Jonathan Dobres

shutter bugged

The latest iPhone is all about the camera. The lenses are a marvel, and the future of photography is machine learning. With the iPhone 11, there are now several orders of magnitude more computational power behind your vacation snaps of Disney than there were in the systems that put man on the moon.

And it is all useless to me.

It’s the UI, of course. They made a small change to the camera’s behavior. The Camera app gives you two ways to take a picture: press the software shutter button, or press the hardware Volume Up key on the side of the phone. Before the iPhone 11, holding down either of these buttons would put the camera in Burst Mode, allowing it to capture a rapid succession of still images. As of the iPhone 11, holding down these buttons causes the camera to transition to video capture mode.

Which means I will never be able to take a good picture on an iPhone 11.

I have mild cerebral palsy, and with it, mild intentional tremor. My hands are fine at rest, but will often shake when I’m doing things with them—putting the key in my front door, carefully aligning a ruler, and my favorite, carrying a brimming cup of scalding coffee to my desk. The tremor isn’t bad and usually isn’t a big deal, though I suppose it depends on how full the coffee cup is.

My tremor is most annoying, believe it or not, when I pull out my phone to take a picture. Taking a picture requires not just holding the camera steady, but holding it steady while actively pressing a button. This inevitably causes my hand to shake slightly, which inevitably produces a blurred photo. Burst Mode was the answer to my prayers. It allowed me to press the shutter button, get my little shake over with, and capture some nice crisp photos from mid-burst.

Not so with the iPhone 11, which interprets the held shutter button as a command to begin shooting video. There is a fallback gesture that initiates Burst Mode on these phones, but it’s unintuitive, hard to discover, and most importantly, does not seem very tremor-friendly. So despite the fact that I am still using an iPhone 8, and these new cameras seem very tempting, I can’t possibly upgrade to an iPhone 11. It doesn’t matter how advanced the computational photography is if I can’t hold the thing steady.

Then again, my tremor is mild, and I can occasionally summon a Zen-like calm that makes this a nonissue. By the time I get there, though, the spotted egret that I had wanted to capture mid-flight will have long since died. Really, would it have killed Apple to make this a user-configurable option?

Update July 5, 2020

Per Apple’s preview of iOS 14, this behavior has been fixed! From the docs:

A new option allows you to capture burst photos by pressing the Volume Up button, and QuickTake video can be captured on supported devices using the Volume Down button.

I’m thinking my four year-old iPhone 7 is due for an upgrade. The new cameras are really something.