Smartphone cameras have reached a turning point

With the recent release of the iPhone 11 Pro Max, I believe that the combined hardware and software capabilities of the camera system in Apple’s new flagship smartphones have reached a turning point. After taking the new phone for a spin on my recent Iceland trip and looking at what the cameras were capable of, I am now personally convinced that the iPhone cameras is as capable as most consumer or entry level point-and-shoot cameras and even DSLRs currently out there on the market.

Þingvellir National Park. With a light filter and simple crop, this shot, taken with the iPhone 11 Pro Max easily rivals to that taken from my Olympus.

In fact, I was starting to be convinced that the cameras in the iPhone XS Max, the previous generation iPhones were good enough to take excellent shots of portraits and landscapes for most people who have a beginners-level appreciation for great photography. The pictures I took during my New York and Morocco trip were really excellent.

In Morocco, all I needed was my iPhone and I was able to successfully shoot amazing photos and create wonderful memories of my trip there with a bunch of my friends.

This brings bad news, in my opinion, for my current Micro Four Thirds (MFT) system, the Olympus OM-D EM5 Mark II camera system that I currently own and of the DSLR market in general.

Now I am not saying that DSLRs are bad or that they have been stagnant in producing technological advancements in computational photography, miniaturisation and ease of use. These systems out there on the market still caters hugely to the professional Photographers who make money from the business of photography. But for someone who simply wants to create memories, take pleasant, yet striking photos that, five years ago were not possible as compared to a DSLR, the current generation of smartphone cameras are more than up to the task.

When I was in New York, I brought my Olympus MFT camera along and took shots of the city during my travels together with my iPhone XS Max. However, as I studied closely what the cameras from the iPhone were capable of, I started ditching my Olympus and simply brought my smartphone along. While I love photography, the fact that a smartphone can now reach DSLR levels on most occasions when snapping photos, has made it quite liberating in ditching that extra camera bag that I previously had to lug around wherever I go.

New York was amazing. All I needed was my iPhone despite the fact that I actually bought my DSLR along, thinking that I needed it to fully capture great shots of the cityscape.

Combined with the ever improving computational photography and artificial intelligence, taking photos from the iPhone is now easier than ever.

When I went morocco, I did not even bother bringing my Olympus along. Initially, I had a tinge of regret not bringing it along. But as I took photos using my iPhone, I became increasingly convinced and hugely satisfied at what the camera is actually capable of. Sure, it is still only 12 megapixels compared to my MFT system capable of taking 16 megapixels shots and even higher on other systems. But because it is such a simple and convenient system, and the fact that it is a very capable camera, it has reached a point where lugging extra gear is just no longer a compelling option for me. With just my iPhone, I can take great photos without worrying about the camera, or its settings and I can focus on the moment.

Photography on smartphones has certainly come a long way. Just compare the photo I took back in 2016 using the Olympus MFT system vs the one I took recently using the iPhone 11 Pro Max below. You can barely tell the difference!

This shot was taken using the Olympus OM-D EM5 Mark II camera.
While the seasons change, this shot, taken with the iPhone 11 Pro Max is as excellent as its bulkier and more expensive cousin.

About a week ago, Olympus announced a new 20 megapixel successor to the EM5 Mark II system, the Mark III. For the past year, there were rumours of a successor releasing in late 2019 and I have been waiting patiently to upgrade to the new one. But the trips I have taken to New York, Morocco and now Iceland, have increasingly made me convinced that maybe sticking to the iPhone 11 Pro Max as your primary device in taking photos is a better investment than upgrading my MFT system, which I will always have second thoughts in whether to bring it along for my future trips.

With that being said, is it time to sell my MFT system?

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