iPhone Camera Degradation

I hope you will indulge me as I go off on a bit of a rant.

I bought my iPhone 5s in the fall of 2013 for $199. I got it to replace an older iPhone that I placed on the roof of my car while talking to an associate in the parking lot at work and, like an idiot, drove off without remembering that I had left it up there. That old iPhone clung to the roof of my car with all its might until I swung onto the freeway on ramp. That's when I heard the clunk as the Apple phone bounced once onto the trunk lid then spilled its guts across the highway.

If it weren't for the iPhone's excellent camera and the ease of which I can shoot a picture with it and have that image seamlessly and immediately available on my MacBook, I wouldn't have one. I rarely use it as a phone. Since new, I have just over 5 hours of total talk time on it. Looking at my monthly bill, I average about 22 text messages a month. Most of them were unnecessary and any situation addressed in them would have self-resolved.

Co-worker:  "The meeting is starting, Where are you?"

Me:  "Coming down the hall. Be there in 10 seconds."

I have the most minimal data plan my carrier allows and my monthly usage hovers a fraction over 0%. I think that is the amount needed for the phone to keep its heart beating since I have cellular data turned off everywhere I can. I have just one app installed for my bank and only use that when I have access to a trusted wi-fi connection and then only a few times a year.

I treated myself to a late model used car last month to replace the 13 year old one I had been driving. The new car has navigation and Sirius XM, so I don't need the iPhone to tell me where I'm going or provide music during my commute. When I'm home, I prefer quiet or listening to a great old vinyl record on my Technics turntable, McIntosh amp and Klipsch Heresy speakers (all three of which are nearing 50 years old and working just fine).

Most of what I use my smartphone for is taking pictures of old cameras for this blog and for the various analog photography Facebook groups I'm a member of. I love the way I can take a photo and immediately crop it and drop it into a blog post I'm writing or drag it into a Facebook post. But over the nearly five years I have owned this phone, I've noticed the quality of the images it produces are slowly getting milky. There's also a very apparent loss of sharpness. Here is an unprocessed photo from the first week I got the iPhone 5s.


Here's another from about 8 months later with just a bit of vignetting added post process.


And here are two recent images taken with my 5s.


All of these photos were taken in the same physical location, on my kitchen counter near a big window facing east. I place the cameras on a large white cutting board. There's a big fluorescent light overhead that mixes with natural light coming in through the window. Not a totally controlled environment, but consistent enough to prove that something is going downhill with the iPhone's camera.

When I was at the Apple Store a few weeks back laying down some serious cash to replace a stolen MacBook, I asked about my phone. The very helpful young woman who patiently assisted me with my laptop smiled when she saw my generations ago 5s, suggesting that it might be time for an upgrade. A nearby Genius looked at my camera's lens and noticed it had a bit of crazing on it. He said this happens with constant use and carrying it around in pants pockets or scraping it across a table in a restaurant. I told him that I hardly use my phone, rarely carry it, that it has never been in my pocket or even on a restaurant table. I told him that for most of its life, my phone has slept in the comfort of a felt pocket in my laptop bag. He shrugged his shoulders.

It appears my little Apple camera is dying and I must do something about it. If the whole phone were failing it would be easier to justify the expense of a new one, but for the few minutes I talk on it or for the small number of text messages I engage in, everything else on it works just fine. And other than the camera lens, it looks brand new.

The cheapest iPhone, the SE, is like three and half bills. Move up to any of the current models and you're paying a lot more. Even that would be ok if these things lasted. Used to be if you bought something and took good care of it, the thing would serve you well for a long time. Not so with today's devices. They are truly disposable.

It may sound like it, but I'm really not a luddite. You should see the technology I am harnessed to at work. I'm not cheap either. I have no problem spending serious cash on a Leica Summicron because I know it will last me a lifetime and if I decide to sell it down the road, I'll get my money back and usually more.

I wish Apple made just a simple digital camera I could tether to my iCloud account, but they don't.

I might look and see if there are some digital point and shoots with wi-fi capability, even though that adds several steps to my workflow.

Or maybe I should consider how many images I have gotten out of my $199 investment, hustle my butt down to the Apple Store and just pony up.

End rant. :-)