A Place That Grew

Toronto is home to Ontario Place, which was once a park that had splash pads, rides, a Legoland, and more. It was opened in 1971 and hugs Lake Ontario. It was closed in 2012 for redevelopment and, since then, has largely languished as successive governments have suggested ideas but none have come to fruition. Ontario’s official motto is “A Place to Grow”, and by extension Ontario Place itself is a place that has since grown up and is now slowly wasting away due to government neglect.

It’s also one of my favourite places in the city to visit and photograph, and especially during the pandemic when it has been relatively quiet and free of people. It’s both a very calming location and one that has very interesting buildings and urban ruins to photograph.

(Highway Views by Christopher Parsons)
(Modes of Locomotion by Christopher Parsons)

It’s getting warmer in Toronto which means that people are inclined to be outdoors; there are more cyclists and skateboarders in Toronto than I think ever before, and they’re all using the paths that are typically used predominantly by people who are walking or jogging.

(Unity Run by Christopher Parsons)
(Light Rails BW by Christopher Parsons)

Each year, I’ve managed to find or access or photograph a new part of the park that’s succumbed to lack of upkeep, and this year is no exception. An enterprising soul laid down some boards to cross over into part of the flume ride which meant I could see it for the first time! I suspect that it’ll only be a matter of time until a provincial government finally gets its way and tears down these ruins.

(Towards the Apex by Christopher Parsons)
(Down We Go by Christopher Parsons)
(Flume(ing) Graffiti by Christopher Parsons)
(Landlocked by Christopher Parsons)

I’m sure that more and more people will be using the park this year it’s limited attractions, and especially as more Torontonians get vaccinated. While I’ll miss feeling like the park is my own, it’ll be terrific to have another part of the city return to normality.

(Goodbye! by Christopher Parsons)

(All photos shot using an iPhone 12 Pro and Fuji x100f, and edited using my presets in Darkroom.)

Solved: Apple Home Automation Not Firing After Buying New iPhone

(Photo by Dan Smedley on Unsplash)

One of the best pandemic purchases I’ve made has been a HomePod Mini. One of the many reasons that I’ve liked it is I can use a Home automation to set a playlist or album to wake up to. This corrects an annoyance with the iPhone’s Alarms app, where you need to download a song to your device to reliably use it as an alarm.

However, I recently got a new iPhone which broke my alarm automation. I couldn’t figure out what was going on: I deleted and re-created the automation a few times and totally restarted the HomePod Mini. Neither of these actions helped. Not only did the automation not work at the designated times but the automation wouldn’t even work while using the test feature.

The settings for the automation were:

  • Enable This Automation (Only when I am home): On
  • When: Weekdays at a given time (Only when I am home)
  • Scenes: Weekday morning
  • Accessories: HomePod Mini
  • Media: Play Audio (Designated playlist, Shuffle, Set Custom Volume)

No matter what I did, the automation never fired. However, I figured out that as soon as I disabled the location-specific triggers the automation worked. This helped me to start narrowing down the problem and how to correct it.

You see, when I moved all of my data to my new iPhone it failed to transfer a setting that told the Home app to use my iPhone as the location to from which to trigger events. As a result, setting an automation to only fire when I was home couldn’t work because the device which had been triggering the Home automation (i.e., my old iPhone) wasn’t never geolocated to my network. You can fix this, however, by opening: Settings >> Privacy >> Location Services (On) >> Share My Location >> My Location (Set to “This Device).

You can fix this by opening: Settings >> Privacy >> Location Services (On) >> Share My Location >> My Location (Set to “This Device”)

Now that the Home app knows to use my iPhone’s location as the way of determining whether I’m at home, the trigger fires reliably.

Aside

#2021.2.16

Ran into a weird iPhone 11 Pro issue today. When I took it off it’s charger this morning it registered as draining down the battery at a rate of around 1% every couple of minutes and couldn’t detect all the AirPlay 2 devices in my home. After rebooting the phone I went from 78% to 94% battery and could connect to everything around me. So utterly random!

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2020.4.17

For the last few weeks I’ve been jarred awake by an overly loud alarm; it didn’t seem to always be so loud, but maybe I’d forgotten?

Nope. Not the case at all. When I updated to iOS 13.4 it set my ringer and alarm volumes to 100%. Now that I’ve reduced the volume I’m hopeful that my wake ups will be a lot more peaceful than they’ve been for the last few weeks.

To change the volume of the built-in Apple alarm: Go to Settings > Sounds & Haptics. Under Ringers And Alerts, drag the slider left or right to set the volume. As you drag, an alert will play, so you can hear how the volume changes. Turn on Change with Buttons to use the volume buttons on your device to change the alarm volume.

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. ↩︎
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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.

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2019.9.20

The new iPhone 11 Pro camera system really different than the camera system on my iPhone 7. It’s particularly novel when taking low light photos: the 11 Pro is going to take a while to get used to, given it creates an entirely novel visual aesthetic. But it’s a journey I’m looking forward to!

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2019.7.10

For the past few weeks, my iPhone has been randomly slowing down at different times. Specifically, applications have just stopped responding for 20-45 seconds, and continue to stutter along after recovering somewhat. My suspicion is that the behaviour is linked to either Instagram or the native Podcasts app based on what I’ve read online, but that’s pure supposition. Regardless, I did a total factory refresh of my decide and so far all the stutters are gone. Here’s hoping they stay away in perpetuity…