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Last updated on April 23rd, 2024

Walking through the streets of Medellin with a DSLR — something I did in the past — is giving papaya. This Colombian expression (no dar papaya) means showing off your valuables and asking to get robbed. The victim-blaming expression is one of the reasons I prefer an iPhone for travel photography. 

Yes, an iPhone is still expensive and targeted by thieves, but it is easier to conceal when not in use and faster to take in and out of your pocket than a professional camera in a backpack.

But let’s decipher the real reason I use an iPhone for travel photography.


My Travel Photography Beginnings

I didn’t want to travel the world. I didn’t have that so-called travel bug and the wanting to find myself — queue the Eat, Pray, Love story.

But when I discovered photography, as opposed to just looking at it, I realized I could express myself artistically without being the next Michelangelo.

Photography forced me to travel and explore. I especially enjoy landscape photography, both taking and editing landscape photos. And that’s also how I discovered HDR photography.

Why I Sold My DSLR and Use My iPhone for Travel Photography

In 2022, I left Canada for Colombia and couldn’t afford to take all my belongings. Space in my luggage was a luxury, and ease of travel was important to me when traveling from place to place.

I had an iPhone 12 Pro, which I currently use, and I sold my Canon 6D in 2022. Not needing a dedicated camera backpack for my Canon and lens allowed me to travel a little bit more minimally. Plus, I already have to lug my laptop around.

I also had a GoPro 8 Black, which I used mainly for snowboarding and scuba diving.

When I went to the Galapagos Islands for the second time in 2021, I only brought my GoPro and iPhone 12 Pro for the travel photos and left my Canon 6D at home in Toronto. I don’t feel like I missed out by not having a DSLR, especially since I was in the water a lot. I also returned to the Galapagos in 2023 with the same equipment.

Traveling is easier without a professional camera, and I mainly use my iPhone 12 Pro. Unfortunately, I recently traded in my GoPro and bought an Insta360 X3 because it’s easier to record while snowboarding. And I bought a DJI Mini Pro 4. I screwed myself over with traveling minimally.

My iPhone Travel Photos

Here are some of the travel photos I took with my iPhone.

Nice, France, travel photo taken with the iPhone 12 Pro.
Nice, France
Monaco travel photo with iPhone 12 Pro
Bartolome Island photo taken with iPhone 12 Pro travel photography
Bartolome Island, Galapagos
Marine iguanas photographed with the iPhone 12 Pro
Marine iguanas in Tortuga Bay
Canmore, Alberta, mountains with iPhone 12 Pro
Canmore, Alberta, The Canadian Rockies

I Save Money on Luggage Fees

Many budget and premium airlines offer ultra-low-cost fares that do not include a carry-on. Sometimes, I can fly for less than $60 round-trip by bringing only a backpack that fits under the seat in front of me. I do this often for short trips. 

That space in my backpack is better reserved for my clothes and work laptop instead of a camera system. The iPhone stays in my pocket.

Adding a carry-on to an ultra-low-cost fare sometimes doubles the price, so I prefer to keep that money in my bank.

Do iPhones Take Better Pictures than Professional Cameras?

iPhones don’t take better pictures than a quality DSLR or mirrorless camera. The larger image sensor and technology camera manufacturers, like Sony and Nikon, invest in their cameras provide far superior image quality in terms of reduced noise, increased sharpness, and contrast.

Furthermore, the glass entry-level and flagship lenses from major camera manufacturers provide superior sharpness and detail compared to the iPhone lenses. Even third-party lenses from Sigma and Tamron have exceptional quality.

However, for the general public and for travel photographers like me, the iPhone is a more-than-capable camera. The downside is when it comes to taking photos of a subject from afar. You need a telephoto lens for this; the iPhone’s new telephoto lens’s reach is not far enough, and I’m not sure if a mobile lens attachment will do the job.

The good news is with landscape photography, the latest iPhones provide a more than reasonable wide-angle lens with a 0.5x zoom-out (13mm lens equivalent on the iPhone 15 Pro Max). Most landscape photographers can get away with only using the iPhone’s wide-angle lens.

On the other hand, the question of whether an iPhone takes better images than professional cameras also depends on how you look at it.

The reason is an iPhone, or any smartphone for this matter, is often always with the photographer. The majority of photos taken today, whether they’re awful or aesthetic, are taken with smartphones. One can argue that some of the best travel photos have been taken with an iPhone since they’re always available during the I-wish-I-had-a-camera moment. 

How I Edit My iPhone Travel Photos

I often edit photos and videos using my iPhone’s built-in photo app.

But when I want more control or need to process advanced edits such as masking, I use the Lightroom Mobile app, which is available on iOS and Android. The app is free and has a premium version. Most casual photographers will only need the free version for their travel photos.

If I need to do more advanced editing, such as complicated removal of unwanted objects in a photo, then I can easily transfer my iPhone photos to my MacBook Pro via Airdrop and edit them in Photoshop. There’s also a Photoshop mobile app, but it’s not for me.

In addition, I use cloud storage for all my travel photos. All my iPhone photos are backed up to Dropbox instead of iCloud.

As I mentioned earlier, iPhone photos can have a lot of noise and lack detail due to the image sensor and lens. Photography desktop apps are getting more advanced at correcting these issues with AI. One such photography software is Topaz Photo AI.

Where the Photography Industry is Heading with iPhones

According to IDC, Apple sold 235 million iPhones in 2023 compared to 227 million Samsung Galaxy models.

Number of iPhones and Samsung Galaxy sold globally in 2023. Statistics provided by IDC.

In contrast, according to Statista, 121 million cameras were sold in 2023. This figure reflects consumer cameras only, not professional imaging devices.

Number of cameras sold globally according to Statista.

Roughly twice as many more iPhones were sold than DSLR and mirrorless cameras in 2023.

Though most iPhone purchases were not explicitly for travel photography, the iPhone appears to replace the standard camera for several photography enthusiasts due to its portability, continual improvements in image and lens quality, and faster photo sharing with friends and social media apps.

About 99% of the backpackers I’ve met in South America, Asia, and Europe use their iPhone or Android smartphone instead of a regular camera for their travel photos. I seldom see someone pull out a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

Final Thoughts

An iPhone is excellent for my travel photography. I can use the iPhone’s wide-angle lens for my landscapes, and because it’s weatherproof, I can confidently take photos in inclement weather, even when I’m snowboarding.

If you’re a professional photographer, I would use the iPhone as a backup for travel photos; I just wouldn’t rely on an iPhone’s smaller image sensor and limited lens for client photos.

Furthermore, I will eventually return to the Galapagos Islands, and I plan to get better shots of the action wildlife above water. I’ll go mirrorless with a super-telephoto zoom lens. So much for traveling light.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I buy a camera or use my phone for travel photography?

If you’re not a professional photographer or do not require a telephoto lens for your subjects, then it’s best to use your smartphone for travel photography.

The camera phone will be easier to travel with, and you don’t need to add an additional expense to your travel budget with a new camera.

Which iPhone is good for photography?

Currently, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is the best model for photography. It includes a 13mm super-wide-angle lens and a 120mm telephoto lens. These lenses with sensor-shift image stabilization will help you take crisp photos.

Vincent Croos
About the Author: Vincent Croos

Hola Parceros,

I’m the founder of Aperlust. I enjoy web development and SEO and am into snowboarding and linguistics. In my spare time, you can find me destroying my opponents in chess across the globe.

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