The Best Camera

You’ve probably heard the quote:

The Best Camera Is the One That’s with You

This quote became ubiquitous when Chase Jarvis used it as the title of his 2009 book on iphone photography. His goal was to legitimize mobile phone photography. The idea being that it’s better to take a picture with your phone than to miss out on capturing an image because you left your bulky DSLR at home.ย 

I like the idea of capturing images using my phone. In the past, I’ve even challenged myself to only capture toy photos using my phone. But honestly, I prefer my bulky DSLR with its dedicated macro lens. ย This is my comfort zone, this is what I’m used to.

So image my surprise when last week I ended up on a beach with a backpack full of toys, accompanied by friends, no rain in sight and no CF card in my camera.


I briefly thought about jumping in my car and driving to the nearest store to grab a new card. Who cant use an extra card? But the weather was brisk and it was threatening to rain again. I knew we wouldn’t be out long. So I opted to pull out my phone and use it instead.

If your best camera is the one with you, then I was going to have to use my phone.


Why do I always forget how much fun it is to photograph toys with a phone? Phones are compact, you can get low to the ground without actually being on the ground. And if you like to be stealthy, its the perfect camera! Yes, I was very pleased with my decision.

“Its time for the Jedi to end.”
That Monday feeling…
The Fine Print

Sure the best camera is the one thats with you is true. But it is also true that the results you get with a phone will not match what you will get with a full sized DSLR with a state of the art dedicated macro lens. The results are different. Not better or worse, just different.

Its no secret that I love to create images with a narrow depth of field. I love how the backgrounds get all swirly and feel like a painting. You will not get that effect with a phone without using a photo application like Big Lens. On the plus side, mobile photos tend to have a lovely infinite focus that you can learn to use to your advantage.

I’m pretty certain this is not an image I could have captured with my DSLR. For one I’m not sure I would risk it that close to the water. Second I would have been tempted to set my camera’s aperture to 3.5 – 5.6 which would have created a very different result.

The biggest irony of this image is that I have been trying to recreate a similar image for several years now with no luck. The original image was taken before I discovered the RAW setting.ย The image is too small to enlarge for my purposes. So here I am with a great candidate to replace that image, and it was taken with my phone. I don’t know if I should weep or celebrate. I have a great image, but its still too small for a good enlargement. So it goes…

More Fine Print

There is a reason that Instagram and similar apps have handy built in filters. Photos taken on mobile devices can often benefit from a little editing or a judiciously applied filter. I have fun playing with filters and this time was no different. Here are the unedited versions of two of the images I took so you can see what I did to create images I felt good about sharing.

Gee where was that bounce card or portable lighting when I needed it!
I can never hold my camera straight; especially when I’m holding it near the ground.

Yes, the best camera is the one you have with you. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a phone or a state of the art full frame DSLR. ย The point is to get out there and create some magic with your toys. Have some fun while you’re at it! You might surprise yourself, like I did.


A big thank you to Dave who’s review of Ahch-To Island inspired me to buy the set. Thanks Dave! Because what I need is a little more LEGO in my life. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  1. You are welcome ๐Ÿ™‚ You are doing great things with that set, too!

    When you talk about RAW, it is not clear from the article if you mean RAW on the phone or the camera. However in case you were lamenting the lack of RAW, but if you were, take heart! Recent versions of Android allow for taking RAW images from the phone camera, tho one often needs to use something other than the stock app. Lightroom Mobile is often my goto for this. My Pixel has 12MP, which should be plenty to blow up to a decent sized wall hanging.

    (I don’t know if iPhones can take RAW images, as I have never used one, but I would be kind of shocked if you couldn’t)

    • Dave, thanks for the info on the Pixel. I may be jumping onto the Android bandwagon on my next phone. But my daughters iPhone 7 takes some pretty awesome photos too. The issue with the RAW from two years ago was notably the style of image but the size. I needed to enlarge to 30″ x 40″ and nothing I was going to do with that fire that was going to make it look good. Sure I could of enlarged to at least 16 x 20, but the show called for larger prints. Now I always photograph as large as I can, because I never know if I will need those extra pixels down the road. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Great article Shelly!

    That one of Luke Skywalker is such a great shot – I would’ve never thought it was taken with a phone.

    I find when I am shooting with my phone I am just not as careful with setting up a shot. I just don’t take the time to get the right composition. I think it is the ease of the device that makes me sloppy. I also feel a bit bored with a phone camera; they take away a lot of the fun from manipulating all the options on manual mode of my mirrorless.

    But it is true – the best camera is the one you have with you! You should go try to take some of these shots again with your DSLR and post the results!

    • That is a very interesting idea Joe. If not recreating these photos, maybe do a whole series that I take with both the camera and the phone. I will consider this ๐Ÿ™‚

      It doesn’t take much to slow down and take your time. I took at least 10 images of each set up playing with angels and such. I wish I had pulled out my light and bounce card too. It would have made a huge difference.

      I do enjoy mixing it up though ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I loved that Luke photo from the moment I saw it. I’m in awe that you were able to take such wonderful photos with your phone! I do sometimes take minifig photos with my phone but I rarely ever like the results. I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer want to carry a heavy DSLR with me when I’m out of the house, so I really need to learn to take better photos with my phone or buy a smaller camera. Your phone photos are very inspiring! Awesome shots Shelly ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Thanks Lynn! I wish you could join us on the photo safari in May. You would really see all the different types of cameras in use. Its kind of awe inspiring. Look for a nice micro 4/3rds mirrorless camera. Dennis (Krash Override) uses one and swears by it. There are plenty of small, light weight cameras that would foot the bill. You might enjoy taking the gymnasts out on an adventure!

  4. Jenelle (Mrs.Playwell)

    Thank you for writing this Shelly, and sharing some BTS on these shots! I also would not have guessed that you captured most of these shots on your phone. Another aptly timed reminder from you that my phone is not an inferior tool, just a different one. ๐Ÿ˜

    I have also learned over time that there is a certain skill in best manipulating a phone camera to do what you want for toy photography. A skill set that is not as commonly possessed by DSLR photographers as I previously once assumed it was.

    I also have to second Dave’s input. The option to shoot using a RAW setting on Android is a game changer for phone photographers! My Galaxy S7, that I got just before the Seattle Meetup, has this feature (including in the default camera app, as long as you turn it on) and I have been super happy with it. At 12mp with a RAW setting, I’ve he no issues with enlarging for prints, at least up to 15″ร—15″ which is the largest I’ve done so far.

    And Joecow… The Galaxy S7 also has the Pro Mode feature, which allows you to go fully manual and fiddle with the different settings to your hearts content. The best part, in my opinion, is that when you change a setting such as your aperture, you can see the difference on the screen without having to actually take a photo at each setting to compare. Pretty awesome! Especially if you are still learning to navigate all the manual settings like I am, and dont want to have to take a gazillion practice shots.

    • Jenelle, thanks for your comment. I think it is amazing what mobile phones can do these days. The cameras are amazing! When I upgrade I will definitely be looking at non iPhones. I think the cameras are better. Any image that I enlarge needs to be able to go to at least 16″ x 20″. I think Im stuck with the DSLR for those images at the moment. But my Sony has the capacity to show the aperture changing on the screen and it is amazing. Cool to know that setting is on a phone too. It will be fun to compare our approaches come May! :()

  5. Joe Hayes (koncrete_bricks)

    A great read shelly! I have only recently moved to to dslr, and your right I kinda miss the perspective of being so low to the ground. I find myself sitting the canon in the dirt or sand or extremely close to salt water because my mini tripod cant get close enough to the ground.
    As a result my lenses are scratched and have sand in them from practical effects. But after reading this I think I’ll save the dslr for the high aprature shots and mabey try using my phone a lil more again.

    • Joe, thanks for your comment! I think we photographers get stuck in our little ruts. Its nice when the situation forces a change. Be careful with your lenses around Sand. That is a camera killer for sure! I always buy equipment that has weather sealing just for that reason. You never know when it will start raining or when you accidentally watch your camera role into a pond. Things I have done! :0 It seems that with every situation there is a good option – sometimes the DSLR and sometimes the phone. Its good to have options! Happy photographing!!

  6. Tony Tulloch

    I feel we all owe Mr Jarvis a nod of acknowledgement for promoting a form of photography which was far less advanced than it is today. Like the argument between digital and film, I frown upon the people that will only stay in one camp. In this modern age many of us can afford to use all three, and I believe we should do whenever it is most appropriate.

    • I totally agree Tony! The right tool for the job! I miss the old Chase. Now he is all about the blog and hobnobbing with the movers and shakers. Sometimes I simply want to see how good photography is made, not listen to a lecture on how to be a creative genius. Oh well. We all have to have room to grow. Thanks for the comment Tony!

  7. brett_wilson

    I nearly walked out the door heading to the beach to shoot the Batman CMFs with my memory card still in my laptop from the previous batch of importing. I have this post to thank for it being a nearly instead of a lot of cursing!
    I “broke” my phone camera a while back. When it happened I remember thinking “I only ever use my camera now so I don’t need to get it repaired”. There hasn’t been a day since then that I haven’t wished it worked still! The main thing I miss is being able to snap “ideas” and “test shots” before I pull out the real camera. Maybe I should get it fixed?

  8. Zao

    Great article Shelly! Unfortunately, my cellphone isn’t an option. I don’t know why but the pictures it takes are so bad! Problem with focus and weird color. But honestly it doesn’t matter. Maybe one day, if I have a better phone ๐Ÿ˜›

    • Zao, You seem to be doing pretty well with the camera you have. I wrote this to inspire those with DSLR’s to be open to their phones. But more importantly those toy photographers that only have a phone to not feel like their photos are inferior. There is so much pressure to step up to a dslr, but it’s not about the equipment. Good photography is about how you use what you have and more importantly, what you have to say. Thanks for commenting!

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