iPhone as Primary Camera?


Staff member
Jul 5, 2009
Newtown, Pennsylvania
I have a Nikon DSLR that is at least 7-10 years old. In recent years, I take it out less and less. I enjoy taking pictures and video (it does both) to document my chases, but I am not a true photographer; I only use the automated settings, I don’t know enough to change aperture, shutter speed, etc. And I am not into lightning photography (although of course I love lightning!) As the years go by, I find myself defaulting to my iPhone more and more for pictures and video. It’s quick, easy, and I can do it with one hand while driving if I need to. And it’s immediately shareable with family, on social media, or Stormtrack, without first having to plug my phone into the computer and download everything.

Right now I have an iPhone 13 but am thinking of upgrading to the 15 before my chase trip. Curious as to chasers’ thoughts about the iPhone 15 as a primary camera. It probably wouldn’t be the choice of serious photographers with the latest mirrorless digital cameras, but would it be at least as good as my 7+ year DSLR used in preset modes, and potentially eliminate the need for me to even bring the Nikon with me this year so I can travel a little lighter?
We just got iPhone 15s and it is a big improvement over the 13. But if you can swing it, for chasing, I would go for the iPhone 15 Pro or Pro Max. Lots better performance on the camera. I probably should have opted for the Pro Max when I replaced my 13...but then...I drive local highways to avoid tolls, so...yeah: it's the iPhone 15 for me.

Having said that, Android phone users might have recommendations on phones with cameras that are better than Apple products. I would still bring the Nikon though--I sometimes find the iPhone difficult to focus when there are lots of objects at varying distances in the field of view.
I can vouch for the Samsung S24 Ultra... the picture quality is pretty unbelievable... 200 MP and a ton of features. My wife has the IPhone 15 pro and it's also really impressive. If you're an Apple guy, the difference in quality probably isn't worth the switch to Android though. I'd imagine a traditional camera is still the best bet for professional images, but it's hard to beat the convenience of mobile phones, and the newest models probably compete with the older cameras.
I use my iPhone 12 quite a bit for still snapshots on chases now. It is decent for wide-angle views for raw documentation, and I archive some of those shots along with the ones from my DSLR and use a few of them on my chase logs. That being said, you can really see the difference between a DSLR and even the best phone cameras when you get large prints made, crop the image, or just zoom in and look at the details. The quality (or lack thereof) is really noticeable in those contexts. Zooming is another area where you will see a huge difference in both photos and videos. I know my iPhone is not a pro model, but it's pretty useless for anything zoomed in even slightly.

A modern phone can definitely provide all you need. It depends on what you think you might want to eventually do with your photos. For a rare quality event like a Dodge City tornadofest where you'd like to have a couple of large prints made to hang in your house or office, a DSLR/mirrorless is going to give you a quality jump over a phone that you *will* notice.
I'm actually making the opposite switch and going back to shooting with a traditional camera for weather photography over an iPhone. Smartphones just don't have the high ISO performance and zoom capabilities that a DSLR or mirrorless camera can achieve.
The problem with phone cameras is the zoom. It's quite limited in focal length and quality suffers even with good image processing.

If you are using a phone camera for fun and social media imaging, that's great. Once you zoom in, the software is basically zooming in on the already tiny sensor and quality is lost, no matter how many megapixels the maker claims it has or how good the software is.

Coming from a photojournalism background, the ability to zoom is life or death in photography. If the perfect tornado scene requires me to zoom in, I'd lose my mind if I only had an phone camera.

The funnel cloud photo below was recently taken here in Tucson with my iPhone 13 at full zoom. Had this been a genuine tornado, the shot would suck. If I took the image less zoomed, then cropped, the results would be the same.


It's funny timing you post this, I was contemplating the same thought on my drive back the other day. I've never been a talented photographer or interested in photography; same as you it seems. About the only time I pick up a 'quality' dedicated camera is during chase season and even then, I haven't taken the time to work a system. I have a pretty mid-low tier Sony A65 which does alright, but isn't anything special. I just use the auto settings and occasionally I go to manual focus but that's about the limit of my talent and understanding. I definitely found on this most recent chase my iPhone won't cut it, and have begun looking back into more serious cameras. Life has freed up and so too will chase days so I feel comfortable investing in something.

I've contracted for over a decade now and just use crappy webcams, streaming 720'ish video to the studio for on-air. I've never received complaints of video quality but I feel I could improve there - just not sure if I should get a dedicated camera with HDMI out to capture or what the option is.

For stills, I'm all ears and will follow this thread for sure. I'm definitely going to look for something better... seeing the texture and grit of this week' intercepts from everyone really lit my "damn if I'd only had a good camera on that chase" reminders. Tons of cool stuff, tons of low quality pictures to back it.