I always wanted to shoot large-format 8×10 view cameras. You know, those wooden beasts that require pack animals because they are so heavy and cumbersome? Well, fate had a different plan in store for me.
When I turned 18, my grandfather gave me a Rolleiflex TTL which he bought in Germany at the end of the second World War. As soon as I put my first roll of film through that Rollei, I was hooked on medium-format.
However, I’ve always believed in using the right tool for the right job. That’s why over the years I have also owned an armada of Nikon cameras, lenses, motor drives, and flashes. A “small format” Nikon (and now Sony) camera system was the perfect complement to my Rollei which had a fixed lens, manual focus, and a waist level view finder.
Now after converting both my medium-format and small-format systems to digital, I thought I had all the cameras I would ever need to shoot.
That’s when a funny thing happened… I fell in love with what I call “tiny format”.
What the Heck is it?
You know that iPhone in your pocket? Yep, it’s a tiny, beautiful, camera system. Every year, Apple continues to improve the quality of the camera in the iPhone to the point that it can now produce amazing images. With over 700 million iPhones sold, people are finally starting to see the camera in the iPhone as more than a snapshot maker. In fact, Apple themselves are featuring images “shot on iPhone” for their billboard advertising to showcase the creative potential of the format.
However, I still know many photographers that don’t take tiny format seriously. If you aren’t yet a believer, keep reading to see some of my own favorite images shot with tiny format or check out my Instagram feed.
Why Go Tiny?
There are a few reasons I now find myself shooting tiny format more than my small-format cameras:
- It’s always with me. The gear is so small it fits in my pocket.
- It just may be the best street photography camera ever invented. More on that in a forthcoming post.
- It’s more than a camera. I can shoot, edit and share my images in near real time without having to open my laptop.
Yes, tiny format is more than just the iPhone. There are a lot of great accessories and add-ons that can help you create all kind of images. The good news here is that investing in a good tiny format system isn’t going to empty your bank account.
Here’s a look at my tiny format system. Most of this gear all fits in a single side pocket of my Domke F-3x shoulder bag.
iPhone 6+ (128GB)
This is simply the best iPhone camera yet. The optically stabilized lens in the 6+ allows me to shoot at shutter speeds as low as 1/15th of a second without a tripod. I opted for the 128GB version so that I don’t have to worry about running out of memory and can keep all my images on the device. Will I trade this iPhone in for the new/latest model when it comes out? If it has a better camera sensor or lens, then the answer is: yes.
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I’ve tried several add-on lenses from other manufacturers and none of them even come close to the image quality I can achieve with Moment Lenses. The lens optics and housing are built just the way I like them: big and heavy. They attach to the phone using a bayonette style mount that you affix to the phone using space-age strong adhesive (don’t worry, it can be taken off). Alternatively, the folks at Moment also have an optional phone case in the works that has the mount built in. I use both the “Wide” and “Tele” lenses all the time. Moment also sells great leather lens cases that clip on your belt. Very handy.
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Nova Bluetooth Off-camera Flash
This isn’t the post to sell you on the benefits of using off-camera flash, but let’s just put it this way: if you don’t want your tiny format flash photos to look like mugshots, pick up a Nova. Trust me, this beats the pants off that look you get with the built-in iPhone flash. The Nova communicates with your iPhone via bluetooth giving you full control over the direction of the light, color temperature, and power level. If you are adventurous, try using more than one Nova at a time.
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Morphie Powerstation XL
Taking photos with your iPhone all day long is a surefire way to run out of battery. Such is why having an external battery pack is a must. I like this Morphie model because it’s not too big and gives me three full phone charges – more than enough for a day of shooting.
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Joby GP3 GorillaPod
Sometimes having a tripod is essential for shooting at slow shutter speeds, for video, or even for the occasional selfie (no selfie-sticks allowed). The beauty of the Joby GorillaPod is that it’s not a full length tripod, which means you won’t get stopped by security personell when pulling it out of your bag! To make up for the lack of height, I use the flexible legs to secure it to something such as a guardrail or place it on top of a ledge. With no center column you can even flatten it out for those low angle shots. I like the GP3 model because it’s stable enough or both my tiny format and small format cameras.
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Really Right Stuff BH-25 Ultra-light Ballhead
When it comes to ballheads, there is only one brand I trust: Really Right Stuff. I’ve been using their gear for twenty years and can honeslty say that theirs is the most rock solid gear I own. It had better be as that hunk of metal is the only thing keeping my camera from falling off the tripod. I like the DH-25 ballhead for tiny format because it’s small and because they make one with the same super secure quick release clamp (the BA-40 LR) I use for my small and medium format systems.
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Mefoto SideKick 360 Tripod Adaptor
By this point, you might be wondering how you attach an iPhone to a ballhead. There are a variety of products out there, but I like the SideKick 360 Plus from MeFOTO for a few reasons.
First of all, if it wasn’t obvious by reading the name, the mount rotates 360 degrees. This allows you to easily flip the camera from vertical to landscape orientation. I use this feature a lot and combined with the movements of a ballhead, it allows you put the camera into whatever awkward, contorted position you may require. I find this to be essential when shooting through fences or odd little gaps.
The second thing I love about the SideKick is that its foot is an Arca-Swiss compatible quick release plate. This means I can quickly pop it on or off any of my Really Right Stuff ballheads.
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Camalapse 4 Panning Head
This is just a fun toy for me right now as I wade into the waters of time-lapse videos. The Camlapse is basically one part egg timer and one part panning head. You twist the timer to smoothly pan the iPhone for 30 or 60 seconds.
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All Together Now
Here are a few shots of what most of this gear looks like when it’s assembled:
See What Tiny Can Do
Still not convinced about going tiny? Here are some of my favorite images shot with tiny format.