Phone recommendations - share your experience!

I need a new phone.
And its main purpose should be: iNatting!

Yes, I know - there are many requests for phone recommendations here in the forum, but I was missing some crucial information in those (e.g. the handling).

And it is not all numbers and specifications, but also personal experiences, that you won’t find on a data sheet. And few user test are focusing on above purpose.

So, I’d like to hear from you not only recommendations, but, if you have, also issues you had with your device, and thus I think this feedback will not only benefit me but also others with a similar need.

Here’s what I want:

  • not too large (currently, I have a 6.3’’ display, which fits in my trouser and jacket pockets and can be operated by me one hand (if not for the issues mentioned below)
  • fast access to camera and quick shooting of photos (ideally, manageable with one hand)
  • macro zoom not necessary, as it increases the cost and I already have clip-on lenses. But might still be an option, if there aren’t to many downsides
  • easy access to the camera roll for uploading

Here’s what I struggled with:

  • my biggest upset with my current model is that I have to decrease the brightness almost every time before shooting
  • the focus is usually on the background and difficult to adjust manually. Even if I use a large object, e.g. my hand, in the foreground, my phone often fails to focus
  • it struggles with flowers in bright light, and the colors often are very artificial, even when decreasing the brightness
  • in general, the manual settings are not easily adjustable, so I am mainly relying on the camera’s ‘decisions’

Yes, I also tried third-party camera apps, but these had there own drawbacks and were not satisfying.

So, any recommendations or own complaints highly appreciated :)

Pixel 7

  • The Pixel 7 is 6.1" by 2.9", so quite skewed toward height. That alongside the positioning of the volume and power buttons on the same side of the phone make handling this model in the wilderness quite awkward, since I often need my second hand to manipulate branches, leaves and flowers. I don’t really see the benefit of such a height-skewed display, for the aforementioned reasons and the fact that audiovisual media rarely takes full advantage of it because it doesn’t respect the conventional 16:9 aspect ratio, being 2400 px by 1080 px.

  • The default camera app can be set to open with 2 clicks of the power button, similarly to an iPhone. However, the app’s finer settings (photo resolution, photo and video encoding formats, permissions, face detect, grid display, etc.) are only accessible with the Pixel 7 unlocked. As explained above handling this model can be inconvenient at times.

  • The camera’s shutter is quite reactive and adaptable to various light conditions. Its minimal aperture of 1.85 is satisfactory, albeit not unique as far as smartphones go. I’ve encountered a nasty software bug which releases the built-in flash after light capture, rendering it unusable through the default camera app. I know this malfunction to be software-related because the flash syncs properly through third-party apps.

  • The Google Photos camera roll is readily accessible through the iNaturalist app (Android’s is much better than Apple’s). I recommend the creation of an album dedicated to iNaturalist photos.

  • I have not felt the need to manually adjust brightness pre-shoot, although the option is available. Tapping the area I want in focus is sufficient brightness adjustment for me.

  • Close-up focus is markedly difficult in low exposure, especially on dark and narrow subjects like twigs and leaf buds. It is much more reliable in high exposure, facilitated by the 2x optical zoom. Colours never look artificial to me, unless I crank the HDR effect slider to the max in post.

  • ISO, shutter speed and aperture are not manually adjustable. This is rather insignificant for aperture given its narrow range, but I wish one of the other 2 could be controlled.

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I use a Pixel 7 for inatting as well. In addition to what @frontyardscientist( said - one thing I find invaluable is focus lock. I point the phone to my hand, from roughly 10cm away, then long-press the screen, and focus gets locked. Then I point my phone to the flower-that-did-not-want-to-focus and it now is in perfect focus and I can even adjust which part of the flower is in focus by moving the phone slightly back and forth.

Related to that, the builtin macro mode is horrible, but by default will sometimes randomly engage even when more than 10cm away. Initially that led to some disappointments when the thumbnails looked good but then zooming in at home I realized the picture had been taken with the wrong lens and looked terrible. Luckily it’s possible to completely disable macro mode (the camera app insists on displaying a warning when you get closer than 10cm with macro disabled, but easy to just ignore).

One other annoyance of the builtin camera app, there is no way to have the flashlight on at the same time as taking a picture. During winter it often is dark when I get to inat and so the builtin camera app is useless, and I mostly use a third party camera app (Open Camera) which allows taking pictures while the flashlight is on (and also has a much better focus lock, I permanently set it to the closest possible focus and never have to use auto focus or the hand trick with it).


No way I just learned about focus lock :person_facepalming: Thanks for the info

I’d again vote for Pixel for the above reasons. I got a refurbished 3a for $200 in 2020 and it’s still working great for me.

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so, already worth starting the thread :)

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I recently purchased a Motorola Stylus and it’s a lot better than the Nokia 5.4 I had before but still not the best for photos. The biggest upgrade was installing Hedge Cam 2. It has a lot of manual control options like exposure, color, and focus.

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Forgot to mention: I currently use a Xiaomi Redmi Note 7

On the flip side, I would not recommend an iPhone camera, although it has some fine features otherwise. I appreciate the way iPhones effortlessly transfer GPS data, date and time to the iNat app.

I find the iPhone camera app to be frustrating. The Pro Max models have a better camera (I used to have one), but the large size was awkward to use as I have smaller hands. I could not operate a Pro Max camera with one hand.

The iPhone 13 Pro model I have now struggles to get a good focus. From talking to a few other users, I do not think that problem is isolated to me.


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