My wife and I had just arrived at our little above-garage apartment in Duck, N.C., our home away from home for five days.
We were heading out the door for a kid-free dinner, our first just-us vacation in about three years.
I glanced jadedly at my camera bag. Stored inside was my Canon 6D and a few lenses I habitually bring on a trip.
My motivation, though, for vacation photography had waned a long time ago. Being a parent of young children, taking a thousand or more images, the editing process — it’s a lot of work and my motivation for that work was tapped out a long time ago.
Should I bring it?
No, I decided. I have my iPhone 12, and that should be enough.
My wife and I took a table at a nice restaurant patio as the sun set golden behind Currituck Sound. As the first glasses of wine arrived, I spied a solo paddleboarder silhouetted on the water.
Thank God for this iPhone, I thought, and for the ability to shoot RAW files through the Adobe Lightroom app.
I did this the entire vacation, depending on the iPhone’s portability over lugging a much heavier, much more expensive, but just as easy to lose DSLR.
The phone made some sweet images, and Lightroom did its magic. I posted them to social channels, garnered an encouraging number of likes and comments, and we went on enjoying our time in the Outer Banks.
When we came home and I looked at those images on a larger iMac screen, I began to notice something troubling about the images created on my iPhone.
They were grainy or severely pixelated. I looked at images I made with the iPhone earlier in the summer of a family vacation we took to the Outer Banks, and discovered the same poor quality.
It was frustrating, even infuriating. The images were taken in well-lit environments, so even using auto ISO should have made for crisper, cleaner RAW files.
Yes, I know. I could take auto ISO off the iPhone, but the iPhone is about convenience.
Crushing. That image of the paddleboarder plus one I made of my wife wading out into the ocean, I loved those. But when seen on a large screen, the poor quality caused me to forget about them.
I resolved to never again depend on an iPhone. How I wished that night at the restaurant, spying that paddleboarder, I had my Canon 6D with me.
Over the years, I know my Canon camera so well I could adjust settings with my eyes closed. I wouldn’t need auto settings and the image would have come out exactly the way I wanted.
Jump forward a month and a half to me photographing my first high school ice hockey game in a badly lit local ice rink. I needed fast shutter speeds and a super high ISO (5000 or 6400) on my DSLR.
Of course, the images were grainy. That was expected. They were almost too grainy, however, and so on a whim I purchased Topaz Lab’s DeNoise AI program in a desperate attempt to clean them up for my client.
It did such a great job. One night, as I was looking at my back catalogue of images, I found those Outer Banks photos and decided to run them through DeNoise AI.
Daaaayum! The program brought life to them as it cleaned up the graininess in ways I don’t think I ever could no matter how skilled at Lightroom or Photoshop I become.
Are they perfect? By no stretch, but that’s okay. DeNoise salvaged images I had largely given up on.
While I still believe a DSLR option is better (for me at least) should I find moments when I have to rely on the iPhone, I’m no longer too concerned about the graininess of the images.
Dave Pidgeon is a writer and photographer from Lancaster, Pa. He’s worked in wedding, family, and high school senior portraiture and today owns Creative Sports Photography, which provides portrait services for youth athletes.