K Y L E C A S S I D Y ' S
THE CAMERA THAT CAME WITH THE iPHONE 3GS WAS TERRIBLE
Many people decry it's smallish megapixel count (3), but really, as any serious digital photographer will tell you, size doesn't matter. The most frustrating thing about the image that comes from the iPhone is the noise. Not audible noise, but digital grain. That, and it's slow response time, and of course, the lack of control: apart from aiming the camera, selecting a focus area and depressing shutter button, the user doesn't have any control over aperture (fixed at 2.8) focal length (fixed at 5.9mm), shutter speed, or even ISO, which swings from ~70 into the 1000+ range as it wants.
The camera that came with the iPhone 4 was actually rather impressive, especially for a phone. It took some of the joy out of saying "I took this with my phone."
iT'S A PHONE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD
The iPhone was never meant to be a camera in any sense of the word photographers would be confused by. It's a telephone, and it's a PDA, and it's a tiny little computer. The fact that it takes pictures at all is somewhat remarkable. But with the extreme credibility of nearly every other part of that device, it's a bit wonderous that the camera is so bad. But that's a challenge really. One of the best ways to get an artist to do something is to tell them that they can't.
The strongest feature that the iPhone has, as not only a camera, but a device in general, is the ability for people to program for it. Around the world photographers and programmers have gotten together to write apps that fill in the gaps where the phone fails. Some are goofy, some are powerful, some are downright clever. And together, this terrible phone and these clever people will meet to make something that is greater than the sum of it's parts.
There are plenty of lousy cameras on cellular telephones, but what makes people want to strive with their iPhones? I think it's because of this mentality -- this communal thought that "we can make this work, we can build this cathedral out of soda cans." It's a noble effort. I'm happy to participate because I know that the important thing to a photographer is not the camera, it's the idea. "Give me a place to stand," said Archemedes,famously, "and I will move the Earth." This isn't any different.
Give us a lousy camera, and we will show you beautiful things.