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This one's been sat in my drafts for a while - whoops! I guess I just knew it was a lot of pictures to take and put together, but I've finally done it. One of the most-asked questions I get is about what I use to take my photos. I started building my camera kit years ago (I'm a bit of a dinosaur in the beauty blogging community, it sometimes feels...) and back then the camera on your phone just wasn't great (even if you did have the latest model). But now, in 2021: who needs a camera, who can get by on their phone and can you even tell a difference in the finished result? We'll get into what I use, how I use it and and discuss how easy or hard it was to get to the final shot...

(I've had to make the images a little smaller just so this post is readable but you can right-click and open any image in a new tab if you really want to see that finer detail.)


Ok, the first thing I want to say is that: no one needs to go out and buy a camera to start an Instagram account! I'd been blogging almost a year before I got a bridge camera and still had my laptop from uni. I used that for a couple of years before picking up a DSLR. I chose the Olympus Pen (I upgraded earlier this year to the EPL-9) and it came with a pancake lens, which is just a really straightforward basic option. When I got the new body this year, I didn't buy a new lens with it because the pancake was still fine and I also got the 60mm Macro last year because it's both a great macro lens and a great portrait lens (for taking 'normal' photos). This thing is huge, but what it does is capture close-up detail that a pancake just isn't designed to do and isn't able to focus on. The camera has no internal flash ability and the Macro lens in particular needs a lot of light, so bear that in mind because my iPhone 12 Pro not only has a proper flash but a sort of soft flash that makes it far better in low light than any iPhone I've had before. On my camera, for blog posts I typically shoot in Automatic, a dirty word to camera nerds! The exceptions are when I want to capture specific motion or do something with the light. I'm not super-knowledgeable about cameras and I'm far from being a photographer, I'm just speaking as a creator.


L-R: iPhone, pancake lens, macro lens (top row - before editing, bottom row - after editing)

Looking through these shots just taken in a normal room with natural lighting coming through the window; the difference isn't huge, particularly if you're viewing images on a device via social media. Yes, it's a little less sharp and the lighting feels a little more harsh, but for the cost of a camera: if you really just like taking these sorts of 'shelfie' or dressing table style shots, you're fine with your iPhone by the time we get to the final edit.

L-R: iPhone, pancake lens, macro lens (top row - before editing, bottom row - after editing)

This one surprised me! As I mentioned, my camera (with the macro lens in particular) really needs good light so performed best in this direct light setting, which is why I use it for most of my photos - particularly on the blog where it's going to be a huge image. The camera produces a more soft-focus look, which I tried to achieve by taking down the contrast a bit on the iPhone version, but the lighting just looks harsher and I'm not a huge fan of this shot. It seems like more lighting isn't always better when using a phone camera.

This is where it got quite interesting. I really do just shoot on my macro these days and I rarely use this location now because I'm lazy and can't be bothered setting up my lighting very often! I'm really impressed with how the iPhone coped under these conditions, because it was a chief complaint of mine when I had the old XR: if you wanted to use the zoom or shoot in low lighting, it just didn't fare well. As I mentioned, the macro loves light so I struggled to get it to focus properly with no natural lighting. The pancake did fine, but it was easiest to get this shot with my phone and I like how it looks the most. Plus, the image isn't as thrown off by the warmth of the spotlights in my bathroom. The camera shots came out super-warm and I probably overcompensated with the tint trying to correct that!

Obviously this is where the macro comes into its own! The pancake lens couldn't focus if I moved it any closer to the subject and despite many attempts, my iPhone just couldn't capture this texture with much clarity at all. The macro hones in on the subject and creates this amazing blur beyond the focal point and I love that. This is really what people buy a macro lens for.

Lastly, I wanted to test out how they captured motion. I set my camera to operate the shutter speed manually (set to 800) and used a softbox, because you really need as much light as possible to capture water properly. As you can see: despite many attempts, my phone was pretty useless at capturing and of the detail of moving water, which I kind of expected. There wasn't a huge difference between the macro and the pancake, though obviously I couldn't recreate an identical shot. As you can see, the shutter speed captures the movement of the the water rather than blurring it. 


Obviously I'm personally very wedded to my macro lens, but it's very bulky so if I was on holiday I'd take the pancake lens and occasionally I'll be away from home and take a picture on my phone for Instagram in my hotel room and I don't feel as though people can tell the difference. If you aren't interested in closeups, fine detail, motion or texture and you're primarily taking pictures of your dressing table for socials then you can definitely stick to your phone for the time being. It all comes down to what photos you want to take. I was really keen to capture that granular detail when I got my macro and having that ability really reignited a lot of creativity and I still love using this piece of kit today. 

I guess besides getting you to think about what you need for the content you make, this post is also to show you that with a quality piece of kit in your hands; you don't need to be a really gifted photographer to get good shots. If you see someone else with their perfect water shot with every droplet visible, maybe consider what sort of equipment they've used to get that shot and don't feel bad that you can't replicate it on your phone!

What do you use to take photos?

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Read more posts from this series here!

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