Once upon a time, the iPhone was the obvious choice for anybody looking for a photographically capable smartphone. These days, the California company is making much less of an impact thanks to its biggest rivals - Samsung, Huawei and Google.
I’ve been working as a writer in the photography industry for the entire lifespan of the iPhone, and it has, in many ways, been a fascinating journey to watch.
I can vividly remember the very first iPhone arriving at the office where I worked back in 2008, while a crowd of enthusiastic journalists crowded around the table to gawp and stare at it. Many of my photography peers at the time didn’t give it a second thought as a photographic tool, but over time it became obvious that it was something to be taken quite seriously.
For a long time, Apple traded on the idea that the iPhone was a bonafide camera for use by everybody from amateur snappers all the way up to the professional working in the field. You may have been met with sneers if you turned up to a photographic outing with an iPhone but it started to become obvious that the old adage was right, the best camera was the one you had with you.
At one point, the most popular camera on the photography social network Flickr was indeed the iPhone (in fact, it still is). We might be able to put this down to the wide proliferation of “proper” camera models meaning that no other manufacturer was able to claim the top spot, but for a site that was aimed so squarely towards people who took their photography seriously, it was an important indicator.
Flickr isn’t the global superpower it once was, so it’s easy to dismiss its current rankings, but there was definitely a feeling that the iPhone was easily the phone of choice for anyone with half an interest in taking good-quality pictures with the device in their pocket.
Then, a couple of years ago, I started to notice that other manufacturers began to target us photographers too and it no longer began to be all about Apple anymore. These days, the way I see it, we have four major players vying for our attentions, photographically speaking.
There’s still Apple, of course, but there’s also Samsung and Huawei. Google has also come up trumps with the Pixel 2, but for some reason its prowess doesn’t seem to have translated into huge popularity (perhaps it’s just not shiny enough and the hotly anticipated Google Pixel 3 will be outdo them all). Samsung has always been a massive player in this market, but with its latest models sporting dual-aperture lenses and a professional mode, it’s clear that it has a particular audience in mind.
Making the switch
Perhaps more interesting to witness has been the sudden meteoric rise of Huawei. Barely known just a couple of years ago (certainly not a household name, anyway), teaming up with the historic – and massively respected – Leica, in 2016, has seen it produce easily the best cameraphone on the market. I’ve been using a Huawei P20 Pro since March myself, and I find it so good that I’m more than happy to be without a “real” camera when it’s just not practical to carry one. Considering I was a dyed-in-the-wool iPhone user for the best part of 10 years, making the switch was a fairly big decision, but one I’ve really not regretted.
Take a quick look at the DxO Mark Mobile rankings for smartphones – the Apple iPhone X is 8th on the list, while the Huawei P20 Pro has yet to be dethroned from the very top since its launch.
I’m writing this a week after Apple announced its latest models. The iPhone XS and XS Max, at first glance, seem like an incremental upgrade from its predecessor, and certainly don’t grab my attention as a photographer as they once might have done. As I type this, DxO Mark hasn’t updated its rankings to include the XS or the XS Max, so I may well change my mind – but with a new Huawei just around the corner (a launch date of mid-October is rumoured), I know which has piqued my interest more.
Of course it still goes without saying that Apple is going to sell its latest phones by the bucketload, but with Huawei sidling its way into second place behind Samsung in the sales charts (putting Apple in third), it’s becoming more and more obvious that the California company is now longer making a phone every photographer should unquestionably aspire to own.
Amy Davies is one of Amateur Photographer’s Features Editors, and over the past few years has used and reviewed pretty much every camera and smartphone on the market.