The iPhone 11 Pro Camera Is Changing My Travel Life

Filed Under: Travel Technology

I’m a pretty low tech guy, at least for someone who works online for a living. Most of the time I feel like technological advancements just make my life more complicated, but for once I’m not feeling that way… I think?

My Constant Travel Camera Struggle

I’m an unconventional travel photographer. I’m not trying to get destination pictures that I can submit to National Geographic when I travel. I’m also not a “travel blogger” who maintains an Instagram page with hundreds of thousands of followers with big breakfasts in bed, inspirational quotes, and having my hubby hold my hand in a picture as I frolic.

Rather my goal with taking pictures while traveling is to simply photograph hotel rooms and airline cabins as crisply as possible, since that’s the primary focus of this blog.

This spring I wrote about how I needed a new travel camera, and shared what was important to me:

  • The camera has to be compact, since that’s the most practical, and also since I try to “fly under the radar” when traveling
  • The camera has to take crisp pictures without much effort; I often only have a few seconds to photograph an airline cabin, so I can’t be spending time playing with settings
  • The camera has to be good with limited light, given that airline cabins and hotel rooms often don’t have great lighting
  • The camera has to take pictures that don’t come out overexposed; interestingly this is something my iPhone never had an issue with, though my fancy point-and-shoot did

Up until now I’ve mostly been using my Sony RX100 for most pictures, and it has served me extremely well since I got it in 2016. However, when lighting conditions were good I also used my iPhone X, and thought overall it was pretty good.

The Amazing iPhone 11 Pro Camera

I picked up the new iPhone 11 Pro a couple of weeks ago, and the current trip to Romania is the first time I’ve taken it for a “spin.”

I’m absolutely in love with the camera on this phone, and am in disbelief at how good it is. I’ve long been jealous of the pictures that Tiffany got with her Pixel 3 (while not being jealous of all of her texts always showing up in green), and now I finally have a comparable camera.

At this point I actually think it no longer makes sense for me to travel with a point-and-shoot camera for my purposes, since the quality of this camera is really, really good.

Apple says that the iPhone 11 Pro has the biggest camera upgrade ever on an iPhone, and I’m inclined to believe that. The camera is exceptional.

The iPhone camera was already good at just taking normal daytime pictures, but what I’m so impressed by is how good the pictures are in limited light, and how vivid images of hotel rooms come out with weird lighting.

For example, the iPhone 11 Pro is capturing great evening and nighttime pictures of planes, both inside and out…

Hotels are photographing beautifully as well…

And while my photography when roaming around cities is usually limited to stuff like this…

And occasionally some nature photography…

Other pictures are turning out great as well…

Should I Not Bother With Compact Cameras?

I’m so impressed by the new iPhone 11 Pro camera, and I’m wondering if I’m at the point now where I just shouldn’t bother with a compact camera anymore?

The iPhone 11 Pro takes crisp photos with no effort, even with limited lighting.

So, are there any downsides? There are two that I can think of.

One downside in comparing my iPhone to my point-and-shoot is that the frame width isn’t as big. The iPhone does have a wide angle option, but that does distort the view a bit, and there is something to be said for having a wider natural frame width (or whatever the technical term is for that).

The second downside is that in some pictures with limited lights, there are two random green dots showing up in pictures. I’m not sure if UFOs are just consistently photobombing my pictures, or if this is a glitch with the camera…

Bottom Line

I’m so impressed by the new iPhone 11 Pro camera, and as someone who is just trying to take easy, crisp travel photos, it’s a game changer. I think my plan for now is to just use this as my default travel camera, though I’ll still keep my Sony RX100 on me for now, in case situations arise where the iPhone doesn’t do the trick.

With smartphones now having such good cameras, is there any real merit to compact cameras anymore? I’m curious to hear what you guys think…

(Featured image of the amazing iPhone 11 Pro camera taken with a Pixel 3) 😉

Comments
  1. @ Pavel — Right, but wide angle creates a “curve,” at least in my experience. It’s not quite the same thing as a lens that just naturally has a wider frame (or whatever the technical term is).

  2. For the green dots in the last photo, they are the beam lights underneath the plane after multiple reflections inside the camera lens. It’s a defect more or less every lens will have in different ways.

  3. Phone is never the same as a real camera. Take both as I do. There are limits to the phone and it is never as good as a good camera.

  4. I don’t think the “two dots” is a product of the night mode feature, but are just reflections of bright lights in the image while adjusting the darker areas around it (not sure how/why). In your example here, the dots are basically a horizontal mirror image from where the ground equipment headlights are. I’ve seen a dot or two in some of my own photos. Apple released iOS 13.2 today which includes some additional enhancements for the camera (particularly in lower light settings) so expect continued software improvements as they continue to push updates. I’d imagine they’re aware of this reflection issue and will be pushing a fix in the near future if not in the latest update.

  5. Wide angle creates a curve even on wide angle lenses with SLRs, that’s just the nature of how they work. This can be corrected in editing software, FYI, although you might lose some of the frame to cropping. It’ll still be wider than the regular camera, though, so probably worth playing around with.

    I think for your purposes, the phone is good enough. Especially compared with something like an RX100. If you’re not going up to a SLR/mirrorless SLR, I think you’re no longer getting enough of a gain. And unless you plan to really play around with all the manual settings on the aforementioned cameras, and do a lot of post-processing on RAW file formats, it’s not worth it.

  6. well, take a few using both of them to compare the RX100 side-by-side with the phone! For point and shoot without post-processing I wouldn’t be surprised if the phone wins more often.

  7. Make sure you update your phone today too, Apple just released iOS 13.2 with a new feature called ‘Deep Fusion’ which further improves image processing, especially in low-medium light!

    There have been a number of pieces from noted photographers comparing the 11 Pro to many-thousand dollar full DSLRs and most of them are saying ‘sure the DLSR is better, but only marginally’. Most website images are gonna be compressed anyway, I think your 11 Pro is perfect for the site!

  8. Great photos Ben, but curious if the point and shoot camera is a bit easier when you need to be discrete taking photos in public areas?

  9. I’m going with the UFO theory for the green dots so it doesn’t really matter which one you use. Those dots will still be there or not depending on whether or not the UFO’s want to do that to your pictures. So pick the one you like best.

  10. On a more serious note the phone pictures look amazing. Thanks for pointing out that they were taken with the phone. I will get one before my next big trip.

  11. @Bob – It’s not a rule that wide angle lenses distort, it’s that ones with minimally visible distortion are extremely difficult to produce, especially that small. Much easier to make one with “simple distortion” that can be corrected with one click.

  12. The iPhone 11’s ultra-wide lens has an equivalent focal length of 11mm, which is pretty much the widest lens you could buy for an SLR (notwithstanding fisheyes or some $$$$ specialty lenses). As such it has just as much “curve” as any lens that wide would have.

    If you want something wider than the “regular” lens, but the ultra-wide has too much “curve,” you can probably take photos with the ultra-wide and crop out the edges where the “curve” is a problem. The center of the frame won’t have any more “curve” than in photos using the “regular” lens.

    Ps – dirty, dirty dirty

  13. Phones rely on digital zoom instead of optical zoom. Essentially cropping the image.

    I carry a real camera for the zoom while the phone (Samsung on my case) for all the quick shots

  14. You could look into getting a Moment Lens System for iPhone. From what I’ve read they work pretty well and is discrete.

  15. Hey Ben –
    As others have already pointed out, the green dots are a lens refraction of the headlights on the ground equipment. This means that unless Apple has miraculous software to hunt down and get rid of every lens refraction from every light source in the image, this will be a fault of the iPhone camera lenses until they get new/better lenses. This is why SLR lenses have lens hoods to reduce or eliminate refractions.

    Wide angle curvature – a function of every wide angle lens. If the 11 Pro’s wide angle is at 11mm, that will always provide curvature. As Bob and Ben pointed out, you won’t escape that and achieve a greater image width area. Again, this can all be corrected in post processing/editing, but you’ll lose some of the image on either end as it does that.

    For your purposes, I think the iPhone 11 Pro camera is outstanding. And I shoot DSLR with multiple lenses. I also shoot with an iPhone and have produced fine art images with the same. Each as their advantages and disadvantages, but on the whole, your strategy is good.

  16. I just came back from a short holiday in Tbilisi / Georgia. Left the camera at home and went with my iPhone XR and my wife’s iPhone 11. We’ve made amazing photos and videos and honestly couldn’t have been better with a real camera. Though at night my wife’s 11 (not Pro) did much better photos. Honestly Apple did a wonderful job with their latest smartphones and with the iCloud I don’t have to bother to save my shots. Next day I simply continue to work from a different device, my iPad Pro for instance, which can make decent short movies literally in minutes.

    In conclusion, my suggestion is that you can take amazing pictures and videos with your iPhone 11 and it’s good enough to leave home your camera. However, a small doubt. If anything goes wrong with your device better to have a backup in your luggage.

  17. I realize this is not a tech blog but am I correct to understand that the 11 has the exact same camera features as the 11 Pro, and that the only difference is that the Pro has an added telephoto lens? Thanks!

  18. This past year I’ve left my camera at home and depended on my Samsung S9 camera – and no regrets! Visited India (Taj Mahal!), Kathmandu, and Bali this year and all the pictures have been awesome.

    I do think some trips deserve a real camera or certain things may require more zoom, but for most trips a phone is all you need.

  19. Other have said that the green dots are because of reflection within the lens. I’d check online if others are having similar issues, because if that’s not the case maybe it’s just a manufacturing error in your particular phone and Apple might be willing to fix it/replace your phone.

  20. Are there any decent comparisons between iPhone 11 and 11 Pro? What difference does that third camera make?

  21. @ keitherson
    I’ve bought the 11. As per what has been explained to me lens are pretty much similar, but the Pro can take better angles pics.

  22. Ben, you answer your own question right here: “The camera has to take crisp pictures without much effort; I often only have a few seconds to photograph an airline cabin, so I can’t be spending time playing with settings”

    If you are not taking advantage of a camera’s full potential by understanding how it works, what those settings do, and how to use them quickly and effectively, there is simply no reason to buy that camera. I work in the entertainment industry, and directly with camera departments on films. I know my stuff. For the purposes of flight and hotel reviews, the iPhone 11 Pro is more than adequate.

    Also, as others have said, the green lights are a refraction of light on an element within the lens. There are multiple pieces of glass in a lens, and the light refracts through each to reach the sensor. I have it on my iPhone 11 Pro too, and I suspect it has something to do with the wide angle lens elements not being housed properly, which causes the light to bounce off things it shouldn’t. In this case I think its what holds the elements in place. It can happen on the “regular” setting as well because the iPhone 11 Pro by default takes photos with both the wide angle and the “regular” lens at the same time, allowing you to crop a photo past its boundaries later.

  23. Lucky, I have the same issue with the green dots. However, there is an easy fix to it. Download an app called “Snapseed”. When you open the photo, go to “Tools” and then “Healing”. Then rub the green dots and they disappear!

  24. the iPhone 11 Pro is the best phone, ever. No need for big bulky professional cameras, at least for your line of work.

    and yea, ugh, i share the sentiment with friends whose texts show up green (ew) 😉

  25. Texts from iPhones to iPhones use an Apple proprietary system called iChat, and the received texts are surrounded by a blue box. iChat messages indicate to the sender whether or not they have been received.

    Texts from Android and other phones use the SMS text system and display in a green box. I wish there was a received indication — I once SMS-texted a friend who was expecting to pick me up after a flight that I had been moved to a later flight. He never got the text, and I didn’t know he hadn’t. Not fun…

    If you don’t like the green boxes, persuade your texters to switch to iPhones. 🙂

  26. Funny post Ben.

    You should have just gotten a Samsung Galaxy phone all along; it’s been a better camera than the iphone for eons. Glad the iPhone caught up :-).

    I use the Samsung Galaxy S10+ and love it.

  27. I stopped carrying separate cameras a long time ago. The iPhone camera works for me.

    The difference between smartphone cameras and real cameras is the sensor size (which is more important than you might think), software, and telephoto/wide angle lenses. Real cameras will always be better with optical wide angle and telephoto shots. And for now, Apple (and Google and Samsung, etc) software is better than the hand held cameras. A good hand held camera with a decent sized sensor has the ability to take better shots than a smartphone with it’s tiny sensors, but the software on these devices can make up for that, if you don’t mind the software doctoring up your pictures in anyway they see fit, although the editing controls on the phones are getting better also. I find that I end up editing just about every picture I take to at least use the automatic adjustment and then I adjust that a bit to make the subject more realistic (skin tones, etc).

    I think eventually you’ll stop carrying the other camera unless you need it for the super-wide or longer optical telephoto pics.

    -David

  28. I find that when taking pictures in bright sunlight I can’t see the screen to aim accurately. Is that not the case with the iPhone 11?

  29. Do you have conflict of interest with Apple?

    For close objects cell phones can do the job but the digital zoom kills the picture when you have to print or enlarge it. Unless you get a powerful chinese phone ( can´t remeber which one…) with 105MP in the main camera! That´s huge! Unbeatable.

    Try a Canon or Nikon and you will get great pictures.

  30. One thing most of you are missing is that all of these shots are still shots. Nothing is moving. Try doing evening shots with variable lights and movement. Then you’ll start to see problems with cell phone cameras. A concert for example is very difficult to shoot well with a dslr let alone a cell phone.

    Its all fine and more than adequate if you are a enthusiast. No need to carry that much gear when you just want to snap something. What kills me are people who thinks they are suddenly ansel adams and tries to convince me their cell phone is every bit as good as my cameras. Not even a close comparison. It’s like convincing a piano player that a casio keyboard is every bit as good as a steinway piano but even better because it’s portable.

  31. “Great photos Ben, but curious if the point and shoot camera is a bit easier when you need to be discrete taking photos in public areas?“

    “You could look into getting a Moment Lens System for iPhone. From what I’ve read they work pretty well and is discrete.“

    I believe that the word that should be used here is discreet, not discrete.

  32. Great photos. Definitely good csmera for what you’re planning to use it for.
    Nice to see apple tech slowly catching up with that of several android device makers.
    One thing apple definitely continues to lead in is its marketing and ability to rally a huge following of people who are willing to spend more money on last years technologies.
    I guess I’m one of them since I have an apple and a samsung lol

  33. I think you nailed it…phones have been slowly killing the compact camera market for years and for good reason. Aside from the convenience factor, phone makers have excelled at in-camera processing, while traditional camera makers really haven’t. It’s hard to understate the processing factor. A pic from a good DSLR can still look dull until you spend time in post and that’s a real time drain. I think most folks are finding that’s not worth the effort.

    There’s still a decent market for mirrorless and DSLRs because with significantly larger sensors you can achieve greater much greater resolution for poster size prints and with interchangeable lenses you can capture the milky way or birds in flight. So if those are your goals, it make sense to bring a “real” camera, but i think the latest generation of phones have made the compact camera obsolete.

  34. Two things still holding me back from giving up my point and shoot: form factor and battery life. Sometimes i want to be able to have the camera dangling off my wrist, or be able to grip and stabilize better than i can with a phone. I also don’t want to kill my phone battery taking pics if i’m going to need it to nav around foreign cities.

  35. Nice – but I am holding off until the 5G phones come out next year. Will have equal or maybe even better camera.

  36. I would say that if you find your needs adequately met, then they are. If you want an additional camera that doesn’t require post processing of the images to look great, get a Fujifilm mirror less camera. They have film simulations that look great and the newest is supposed to be able to focus in near total darkness. The cameras are light and compact and take sharp photos of still objects very, very easily. You could go for a 16mm (24mm equivalent) lens for that or get the zoom that goes all the way to 80mm (120mm equiv). But honestly, stick with the iPhone if you feel you are happy with it!

  37. Got my iPhone Pro Max last month and for travel it’s a life changer! I came from 6S Plus so imagine the “upgrade”! In particular the wide angle is my favorite part… just back from NYC Hudson Yards and the Vessel and that was so much fun.
    As you said: we are not working for National Geographic so … my Nikon can stay at home 😉

  38. Oh, the Apple fans are in. Nice of them to catch up with the rest of the world – Huawei P30 Pro been doing what the Apple 11 can do, just for longer, and doing it better.

  39. Hi Lucky,

    you‘d find a green dot also in some circumstances on pics that were taken with my iPhone7. It depands on the frontlightning. So just move your iPhone a bit horizontal/vertical and you can avoid these reflections.

  40. My thoughts are if you are comparing to a compact camera the Iphone 11 for travel will be fine. There may be a few situations where a very quality compact camera with a fixed lens might be better but overall I see no need.

  41. @Jordan D

    I am an apple fan although for many and many years I was a BlackBerry user. Given the circumstances I had little choice and happy to have opted for Apple.

    True, Huawei has revolutionized the photo on the smartphone. However, there’s something that other brands miss which is native integration. Apple has been the first to promote the cloud seriously and at the end of my short holiday last week I have been able to make a decent video in just minutes and this isn’t an extra app, but it’s all native and integrated with the OS. This beside the stability which is second to none for the iPhone. My XR in one year has never frozen (I know it has happened on millions of devices circulating but it’s so rare compared to other systems).

    So yes, we had to wait some more time for a decent smartphone camera but the wait for me was worthwhile.

  42. The 11 series is a great phone. After years of ignoring customers’ number one complaint, battery life, in favor of adding useless money- and space-wasting features for the pure sake of adding them, like 3D touch and the taptic engine, and getting trounced by multiple generations of Samsung and Google phones, Apple has finally delivered. Maybe their poor performance in the competitive markets of India and China, and falling iPhone sales, have motivated them.

    Either way, it is long past time that they delivered good battery life, and stepped up to try and match Google in the computational photography game. They aren’t there yet, but close.

    If you absolutely must buy an iPhone for travel and photos now, the 11 is a great purchase. The Pixel 4 is a dog and a unfortunate misstep by Google, who made a very Appleesque nonsensical mistake by adding motion sense and not thinking horrible battery life was a priority. However, I would say the next best phones for taking photos, and the best deal either as a hold over, as a second phone or as something for the Android side of the spectrum, either a used or refurbished Pixel 3 XL, or a used Pixel 3A. Both are excellent on the go photographic tools for the traveler and I would say just a step behind the iPhone 11 and Pixel 4. But, without the new phone punitive price.

    Also, if you can afford to wait, understand that every iPhone 11 buyer is going to have buyer’s remorse in 10 months or so. Apple has finally made a move putting the iPhone at competitive parity with the 11, but these are mostly just incremental upgrades overall. The real changes come in the iPhone 12 – second generation of their computational photography, a completely new form factor, new high refresh rate displays, and the return of something they never needed to take away, Touch ID (in screen)- something that is faster and simpler than face ID.

    The 11 is a good teaser, but is a rehash of the iPhone X. Consider it a test vehicle for the best yet to come, using the iPhone x chassis.

    If you can wait for the 12, that is going to be the best use of your iPhone upgrade funds. In the meantime if you need in affordable on the go tool, a used Pixel 3XL or Pixel 3A around three bills on average on eBay, is a good stop gap.

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