iPhone Photography Gear Review

A few months back, I wrote up a post on the new photography gear I’d be using on our November and December cruises and trip to Disney World, and figured it was probably time to take a look back and see how it all performed. Before getting in to it, I should note that I added one piece to it between those two cruises. In early December, Moment finally finished up their phone case for the iPhone 6s Plus, so I was able to try that out on the second cruise and compare it to the rig I used on the first one.

Let’s take a look at the gear I used on each sailing.

November cruise aboard the Norwegian Escape, Disney World over Thanksgiving, and the Roar Before the 24 in January:

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December cruise aboard the MSC Divina:

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Here’s my take on the individual pieces of each of these kits:

ShoulderPod S1 Grip: I absolutely love this thing. Of all the gear I’m covering here, this was the best money spent. This allows me to get some odd-angle shots in a totally stable way without the feeling that I’m going to drop my phone. As an example, it allowed me to get a couple of my favorite shots using the reflection on the glass of our balcony by holding the phone way over the balcony. At no point was I concerned about this thing falling into the ocean, since I had the S1 to grip on to, and the strap around my wrist:

The S1 does an outstanding job of allowing you to take single-handed shots in awkward positions in a stable manner. Seriously, if you only buy one thing in your quest for better smartphone pics, this should be it.  I’ve had a lot of people on these trips approach me about it, all of whom really liked how it felt when they tried it. If you want to help the blog out, you can pick it up here on Amazon :).

Moment wide angle and telephoto lenses: I have a complicated relationship with these. I really like the wide angle, and keep going back and forth on the telephoto. On the first cruise, and again at Disney, I overused the wide angle lens. For the most part, I was treating it as a permanent attachment, and I know better. I’m in the camp that believes you don’t improve image quality by putting glass in front of glass, which is exactly what adding any lens to a smartphone does. I do, however, love that it allows the camera to see more of what’s in front of it without me having to re-position myself. I tried to make that work in close-up scenarios too often, however, only to see later that it added noticeable distortion to the image, giving it an almost fish-eye look. Not the fault of the lens, more my fault for being lazy and not just removing it and backing up.

I got better at determining when to go with a “naked” camera on cruise #2, so for me, there was definitely a learning curve. I did get a lot of excellent shots with it that would have been a pain otherwise, though. This is especially useful for us as travel agents, as I’m able to get more of a hotel room or cruise cabin in a single shot, reducing the number of overall pictures it takes to be able to show off the entire room. For example, here are two shots of the same hotel room, taken from the same point in the room. On the left, no lens. On the right, using the wide angle. Definitely an advantage to having a wider field of view sometimes.

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Moving on to the telephoto, I think my biggest issues were using it indoors. I used it a few times to shoot our general sessions in the main theater on the Escape, attempting to get close-up shots of speakers without having to use digital zoom, and in that setup, with challenging lighting, the shots were no sharper and clearer than those shot using just the built-in digital zoom. Outdoors in the right conditions, this does allow you to gain a closer perspective without the IQ loss that tends to occur when using the iPhone’s digital zoom. In the group of pictures at the end of this post, the shot of Atlantis was taken sitting at the back of the ship using the telephoto lens with no added zoom.

Moment Case:  As mentioned, I didn’t have this until the second cruise, and having it for that only happened because I agreed to give up the one I wanted due to supply shortage. I’d pre-ordered the black/black case on 11/24 with an estimated shipping date of 12/3, but when they finally started shipping on 12/8ish, my order status changed to Back Order. After contacting them, I learned that the system had accepted more orders for that color combination than they could fill, so I could either change to one of the other two options, or wait until some future date when they had more. Reluctantly, I chose to switch to the black/white case, as they didn’t know how long the wait would be.

Up to this point, I hadn’t used Moment’s camera app much, as I prefer Camera+ (and am learning PhotoToaster). Going in to the purchase of this case, I knew I’d have to change over if I wanted to make use of the dedicated shutter button, as it only works with their app. I tried to like it, I really did. I spent the first couple of days after getting the case trying to get used to the app, and even filed feedback on a couple of changes I’d like to see:

  • One thing I like about Camera+ is the ability to edit pics in the app as soon as you shoot. This is something Moment’s app doesn’t have, and the answer I was given was that focusing on the capture side was their priority, with no plans for any editing features since there are so many editing apps out there for people to use. I get it, but it still slows me down when I want to shoot and post stuff fast, so looks like I’ll be staying with Camera+ for now.
  • They currently have no HDR support in the app. Now, Camera+ doesn’t have this on the capture side either, but has the ClarityPro editing built in to allow me to quickly add a similar effect right after taking the shot. They did say this is coming at some point, so there’s that.

There are some general fit and finish things that could be done to make the app look better too, including:

  • A dark theme. Seriously. I hate the white theme. I get that opinions differ, but that’s what choice is for.
  • Connectivity between the case and app seems to drop sporadically, and when it happens, you may not realize the shutter button isn’t working until you’ve missed your shot. If I can’t rely on the hardware button, what’s the point of having it?
  • When the app detects the case, it’d be nice if it would automatically make the on-screen shutter/control buttons smaller (or make them disappear completely) to give the viewfinder more real-estate. Overall, the on-screen controls take up too much space.
  • Too many crashes. This may have been taken care of in some update over the last month or so, but when I was using it on the boat, it crashed on a number of occasions when shooting and reviewing shots in the app. If I can’t trust it, I’m not going to use it.
  • I’d love to see them open up the shutter button connection to other app developers so we’d have the option of using other camera apps with the case.

Even with the above issues, I continued to use the app on the first couple of days on the boat. By day 3, I was back to Camera+ and only using the case to securely mount the lenses. That brings up another point. When not using their case, you have to use mounting plates to attach the lenses to your phone. This really isn’t a big deal, even though a few reviewers have complained about having to stick the plate to the back of the phone. I’ve taken 3 off and have left no damage or residue. It’s really not hard to get that thing off if you take your time. Of the two options for attaching the lenses, it’s the least favorable option, however, as I’m finding that a given mounting plate only lasts for one week-ish long trip. No matter how careful you are mounting and removing lenses, the connection point on the mounting bracket loosens up and you start to worry the lens will come loose and fall out at some point. With the case, no such concern, as that mounting point is a lot more solid than the one on the plate. This means I need to keep at least one extra mounting plate with me on each trip, as I see myself using the first setup more often than using the Moment case. Because of the case’s shape, I can’t really use the ShoulderPod with it either (although I tried), and frankly, I find the S1 more functional than the Moment case.

One other piece of the Moment gear that’s bothering me, the lens caps. Buying them was a no-brainier (frankly, each lens should ship with one) , but it looks like they could stand to be slightly deeper or more rigid than they are, as I’ve had them rub the actual glass on the lens when putting the cap back on, causing smudging in the center of the lens, which in turn meant having to clean the lens quite a bit. I’m sure pressing the center of the lens cap as I put it back on is contributing, but if it were more rigid this wouldn’t be an issue.

The lenses are pretty good quality, imo, and none of the above issues will deter me from continuing to use them. While I’m still learning when to use each in specific scenarios based on what I’ve seen out of them so far, I’ve been able to get some great shots with them under the right conditions, and the wide angle allows me to get more things in the frame of a single shot without having to employ any sort of panoramic functionality. Here are a few samples of shots taken using the Moment lenses over the course of our trips:

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Renting Camera Gear

I know in my last post that I said I was done until after my trip this weekend, but after a package came today, I figured I had one more in me 🙂

I love to take pictures when on vacation, as most people do. I started shooting with DSLRs about 9 years ago when my daughter started in competitive cheer, but would say that even today, I’m an amateur photographer at best. While I used to lug my gear around any time we went on trips, I only really enjoy shooting with it under the right circumstances these days. Over the past few years, my interest in using the DSLR gear on vacations has waned, and while I do still take it with me, it serves as a backup camera to my point and shoot, which also happens to be my phone, currently a Nokia Lumia 1020 with the camera grip. While each has advantages and disadvantages, being able to carry such little weight when using a decent point and shoot is enough for me to leave the DSLR in the bag. Most of the time.

The main exception to my rule would be auto races, the one place I really enjoy shooting. Over the past few years, I’ve rented gear to haul to the following:

  • 2008 Grand Prix of Long Beach: Rented a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR to mount on my D80
  • 2010 Grand Prix of Long Beach: Rented a Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED-IF AF-S VR to mount on my D80
  • 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona: Rented a Nikon D7000 + Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
  • 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona: Rented a Nikon D750 + Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
  • Oh, and I also rented a Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S VR to use with my D80 on a work trip to Yosemite in 2010.

The D750 and 70-200 arrived today, just in time for our departure tomorrow. I’ve used a couple of different services for this over the years, LensRentals.com and RentGlass.com, and have had nothing but good experiences with both of them. The majority of those listed above, however, have been with LensRentals. My main reason behind this is because they allow me to schedule well in advance what I want and when I need it, vs just waiting until a few days before the trip and hoping what I want is in stock. For this trip, I reserved the gear on the 7th for arrival today. I’ll keep it 4 days, and send it back in the packaging it arrived in on Monday on my way home, only needing to have some packing tape on hand since the return shipping label is included.

Both of the services do an outstanding job packaging their gear, which I would completely expect considering how much this equipment would cost to replace. Today’s box was no different:

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The main reason I’m willing to rent and lug heavy gear around with me is that it’s next to impossible to get a decent shot of a race car at speed using a P&S. Shooting a moving vehicle is a mix of stable panning, fast glass, perfect shot settings, and good location. The professionals generate some awesome images. Me, I’m just happy to get pictures to use as desktop backgrounds, to be honest. The other challenge will be the number of pictures I take. I leave it in burst mode the whole weekend, and usually max out the camera buffer when I’m shooting a passing car from the fence line, and am guessing I’ll easily come home with somewhere between 2500-3000 pictures to sort through this trip. Most of that will likely be throw away, too, but the ones that turn out good will occupy my computer screens for quite a while.

Back to the rental services. Honestly, I find this to be a great way not only to try new gear, but to avoid paying the price of buying something you may only use a couple of times. I’ve always received solid, perfectly working gear, and the few times I did have to contact either company’s support for something, they were always very friendly and helpful. For anyone who’s never used a camera rental service but isn’t interested in renting DSLR gear, most of them aren’t limited to that, some have point and shoot cameras and GoPro gear, too.

One last recommendation for anyone renting high-end gear: Get the insurance for anything you’re not willing to pay replacement cost on. On our 2010 trip to Long Beach, I dropped my camera while it had the 18-200 rental lens on it. As soon as it left my hands, my heart sank. I didn’t even want to pick it up. When I did, I could tell that the lens was a bit jacked up, as the focus ring was loose, and the lens itself wasn’t 100% secure on the mount. We were at the car getting ready to head to the hotel on day 2 (of 3) when it happened, so I wrapped it up and waited to asses it further until we got to the hotel. When we got back to the room, I went ahead and emailed RentGlass to let them know what happened and ask for next steps. Long story short, after we got home, I sent the lens back as scheduled and waited to find out how much the repair was going to cost. Fortunately, none of the glass was damaged, and Nikon’s price to repair was only $125. That was the one time I skipped insurance, and I was sure I was going to have to pay for a new lens, so I was pretty happy with that outcome. It was a lesson for sure, and is still the only time I’ve ever dropped a camera.

Well, I’m off to finish packing since we’re off to Daytona in the morning! For now, here are a handful of my favorite shots taken with rental gear over the years:

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