The Mackinac Bridge. Michigan.  Photo © Jim Doty Jr.

Can you take nice photos with an iPhone? Yes. Does it have its limits? Of course.

I have been experimenting with the photo capabilities of an iPhone 3G. The files are small, 600×800 pixels, but the image quality can be quite good under certain circumstances. This is a switch for me since I usually take photos with a full frame digital SLR. But I have been having fun with the iPhone and learning what it can and can’t do.

The iPhone camera is fully automatic. You have no control over focus or exposure, but that is part of the fun (and an occasional curse). Just point and shoot and it does the rest.

There is no built in flash so you aren’t going to light up the night.

The iPhone really shines when there is plenty of light. The photo above was taken in full mid-day sun (notice the sun flare near the light post to the right). The sky was hazy and bright so the meter darkened things down to a more average tonality, creating a nice blue sky instead of the bright, washed-out blue that my eyes were seeing.

In high contrast situations, exposure can be iffy.  If you have a small, light-toned subject in front of a large, background, the meter will average in the background and overexpose your subject.  A spotmeter would solve this problem.  Meter the subject, lock in the exposure, and take the picture.  But the iPhone doesn’t have a spotmeter.

When light levels are low, longer shutter speeds will mean blurry images if you don’t hold the iPhone steady.  One solution in really low light is to go with the flow and make deliberately blurry images.

The 800×600 pixel files are fine for the web or small prints, but you aren’t going to get big prints with razor sharp quality from such a small digital . The newer iPhone 3GS would provide larger prints due to a much larger file size.

When I want maximum image quality, full camera control, and the potential for really large prints, I would grab a different camera. But the iPhone has its place. I confess that I first started taking pictures out of curiosity and ended up surprised myself with how much fun I was having.  And I end up with some really nice photos.