My Unplanned iPhone Only Travel Photography Experiment

San Diego California

I’m not the most coordinated person, I should mention that before describing what happened on my first full day exploring San Diego. I was at Liberty Station, a strangely cool multi-purpose shopping, eating, creative center, walking through the parking lot. I had just arrived and was curious to check out the food hall. I was so curious that I decided to share the information on social media instead of, you know, looking up and actually watching where I was going. Before I knew had what happened, I was on the ground bleeding. Tweeting away on my phone, I had failed to notice a cement parking stopper and tripped over it. Without anticipating the fall at all, my knees and, most sadly, my camera took the full brunt of the fall. I’ve fallen a lot in my life and my poor camera has been through more than should ever be asked of a machine. If cameras were awarded purple hearts, my Nikon D5100 would have more than a few on its mantle. This was a bridge too far though and I could sense something was wrong right away. I turned it on and received a cryptic warning message and taking a photo was impossible. I was panicked. It was my first day in San Diego and I needed my Nikon to work; I couldn’t be without my trusty camera for the entire trip. Fate had other thoughts though; after spending some time with the very helpful people at a local camera store, I knew that fixing my Nikon was not to be. It was too old to warrant a repair and there was no time to replace it in San Diego. That meant I had to try something I’d long touted as possible, but never really tried – using my iPhone for everything.

iPhone only

I had no choice, I’m just thankful that I have a decent phone that would allow me to even try doing a photo-heavy trip without a nicer camera. Thankfully, my iPhone 8 hadn’t been damaged in the fall – only the case had some wear and tear. So it was with a heavy heart that I put away my DSLR, a camera that has seen more parts of the planet than most people ever will. A camera that has been dropped innumerable times, soaked in rainstorms and waterfalls, frozen in both Antarctica and the Arctic and baked under the hot and steamy tropical sun countless times. Now that I think about it, it’s probably a miracle that it survived for as long as it did, but I didn’t have time to eulogize my instrument, I had work to do.

I felt naked without the large camera permanently strapped around my shoulders, but it was also freeing. I felt incognito, without the Nikon giving away my presence no one knew I was out and about trying to capture some nice moments around the city. I always take a lot of iPhone photos when I travel anyway, mirroring what I capture with my DSLR. Both cameras offer different benefits, and many times I prefer the shots on the phone anyway. But the iPhone can’t do everything, and the weird weather in San Diego those few days created some problems. Rain was intermittent and the resulting clouds made the light strange and difficult to manage with the iPhone. I could have better compensated with my DSLR and the Nikon would have been better able to deal with the variable weather, but the iPhone was not. The resulting photos were washed out and grainy, failing to capture what were truly beautiful scenes. It was frustrating and I knew that no amount of editing would help solve the problem. I did the best that I could, but I know that the photos could have been better.

Overall Thoughts

I realize that it is a very first-world sort of problem that my expensive Nikon was damaged and as a backup I could only use my equally expensive iPhone. However, for me they are essential tools of the trade and are what enable me to do this as a full time job in the first place. They are investments, they are tools and they are critical. So, with that said, how did my little unplanned experiment go in practice? It wasn’t as terrible as I had imagined. Ditching the large and heavy camera for a few days was nice. It was freeing, it allowed me to go about the city without anyone wary that I’d try to take their picture. I didn’t have to worry about leaving it behind in restaurants or bumping it on things. That being said, while I love many of the photos I took in San Diego using my iPhone, many more are frankly throw-aways. The strange lighting and other factors created photos that are grainy and washed out. They fail to capture the grandeur of the scenery along the coast or the vibrancy of La Jolla. But, they’re not terrible. More than anything else it was a necessary experiment. For many months I’d thought about going “iPhone only” but was too nervous to even make the attempt. This forced experiment was important to know whether or not I can travel without the DSLR in the future. The answer is a resounding no, I can’t afford to ditch the Nikon and I really don’t want to. I will continue using both cameras in tandem, utilizing their strengths and trying to mitigate their weaknesses. I have since replaced the body of my old Nikon D5100 with a refurbished D5100. I’m a creature of habit and I like and understand the camera. Next time though I promise to watch where I’m walking.

Final Products – Some Additional iPhone Only San Diego Photos

San Diego California

Hotel La Jolla San Diego California

San Diego California

Torrey Pines San Diego California

San Diego California

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

5 thoughts on “My Unplanned iPhone Only Travel Photography Experiment”

  1. Once I planned a weekend away with a friend, I geared up, all my camera accessories since I was going by car, and carrying tripod, lenses etc wouldn’t be a problem, but I forgot the most important thing. Sdcards! I had them next to my computer and I placed them there so I wouldn’t forget about them. Well, I did! It was an iPhone only weekend photo trip, and I still had a lot of fun. The goal was a photography weekend, and it ended up to help me to explore a bit more of my iPhone capabilities ????

  2. I’ve gone on some short trips (usually second time to a place) and only used my phone. My last two phones definitely take some good photos, especially at night. Makes me a bit disappointed in my big camera. Only problem with the phone-only photos is that you lose the zoom.

  3. I look back at all the years I was iPhone only, and so proud of it at the time because I was traveling “lighter” and I regret that choice. I just don’t have the travel photos that I would if I’d had more than a cell phone. It was fun while it lasted but like you, I can’t see a real career in blogging or any other kind of media without a phone AND a camera ;)

  4. Just came back from Portugal & Spain and I was envious of the many using their phones for pictures. Especially in the old Cathedrals their pictures seemed brighter, clearer.
    My main concern about s battery life.
    I wondered how their phone just didn’t get drained!!
    That being said, they had no zoom, override etc. But for a light, easy device the phone pictures are pretty stunning.
    I did get tired of the arms out for selfies and the selfie sticks????
    So, pros & cons on both I guess.

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