September 30, 2017

The almost painfully-long glossary of iPhone photo terms.

This glossary originally appeared in my book The Crap-Free Guide to iPhone Photography.

Though you “only” have an iPhone, there’s no reason why you can’t converse with the photo geeks. Here’s the language they speak:

What’s a lens? Your iPhone has one or two lenses on the top left of the back of your iPhone and the unobtrusive FaceTime lens is on the top left of the front. These are built with multiple pieces of glass that focus light on the sensor.

What’s a sensor? It’s a small light-sensitive circuit board that converts focused light into digital information about color and brightness.

What’s shutter speed? Your iPhone’s Camera app exposes the sensor to the light for a fraction of a second: about 1/15 to about 1/1000. Shutter speed works in tandem with ISO to give you a normally-lit image. A shutter speed of 1/1000 is fast enough that it can freeze motion, while a shutter speed of 1/15 is slow enough that it risks blurring the motion of the subject and blurring the overall image from camera shake.

What’s ISO? It’s a measurement for how much the camera amplifies the signal from the sensor. When there’s not enough light in the scene for a good exposure and the shutter speed can’t be slowed more without causing blur, the iPhone’s camera amplifies the sensor signal. This makes the information coming from each pixel less accurate, which is why low-light images are often noisy or gritty looking.

What’s noise reduction? The iPhone Camera app has built-in noise-reduction technology that tries to smooth out the unevenness in tone and color that sensor noise can cause. It’s most active on images shot in dim light when the camera ISO is high.

What’s f-stop? F-stop (also called aperture) determines the amount of light the lens lets in on the sensor. The iPhone f-stop is currently f/1.8 on the Wide lens and f/2.8 on the + and X model’s Tele lens. iPhone f-stops aren’t adjustable like they are on an DSLR. On the small sensor, these chosen f-stops let in much light for accuracy and give a very wide depth of focus.

What’s depth of focus? Depth of focus (or depth of field) is the range of distance where the image is acceptably sharp. This area shrinks the closer you are to the subject. If you’re focused on a subject that’s far away, most of your image will be sharp. If you’re focused on a subject that’s close, objects in front of the subject and behind can be out of focus. Professional photographers often use a wide-open (smaller number) f-stop for a narrow depth of focus to soften the background while leaving the subject sharp. While your iPhone can’t do that mechanically, the dual-lens models use their two-lens systems in Portrait mode to simulate this effect.

What’s a flash? The iPhone’s camera flash is composed of 1, 2 or 4 bright LEDs (light-emitting diodes) that fire a burst of light when the shutter opens to light the scene. Newer iPhones uses a 4-LED True Tone flash that matches the ambient scene light for more accurate color. Though these LEDs fire very fast, the light burst is not as short as professional strobes and can’t be used to freeze motion.

What’s a DSLR? A digital single-lens reflex camera is a digital version of the SLR film camera. It uses a movable mirror positioned at 45º in front of the sensor for the optical viewfinder. When you click the shutter, the mirror flips up out of the light path. DSLR sensors are about the size of 35mm analog film, roughly 48 times the size of the iPhone sensor. DSLR’s are those huge cameras people often leave sitting at home when they realize how heavy they are.

What’s a mirrorless camera? This newer technology uses a sensor that’s about 2.5 times smaller than a DLSR. It has no optical viewfinder, only a screen. Since it doesn’t have a mirror, this design allows for a smaller lens that’s mounted closer to the sensor. Mirrorless cameras are those almost-huge cameras that people leave in their hotel room when sightseeing after realizing their iPhone takes such great photos.

What’s lens equivalent or ⇔? Each sensor size requires a different focal length lens to achieve a similar view. The lens equivalent tells you how this compares to a DLSR. The iPhone’s 4mm back Wide lens gives the equivalent view of a 28mm DLSR lens, while the back Tele lens on the dual-lens models gives you the equivalent view of a 56mm DSLR lens.

What’s Optical Image Stabilization? The iPhone 6+, 6s+, 7, 7+, 8, 8+ and X models have lens and sensor assemblies mounted so they remain stable even when the camera shakes. This allows the iPhone camera to take sharper, less-noisy photos during longer exposures in low light.

What’s EXIF metadata? The Camera app keeps track of technical shooting data, like the time the photo was taken, shutter speed, ISO, which lens was used, if the flash was used, etc., and adds these data tags to the image file. This is how your iPhone knows which images to put in the Selfies album and how to organize the Memories album in the Photos app. You can use an app like Photo Investigator or Metapho to see much of this data. When viewing a photo, tap the Share button. If either of these apps are installed and their photo extension turned on, their icon will show and you can tap it to see the photo’s data.

What’s Burst Mode? If you hold on the shutter button in the Camera app, your iPhone will take a series of photos in quick succession. It’s useful for capturing fast-moving or unpredictable subjects. These series are automatically stored in the Bursts folder of the Photos app. You can choose your favorite image in the series and delete the rest.

What’s HDR? High Dynamic Range. The camera can’t normally capture detail in the lightest and darkest areas of the same scene, so HDR manipulates the data to try and capture both. In your iPhone Camera app, the HDR mode is designed to render the scene more the way the eye sees it by exposing the shadows correctly and underexposing the highlights to keep them burning out into pure white. You’ll also see photographers use the HDR special effect, which exaggerates localized contrast in the shadows and highlights.

What’s a Hybrid IR Filter? This is a filter between the lens and the sensor in your iPhone Camera that blocks out the infrared spectrum of light. The eye can’t see this light, but sensors are very sensitive to it. This renders more normal-looking images.

What’s a RAW file? A RAW file is a non-standardized file that consists of a camera’s raw sensor data and often a crude JPEG preview of the image. Adobe’s DNG format is the first universal RAW format. Your iPhone can shoot and edit RAW with an app like MuseCam.

September 23, 2017

The Definitive Guide to iPhone Photography Gear.

Your iPhone is designed to be the perfect phone cam, no accessories required. But...

There are some great accessories that can really unbridle your creativity and make shooting easier. So here's the definitive collection of iPhone photography tools. (Every option available is not covered, just the ones I've found to be the best quality or most useful.)



For the serious iPhoneographer (is that ironic or oxymoronic?) Moment lenses are unmatched in optical quality and design. The line, made from cinema glass, was recently updated to v2 with new bigger mounts to accommodate the growing size of built-in phone lenses.

Olloclip lenses are not as sharp as Moment's, but are the most practical lens attachments for your iPhone. They're a good compromise of quality and convenience. They have their own clip-on mount. Each set has two lenses that slip securely over a naked iPhone.

Tele lenses.

Wide lenses.

  • The Moment Wide v2 is one of the most beautiful lenses ever created. Period. Built with negligible barrel distortion (bowed lines), this lens has beautiful keystoning (trapezoidal exaggeration) and takes unbelievably crisp images. It's excellent for landscape and architectural photography with an 18mm⇔ view when placed over the iPhone built-in Wide lens. I also have a deeper review of this lens here.
  • The Moment Superfish, a beautifully-smooth, 170º fisheye lens that was designed to leave no awkward curved black edges on your photos.
  • The Olloclip Active for the iPhone 7/8 and 7+/8+ combines a 2x Tele and Ultra-Wide lens. This is a useful set to keep with you for a wide variety of opportunities.
  • The Olloclip Core for the iPhone 7/8 and 7+/8+ includes a Super-Wide and a Fisheye, with a 15X macro lens lurking under the Fisheye. I find myself using the macro more than the other two lenses.

Macro lenses.

  • Moment New Macro gives you 10x of truly sharp magnification with a 25mm⇔ lens that focuses down to .7 "
  • Olloclip Macro Pro If you want to work close, here's a whole set of macro lengths: 7x, 14x and 21x.

Anamorphic lens.

One final anomaly in the lens space is the Moondog Labs Anamorphic Lens for the iPhone 7/8, iPhone 7+/8+ This is a 1.33x lens that squeezes a 16:9 image into a standard photo. The advantage over just cropping is that this lens gives you landscape images with full-height resolution. It requires desqueezing the width in software. More intended for cinema video with apps like FiLMiC Pro, this lens can do excellent panoramic stills and the unsqueezed images have a cool thinning effect.

Moment cases.

Moment lenses require mounting, with the most practical options being the Case for the iPhone 7+/8+ and the Case for the iPhone 7/8. These are both thin enough to be used as your daily case. The iPhone X case will work with these lenses, but is not available yet.


Scope mounts.

The folks at PhoneSkope make this awkward looking adapter to attach binoculars, monoculars, field scopes and telescopes to your iPhone 7/8 or iPhone 7+/8+. Scope mounts are a whole other rabbit hole, but I'll note that if you don't have really good optics ($200+) attached to your phone, you'll be disappointed with the results.



Most of the filters available for the iPhone don't work with the iPhone Plus models’ dual lenses. But if you’re using Moment lenses, Moondog Labs 52mm Mount lets you use standard 52mm photo filters on the Tele and Macro. The most useful filters is a Circular Polarizer for removing reflections, saturating colors and enlivening the sky. This effect is hard to duplicate in editing.


Tripod mounts.

To anchor your camera firmly, you'll need a mount that connects to a standard tripod. Fortunately there are scads of good ones available.

  • For cool factor alone the Manfrotto TwistGrip is my fave. It's all-metal design is not quite as stable as the other options here, but it folds flat in your pocket, stands on it's own and has a cold shoe mount for attaching a light or a mic.
  • Studio Neat's Glif has an quick-lock and three tripod mounts for attaching gizmos.
  • Shoulderpod G1 is the bulkiest of the batch, but also lightweight and stands on it's own.

All the above mounts let you attach your iPhone standard or plus model securely to a standard 1/4"x20 tripod screw.



As mentioned, all conventional tripods can be used with the iPhone 7+ and the above mounts, so I won't get into the zillions available. Here are a few I've found really useful.

  • The Manfrotto Compact Tripod is inexpensive, sturdy and very easy to extend and collapse. The pistol-grip head is the easiest to operate of any tripod available.
  • The Sirui T-005KX Travel Tripod is a pro-grade, full-size tripod, great for studio as well. It's big advantage is that folds up to a foot long and weighs a little over 2 lbs, so it's an excellent hiking tripod that tucks in the bottom of a day pack.
  • The Ultra-Pod is a table-top tripod that's incredibly versatile. You can use it legs closed with the attached Velcro strap to attach to a pole when there's nothing horizontal nearby.
  • Woods Power Grip Camera Mount lets you attach your iPhone to the inside of your windshield or any glass surface. It's useful for blur shots in the car with long exposure apps like Bluristic, Slow Shutter! by Lucky Clan or NightCap.



The built-in flash is really useful since it’s always with you, but there are more serious pocketable lighting options.

  • An inch and a half square, Lume Cube pumps out 1500 Lumens, 100-watt bulb⇔. It has 10 power settings, but the tiny LED is so bright you'll need to bounce it or diffuse it to avoid blinding subjects. A [kit]9 with a housing is available as are diffusers, grids and filters for more serious photography. They can be used in multiple as constant lights or as flashes with the Lume Cube app.
  • iBlazr 2 Wireless Flash is a Bluetooth flash that snaps onto your iPhone or can be hand held. With the free Shotlight app you just tap the back of the flash as a remote shutter. It’s tiny and about as powerful as the built-in flash. Useful for macro photography.



The Tom Bihn Side Effect is the bag I find most useful. Yeah, it's pricey, but man is it useful. It can be worn with a strap over your shoulder, but I use mine as a waistpack with the optional belt strap. f you wear it around front, it's like having a drawer full of accessories right there. With all the toys we've talked about here, I haven't overstuffed mine yet (but it won't quite fit the Sirui travel tripod.)


More on mastering your iPhone camera: The Crap-Free Guide to iPhone Photography

September 22, 2017

How to make two hyphens not equal an em dash in iOS 11.

Sadly, iOS 11’s Smart Punctuation separates the writers from the coders. It forces those of us who use Markdown for writing to choose which we are.

Smart Punctuation is on by default. What it does is turn "inch marks" into “smart quotes” and 'feet marks' into ‘smart apostrophes’. Love that, for most writing. But it also turns two--hyphens into an em—dash. This makes typing horizontal rules and tables in Markdown a real pain.

There are two ways to cope. (I tried adding a Text Replacement Shortcut that would turn em dashes back into hyphens, but no dice.) So the two methods left are:

  1. To turn off Smart Punctuation: Home > Settings > General > Keyboard > Smart Punctuation > Off.
  2. Or the ugly workaround: Type dash, space, dash and then delete the space.

For the time being, I’m going with #2. I guess that leaves me a writer and em—dashes any hopes of being a coder.

September 5, 2017

Review: MuseCam for iOS makes shooting RAW easy. ★★★★★

It just seems logical to me that people would want to shoot RAW photos on their iPhone with the same simplicity as their iPhone Camera app: You tap the shutter and you're done. But most of the camera apps that shoot RAW have a myriad of controls and readouts that make the shooting process baffling.

Not MuseCam.

It also seems logical to me that people would want the ability to edit those RAW files with tools that can take advantage of all RAW has to offer. Many of the camera apps that shoot RAW can't edit the files and you're forced to use a few apps that require you to sign up and sign in before you can edit.

Not MuseCam.

Finally: RAW shots in Auto mode.

With MuseCam everything is set to auto, so you just press the bright red shutter. That's it. RAW shooting for us common folk is really here.


You do have complete manual control over (and easy access to) focus (targeting icon), shutter speed (aperature icon), ISO and white balance, all with sliders that are neatly tucked away. But when you want everything to go back to auto, just press that big Auto button. Flash is off by default and you'll need to tap JPEG to engage RAW.

Tapping on the screen will set the focus on that area of the scene without disengaging the Auto mode. Holding on an area of the screen will set and lock the exposure. This will disengage Auto mode. Just tap the red frame of the Auto button to conveniently go back to Auto mode.

How to edit RAW in MuseCam.

MuseCam has the most powerful RAW editor I've seen in iOS. Each editing control is a simple slider, but there are many controls here you may have never worked with before. To edit a RAW photo in MuseCam from the camera:

  1. Tap the photo on the bottom left.
  2. Tap any photo to open in the editor.
  3. If JPEG is showing at the top left, tap it. If the image was shot in RAW, it will change to RAW.
  4. Tap the Sliders icon.
  5. Drag the control row right to access the RAW controls.
  6. Tap any of the RAW icons. They turn white when engaged.
  7. Drag the slider to set.

Along with a robust set of jpeg editing tools, MuseCam has the following tools designed just for RAW editing:

  • Luminance Noise looks much like film grain and becomes more prevalent when images are shot at higher ISO settings. This slider lets you tame it.
  • Noise Detail enhances detail, but too much can get splotchy.
  • Noise Sharpness can sharpen soft images, but don't go too far.
  • Noise Contrast adds edge contrast, which sharpens, but too much will look unnatural.
  • Tint balances green and magenta. Together with the tempurature slider, this gives you a more accurate white balance.
  • Temperature gives a true temperature adjustment in RAW that you don't have access to in a .jpg
  • Light Boost enhances images shot in low light with less risk of overexposing, like a Shadows slider.
  • Exposure lets you recover highlight information that might be lost if you shot in .jpg
  • Baseline Exposure allows you to reset the zero point the camera uses as it's trade off between highlight headroom and shadow noise.

If you're familiar with editing RAW in Lightroom, editing in MuseCam will be easy. If you're not, just start playing to see how each slider affects the image. You'll soon get an understanding of what each control does and how you can use it to improve your image.


MuseCam's Presets are a big time saver. With all these controls, saving a set of adjustments as a Preset can give you a head start on your RAW or .jpg editing. For example: you might come up with a really slick set of RAW black and white conversion adjustments that work the deep grays into pure moodiness, something difficult to tweak out of a jpeg. If you'd like to save these control settings as a Preset: Tap the screen > tap the lines icon on the top center > Save as Custom Preset. To access this the next time you edit: Tap the Muse icon on the bottom left > Tap the Custom icon.

Hey, the .jpg images look better than RAW. Whazupwidat?

There's endless talk about the value of RAW, but there are reasons many pros never shoot a RAW file and opt for the convenience of shooting jpegs. The purpose of RAW is that you can go back to the original sensor data and craft a 100% perfect final image. On the other hand, .jpg images have 99% of that work done for you by the camera. It's up to you if that 1% is worth the work. Most people find it's not, or at least not for every photo.

For a complete understanding of RAW and how iOS handles it, check out this article.

My take on MuseCam.

MuseCam is the first app to combine simple shooting and powerful editing in RAW and does it beautifully. Of course, you can use it to shoot and edit .jpg images as well, with more powerful editing tools than are available in the iPhone's built-in Photos app. The only things I find wrong with this app:

  • It's missing the Tele lens of the iPhone 7+.
  • Help is abyssmal in the app and on the developers site (which is why I went into such detail here.)

There are a many reasons not to shoot RAW. In addition to the aforementioned inconvenience of manually editing every RAW image, a RAW file on iPhone takes up about 15 megs of space, approximately four times as much as a .jpg. But we've all found ourselves looking though our albums full of jpegs, seeing a great shot that's just a little less than perfect and saying "Man, I really wish I had a RAW file of that." MuseCam gives you that ability without having to get a PHD in the app.

Get The Crap-Free Guide to iPhone Photography at iTunes

August 19, 2017

Restoring detail with Image Blender.

"Normal" exposure can suck the realism out of a high-key image. When highlights lose their detail (as in the washed-out photo above) you can try gamma or luminance fixes in your editing software. But you'll usually get better results with a simple trick in Image Blender, Union, BitPoem or other photo blending app. By blending two copies of the same image using the Multiply mode, you'll enrich the highlights, restore overall vividness, add depth and bring back the realism.

I'm using Image Blender here, since it makes this process really easy:

  • Open Image Blender.
  • Tap the Background square on the bottom left and choose your image.
  • Tap the Foreground square on the bottom right and choose the same image.
  • Tap the double squares icon at the top center.
  • Tap Multiply and swipe down on iPhone (on iPad: tap Multiply and touch the screen).
  • Drag the slider right until the restoration looks good.
  • Tap the Share icon (square with up arrow).
  • Tap Save Image.

I shoot a lot of aging marble statues that really benefit from the detail and drama this technique can add.

Advanced adjustments in Image Blender.

Image Blender is not designed as a traditional editing tool, but you can modify exposure, contrast and saturation of each photo. So if you want a less bold result, reduce the contrast and saturation of one or both photos. To access the filters, tap the thumbnail on the bottom right or left and choose Filter.

How you’re supposed to use Image Blender.

Though Image Blender does a great job with the above technique, it was built for blending two different photos and has 16 more blend modes, plus the ability to mask and offset images. It's super simple to use, but offers powerful effects that conventional photo editing apps don't have.

Image Blender in the App Store.

More on mastering your iPhone camera: The Crap-Free Guide to iPhone Photography