I am not a full-time photographer. I make my money as an attorney and do photography for fun. While I make some extra income with my photography, I try not to spend too much money on my camera gear because I do not want to turn it into an investment that I need to recoup. Because of that, I normally would never buy a photography accessory for my phone, like the Pictar.
A couple years ago, my back-up camera system was stolen out of my car and I couldn’t justify buying a new back-up system since I had never once needed my previous system other than keeping it in my car in case I ran across something cool while I am driving.
With how far the cameras have come in the iPhone, I decided to start using that as my back-up camera for those times when I just didn’t have my main system with me. While I could never ditch my “real” camera and would not be happy with the limitations of a phone camera, the images on my iPhone are good enough to make a decent image that I can work with. One of the great things using the iPhone as a back up is that it makes a pretty dang good macro lens replacement if you don’t have one. But, there are a lot of things that annoyed me shooting with the iPhone. Most importantly, I have always hated that I had no control over camera settings .with the iPhone. It is just hard to go to what amounts to a point and shoot when I usually shoot full manual for everything.
That is why I was intrigued when I saw Miggo launch a kickstarter a while back for the Pictar. The Pictar is basically a shell that you slide half your camera into to gain control over your camera settings and get the ergonomics and functions of a normal camera.
The smart wheel is really the essence of Pictar. Spinning this wheel selects what mode you are putting your camera in. You can go automatic, choose one of the preset semi-automatic modes, shutter, ISO or manual. In manual you can’t control the aperture because it is fixed, but you can do both the shutter and ISO. I primarily use it in shutter mode or manual. In this mode, the shutter settings pop up on the right side of your screen and you just swipe up or down until you get the setting you want.
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What I like about my Pictar
The dials and buttons. The first thing that made me really want the Pictar is gaining control over the camera settings on my iPhone with separate dials and buttons rather than using a menu system. I shoot Fuji and I love the manual controls on the body that make it where I almost never have to go into a menu. It makes so much more sense to me to be able to quickly control camera settings with the turn of a knob rather than using menus so I really like the ability to control camera settings on my phone with knobs and buttons using the Pictar.
Ease of Use. The other basic thing that excited me about Pictar and that I really ended up liking was that the Pictar makes my phone much more comfortable to use. I hate having to use two hands to hold the phone, focus, set exposure and trigger the shutter. While the Pictar has the feel of an old point and shoot in your hand, it also has the ease and enjoy-ability of an old-school SLR, having the dials and buttons on the body so you can quickly change settings. It is really easy and comfortable to use one-handed, which I have found is really nice when traveling with kids as I can take photos while my hands are full with baggage. It has also been great for street photography where I don’t want to draw a lot of attention to myself.
Size. Going along with the comfort of using the Pictar, I really like the size of the Pictar. It is small enough I can throw it in any camera bag without it getting in the way. I can also leave it in my car or even in my pocket without a bother. It is also really light so don’t worry about it taking it on hikes. That makes it perfect for those experiences when you can’t or don’t want to haul around your big camera.
Zoom Ring. The zoom is another tool I felt was useless on my iPhone, but have started using more since I have the zoom ring on the Pictar. Now, I know the zoom is all digital and doesn’t really do much more than cropping, but it is nice to be able to easily zoom in and get the crop you want in camera, especially if it is just an image you are going to share on social media or send it to someone. The ability to just roll a wheel to zoom as opposed to pinching fingers of a second hand across a screen to try and get to the right zoom is such an improvement. Seriously, I had the pinch-to-zoom method so incredibly much.
The Shutter Button. I have enjoyed the shutter button on Pictar. It is so much nicer for focusing and it is easy to push when holding the camera with one hand. If I am honest, 90 percent of what I hated about using my iPhone as a camera was just the unnaturalness of it all. The grip of the Pictar and an actual shutter button changes all that and makes me feel like I am using an actual camera. Even if it did no more than that, I would enjoy using the Pictar.
Selfie Button. I am not a big fan of the selfie and don’t shoot a lot of them so I did not really care about having a button that changes the camera to selfie mode, but I have actually found it quite useful. When travelling, I like taking pictures with my wife or kids and it is really easy to do with the Pictar. I have found myself taking a lot more selfies with the Pictar than I ever did before. Even more importantly, my five-year old daughter has decided the Pictar is her camera and she loves taking selfies!
Long Exposures. Finally, the ability to slow down the shutter to me is a game changer in being able to create images that are more than just a snapshot. I never used the shoe mount for a flash or other accessories so I can’t give a report on those, but I do use the tripod attachment whenever I want to shoot a long exposure. That is one of the coolest parts of Pictar as I love shooting long exposure, and although I haven’t been forced to by not having my main camera or having it malfunction, it is fun to be able to push the iPhone into long exposures and create something 99% of people could never do with an iPhone. Even with the apps that let you control your shutter speed, you would have to have a special tripod set up for your phone, but with the regular tripod socket on the Pictar, you can use the same set up you use for your normal camera without any issues.
What I don’t Like
Battery Drain. A big concern for me with hooking anything up to my iPhone is the drain on the battery. My experience with iPhones is the batteries are amazing for about a month, then turn to absolute garbage. It annoys me like crazy that I have to charge my phone multiple times throughout the day if I actually use my phone to do anything, such as using the camera. With how annoying all this is, I am weary to use anything with my phone that is going to drain the battery. I was hopeful about Miggo’s claims that their new technology would would reduce the drain on the battery. Sure enough, using the Pictar app with the Pictar to take pictures is a serious battery drain. Sometimes, I felt like it wasn’t too bad, but other times, I could literally watch my battery percentage drop numbers quickly as I was using the camera. This was a huge hindrance in using the Pictar as a back up camera because it doesn’t do you any good if you don’t have plenty of phone battery to use. Because of this, I started packing an external battery pack, or 5, with the Pictar when I take it.
Exposure Compensation. I didn’t find much use for the exposure compensation wheel. This was not surprising to me as I don’t really ever use it on my real camera except on accident, which is a whole different annoying rant. On the Pictar, I just don’t see much use for it unless you are going to be shooting in one of the different semi-auto modes. I can see how this would appeal to a lot of people, where you can throw the camera into a general mode that gets you 80 percent of the way and then the exposure compensation wheel can help you dial it in that last little bit, but I almost exclusively use the Pictar in shutter or manual so that I can control the ISO and Shutter settings (unfortunately, there is no way to change the aperture). Since I am doing the exposure manually, there isn’t really much use for the exposure compensation wheel.
Not Adjustable to other Phones. A big downside of the Pictar for me is also that it is designed for specific phones. Since it slides over your phone, it isn’t going to work if you get an iPhone that is a different size. I don’t want to spend a hundred dollars on something I am going to have to replace if I get a new phone. However, it is not nearly as bad as if it was made for a specific model. As it is mainly just the size differences, you should be able to upgrade to a new phone and still use the Pictar as long as the phone is the same size and also compatible.
Low Dynamic Range of Cell Phone Cameras. Another issue that makes it tough to get great images with the Pictar is the inability to push the iPhone images much. As you can see in the images in this article, there is a quite a bit of noise. In fairness, I am shooting with a cheaper iPhone model (the SE) than most of you, so I would expect much better results shooting with an iPhone X or whatever the latest model is. The below images show what I was able to do in Lightroom as the top image is unedited and the bottom image has some pretty aggressive edits.