led it to showcase a theory that may be significantly unable to respond to the contemporary challenges facing the nation-state and Western politics. In effect, both the requirement that novel modes of critique settle within pre-defined intellectual boundaries, combined with a sunny optimism of how liberalism ought to be, have led to the potential crisis in Rawlsian-inspired liberalism itself.

Cool Things

An Amateur Photographer’s Review of the iPhone 11 Pro Camera System

I bought my most expensive camera system last week: an iPhone 11 Pro. While the screen and battery life was something I was looking forward to, I was most looking forward to massively upgrading my smartphone camera. The potential to shoot portraits with a 52mm lens (as well as landscapes, street shots, and architecture…50mm is my preferred focal range), plus general shots with a 26mm and a 13mm equivalent was exciting. I’ve printed iPhone photos in the past and been happy with them, but would the new camera system live up to the marketing hype?

My Background

To be clear, I am by definition a very amateur photographer. Which, I think, actually makes this review a bit more useful than most. I’m not reviewing the iPhone 11 Pro as a phone or the entirety of the underlying operating system. I’m just focused on how well this device helps me make photos.

For the past few years I’ve shot with a bunch of cameras, including: an iPhone 6 and 7, Fuji x100,1 Sony rx100ii, and Olympus EM10ii. I’ve printed my work in a book, in photos of various sizes that are now hanging on my walls,2 and travelled all over the world with a camera in tow. I have historically tended towards street photography (broadly defined), some ‘travel’ photography (usually nature and landscape shots), abstracts, and admittedly relatively few portraits. If you want to get a rough assessment of the kinds, and quality, of photos that I take then I’d suggest you wander over to my Instagram profile.

I should be pretty clear, upfront: I make photos, not videos, and so have pretty well zero comments about the video camera functionalities on the iPhone 11 Pro. Also, if you’re looking for some raw technical stats on the iPhone cameras, I’d suggest you check out Halide’s assessment.

Body, Controls, and Handling

The iPhone 11 Pro is considerably larger in hand than the iPhone 7 that I came from. It’s also, with the Apple-branded clear case, quite slippery. This means that I’ve been super cautious in taking photos where dropping it might mean I’d lose it forever (e.g., shooting outstretched over rivers and major highways). The buttons are significantly more solid than my iPhone 7 and, as such, I’m disinclined to use them as a shutter button for fear of messing up my composition or introducing camera shake. Though if I’m being honest, it was pretty rare that I used anything other than the on-screen shutter button on my iPhone 7.

The screen of the iPhone 11 Pro, itself, is bright and beautiful. It’s night and day between it and the iPhone 7. To activate the camera from the lock screen you press and hold the camera icon; after a second or so, the camera app will open and you’re probably ready to shoot. Probably, you may ask? Yes: there’s a glitch in iOS 13 that means that sometimes the camera app launches but the image of what you’re trying to capture isn’t shown on the display. The solution it to take a shot and, afterwards, the display should display the image the camera is showing. Usually. But not always.

If you used burst mode a lot to get the right shot in a burst, get used to a lot of missed shots. In iOS 13, you press the shutter button in the camera app and slide to the left to initiate bursts; holding down on the shutter button start recording a short video (slide to the right if you want to record video and not hold down on the shutter button in the app). In actual use, I’ve ended up accidentally taking a bunch of short videos instead of a burst of shots, which meant I’ve missed capturing what I wanted to capture. A ‘Pro’ camera should let me set photo controls. The iPhone 11 Pro fails, seriously and significantly, in this regard.

When composing a shot, you’ll routinely see what is beyond the focal length you’re using. This means that, as an example, when you’re shooting with the 26mm lens, you’ll see what would be captured by the 13mm lens. On screen, the extended parts of the scene which would be captured by the wider camera is slightly desaturated and on the outskirts of the grid you can enable in the Camera app settings. Some reviewers have said that this looks like what you might see when looking through a rangerfinder-style camera, like a Fuji x100. I fundamentally disagree: those reviewers have not clearly used a rangefinder for extended periods of time, where you can see to the left and right of the frame when looking through the viewfinder. It’s helpful to have that in a camera you’ve raised to your eye, because the rest of your vision may be obscured and so you may not realize what’s about to step into your frame. This is less of an issue when shooting in a smartphone. Much less of an issue.

If you rely on a tilted screen in a mirrorless or DSLR to get the shots you like, while, you’re going to be out of luck. It’s a camera phone without an articulating screen. Maybe Samsung’s folding phones will integrate this kind of feature into their camera app…

I haven’t shot using the flash, so I can’t comment on what it’ll be like to use.

If you’ve used the iPhone Camera app, you’ll find that few things have meaningfully changed. The ‘big’ changes include a notification along the top left corner if night mode is activated (along with how many seconds it’ll take to use the feature) and an arrow along the top of the app that, if tapped, will let you switch some of the default features (e.g., flash on/off/auto, live images on/off, timer, or filter). Despite being a ‘professional’ device—which has a pile of internal gyroscopes!—the camera app doesn’t include a horizon level, though if you’re taking flat shots you’ll get an indicator to show if you’re perfectly level.

I tend to see the stock photos app as part of the control of an iPhone camera. Some of the additions are good—tilt shifts in particular!—but I loath losing how iOS 12 ‘grouped’ features into categories like light, colour, and black and white. And I really miss being able to adjust neutrals and tones in the black and white setting. Why’d you take those away, Apple? WHY!?

The battery life when I’ve taken the iPhone 11 Pro for a day of shooting has been great; I was out for about 7 hours one day to just shoot and took about 250 photos, while listening to podcasts and reading news and such. I had 17% after a full days normal use plus shooting, but I was shooting with a brand new battery in ideal temperatures for batteries (20-24 degrees). The real test will be when winter hits in countries like Canada or the northern USA and we see how well the batteries hold up in semi-hostile environmental conditions.

Image Quality

I’ve been super impressed with the camera system included in the iPhone 11 Pro. Despite being impressed there are definitely areas where computational photography is still very much a work in progress.

I’ve been taken aback by just how much dynamic range is captured by this camera when I’ve been making photos. This is especially the case when I’ve used the camera in low-light or sheer dark conditions. As is true of almost all cameras, it generally performs admirably in well lit situations. What follows are a selection of shots taken over a three day period; they are all edited to my taste, using just the stock photos app. What follows is a (broad) selection of those photos in indoor, high day, and sunset conditions.

I also did a late evening photowalk. It was pitch black (for a major urban city…) and so the following images are good representations of what urban photographers can probably pull off without a tripod.4 In many of the images I was resting the camera either tightly against my body or something in the natural environment (e.g., a tree trunk) to reduce camera shake.

I did run into some computational…weirdness…in some of the shots. When shooting the Cinesphere, I sometimes got this weird yellow arc that stretched along the top. Also when shooting scenes with the Cinesphere and the Japanese Temple Bell, there were times when it looked like the upper right of the frame (proximate to the Cinesphere in the shot) had extremely severe vignetting. Also, I noticed that I got lens flare when shooting at night; while this could be corrected in post using something like Snapseed I can’t ever recall dealing with flare on a regular basis on prior iPhones.

Also, don’t buy this camera and expect to get cool light trails using the default camera application. While night mode takes a lot of exposures to create the final shot, you’ll only get the slightest of blur from moving vehicles. Similarly, due to the fixed aperture of the cameras you’re not going to get any cool light flares or sun stars , nor can you seriously control the depth of field as you could in a camera with much more manual control.5

Conclusion

The iPhone 11 Pro is a marvel of a camera system. Seriously: it’s spectacular for the size of the sensor, though it damn well better be given its sheer cost!

I can see this camera fitting into the lives of a lot of creative amateurs. (Probably professionals, too, but with grumbles.) For me, and people with at my skill level with photography, this is a major equipment investment that I think will be pretty great: it’s a supplement to, not a replacement for, the aging Sony rx100ii I carry with me on a day to day basis, and it’s genuinely fun to shoot on. The Photos app, while annoying in some of its reconfiguration, is generally more powerful than in its last version. And the ability to easily and quickly shift between the 13-52mm focal ranges cannot be appreciated enough: it’s like having a permanent kit lens attached to your smartphone, and that’s just awesome.

Should you upgrade or buy this camera system? I dunno. I had an older phone and totally could have stuck with it for another year or so, and I’m happy with my upgrade. But for around $2,000(CAD) you could get some really nice new glass, which might be a better investment if you’re always carrying your mirrorless camera or DSLR with you, or if having better control of aperture, camera levels, or other ‘niceties’ are the core thing you’re looking for. But if you’ve increasingly been leaving your ‘big’ camera and glass at home, but still want a lot of functionality when making photos on your smartphone, and have the disposable income, then you’ll probably be pretty happy with the iPhone 11 Pro.

  1. In honesty, it was too much camera for me at the time, but it taught me to really love and want to work on my photography. ↩︎
  2. My largest prints are 24×36, from my Sony rx100ii and Olympus EM10ii (using an Olympus 17mm 1.8 lens). ↩︎
  3. Why won’t Apple bring the camera filters in Messages straight into their camera app? Oh hey! Did you even know Apple had a pile of filters for fun stuff in Messages? I bet not given how buried they they—open messages, tap the star button in the lower left side, then tap the three concentric rings, fight with the stupid UI a bit, and tada!↩︎
  4. If using a tripod, the internal gyroscopes will detect this and let you take up to a 10s ‘exposure’. ↩︎
  5. Some of this might change as Halide and other competing camera app manufactures update their applications. But the stock camera app is pretty limited in computation control of the aperture, especially for landscape or street photography. ↩︎
Aside

2019.9.21

I had plans to publish a short review of the iPhone Pro 11 camera today; I spent the day walking all over Toronto (21km!) and edited up shots on my iPad. It’s a cool and neat and very different iPhone camera system!

But it seems like my iPhone is entirely unable to sync photos with iCloud at the moment. I’ve done all the ‘normal’ things to get sync working but none are working. So I’ll see if syncing resolves overnight and, if not, the continuing failures of iCloud will definitely get their own section in my review.

Camera systems on phones include the cameras, the camera software, and the cloud infrastructure. If one isn’t working, then none of it is truly working.