Chase Jarvis is a famous and award winning photographer that coined the phrase “The best camera is the one that’s with you”. It wasn’t that long ago that photography was a hobby for a select few. We are now living in a time period where most people spend every waking moment of their lives toting around a high powered camera and video recorder in their smartphones. And for the last decade, the most popular smartphone in the United States has been Apple’s iPhone. When the first iterations of the iPhone were released, the camera performance left a lot to be desired. With the latest version of the iPhone 7, there aren’t too many situations that leave me wishing I had packed my Sony a6000.
I’ve had my iPhone 7 since it was released in 2016. Over the past few months, I’ve been able to test it in full and will share my experience in this review. Feel free to jump around or skip ahead using the links below.
|Storage: 32/128/256GB||Screen: 4.7in|
|Weight: 4.87oz||Camera: 12MP f/1.8|
|Video: 4k at 60fps, Slo-mo||Cellular: GSM and CDMA|
|Location: Assisted GPS and GLONASS||Price: $649/$749/$849|
Design and Hardware:
For those looking to pick up a new iPhone, the choice comes down to the 4.7″ iPhone and the 5.5″ iPhone 7 Plus. I opted for the iPhone 7, as I prefer it’s smaller footprint and weight. I tried the iPhone 7 Plus, but was not able to fit it in my pant pocket or into the chest or waist belt pockets on my backpack. It was also difficult to use the iPhone 7 Plus one handed. The only major advantages of the iPhone 7 Plus are a larger screen at 401ppi vs 326ppi, a larger battery, and a 2x optical camera zoom.
The iPhone 7 is made of aluminum and has proven to be a very tough phone. I’m not the kind of person that drops my phone a lot, so I can’t give you anecdotes about high drops and facedown slams. I do have an infant at home though, and he’s given me more than a few scares. My iPhone has hit the deck from around 3 feet on more than a few occasions, and there isn’t even a scratch to show for the falls.
The iPhone 7 is 4.44″x2.64″x.28″, and is very easy to control and manipulate with one hand. As I mentioned above, this is the main factor that pushed me towards an iPhone 7 instead of the larger iPhone 7 Plus.
The home button is new for the iPhone 7 and has a haptic feedback response system in place of the old tactile button. This means that the button doesn’t actually move. The phone senses your finger to register clicks, of which you can set a signal response from 1 to 3 in strength. The plus side of this haptic home button is that it allows for the iPhone to be water resistant. The downside is that it struggles to register my thumb when it gets wet, when I have cold hands, or when I’m wearing gloves. The solution is wearing a pair of gloves that is smartphone or touch screen friendly, or taking my hands out of my gloves to use the phone. This was only an issue for a few winter outings this year. The vast majority of the time, this home button worked very well.
Ports, Speakers, and Buttons
The iPhone 7 has volume toggle and a mute switch on the left hand side, and a sleep/wake button on the right hand side. The ear piece has a built in stereo speaker, and the bottom of the phone has a built in microphone and stereo speaker. Playing music out loud or listening to mileage updates from Strava is pretty nice on these speakers, but the directional bottom facing speaker can cause issues if blocked.
On the bottom of the iPhone 7, Apple sticks with their proprietary Lightning port. The major downside to this phone is that it doesn’t have a headphone jack, and requires a dongle or a set of headphones with a Lightning cable. I like to listen to Hardcore History podcasts when I’m on long hikes, and that along with running a GPS app and taking photos can really eat up a battery. If I ever need to charge my phone while on a hike, I’m not able to do so while listening to a podcast at the same time. In practice, this hasn’t been an issue nearly as much as I thought it would be back when I bought the iPhone 7. I can count two instances in 7 months that this was a problem.
The 4.7″ screen on the iPhone is an LED (light emitting diode) panel. I’ve used a few OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screens in the past and definitely prefer them, but this LED retina screen is pretty good. When holding the iPhone 7 in direct sunlight with the display at full brightness, I’m able to see everything very clearly.
The iPhone 7 is splash, water, and dust resistant with a rating of IP67. For those that aren’t familiar, the IP rating stands for ingress protection. The first number of the rating is for solids and is on a scale from 1-6, with 6 being dust tight. The second number of the rating is for liquids on a scale of 1-8, with a 7 being immersion up to 1 meter.
I’ve taken the iPhone 7 out in rain and snow, and have subjected it to a ton of dust. Being that this is my personal phone, I haven’t done any tests of full water submersion. I’ve seen a few online though, and the iPhone 7 holds up very well.
The iPhone 7 has a 1,960 mAh battery. For those unfamiliar, mAh stands for milliamp hour and is used to describe the total amount of energy a battery can store. For reference, the iPhone 7 Plus can store 2,900 mAH. This is one area that I think the iPhone 7 could use some improvement to be used as an adventure phone. I understand the design aesthetic reason for wanting a slimmer phone, but slim does not bode well for battery life. I’m able to extend the battery life on my iPhone 7 by turning on airplane mode and dimming the screen, but it doesn’t make up for having such a small battery. If I’m running a GPS app, listening to a podcast, and taking lots of photo and video on a 6 hour hike, I usually have around 40% of my battery left. If I have it on airplane mode, that number is closer to 70% (a lot of battery gets eaten up when the phone is searching for a cell signal). For day hikes and day trips, that kind of usage is fine. For multi-day trips without access to a charger, a larger battery would be useful.
Performance and Apps:
I’m not going to get into the iOS vs Android debate in this review. I use both operating systems regularly, and both have their pluses and minuses. One area that iOS has Android beat by a long margin is in the App Store (unless you’re rooting your Android). Developers update and publish higher quality apps to Apple’s App Store than they do for Android’s Google Play Store. The major reason for this is fragmentation. When the latest version of Android comes out, there are usually about 1-2% of phones that have it installed. For the latest version of iOS, this number is closer to 80-90%. For this reason, it’s much easier for a developer to design and update apps based on the latest version of iOS.
TheAssisted GPS and GLONASS GPS on my iPhone has proven to be pretty accurate most of the time. I’ve used this phone to track runs, hikes, and short backpacking trips. Every now and again when I’m hiking in areas that have a lot of satellite interference, I get inaccurate tracks. The two most recent hikes that showed this were Santiago Peak and Mt. Wilson. I tracked these hikes with my Suunto Ambit 2 as a point of comparison, and got to see just how far off the readings were. I created a map below of the Mt. Wilson hike, so that you can see the inaccuracies from the iPhone. For Mt. Wilson, a 16 miles hike was recorded as 17.9 miles on Strava.
There are a lot of factors that influence GPS accuracy, so I don’t want to put this all on the iPhone 7. I just know that my Suunto Ambit 2 has none of the same accuracy issues.
Apps for Hiking and Travel
- Snapseed – This is my favorite app for editing photos for web use.
- Motion Stills – This app converts Live Photos into GIFs.
- Google Photos – I use this app to backup, store, and reference all of my photos.
- Play Memories – I’m able to use this app to transfer photos from my Sony a6000 to my phone.
- Strava – This app has the best social features for tracking friends and professionals.
- All Trails – This app has the best search functions for local trails.
- GAIA GPS – This is the most robust and feature rich app for GPS tracking and downloadable maps.
- Garmin Earthmate – I’m able to use this app to operate my Delorme inReach.
Camera and Photography:
The iPhone 7 has a 12mp camera sensor and a lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.8. The lens has optical image stabilization that does a great job at reducing the effects of hand held camera shake. The lens on the camera has a 75.4 degree field of view, which would be 28mm on a 35mm format camera. For hiking purposes, I wish the lens was closer to a 20mm, but the effective 28mm focal length makes the iPhone 7 much more useful for day-to-day shooting. The iPhone 7 has a quad-LED True Tone flash, but I hate the way flash looks in photos, so I never use it.
The iPhone 7 camera can be fast launched with a swipe left on an active lock screen. This allows me to access the camera app quickly when needed. On my Nexus 6P, I am able to do this much faster by double pressing the sleep/wake button. The swipe doesn’t take too long, but it would be nice if I could launch the camera with a tactile button.
The image IQ of the camera itself is really quite remarkable. Below you will see a selection of images I’ve taken across California. I’ve tried to include a nice mix of low light, outdoors, indoors, and selfies. None of these images have been post processed or edited other than adding a thumbnail.
The iPhone 7 takes Live Photos which are essentially GIFs with audio. I wasn’t quite sure what the purpose of live photos were at first, but now that I’ve had this phone for a while, I’m beginning to see their use. A live photo can be viewed as a still, viewed as a GIF(when processed), or viewed as a Live Photo which is like a short video clip. I love being able to take live photos during scenes that involve movement, and then decide which format I want to use later.
The iPhone 7 can take 3D photos using the Google Street View app. The process is time consuming and tedious, but it can be done.
For video, the iPhone 7 is able to record 4k footage at 30fps. I prefer to shoot 1080p at 60fps. The iPhone 7 can also shoot slow motion footage at 120fps in 1080p and 240fps in 720p. The best part about shooting video with this phone is the optical image stabilization and cinematic video stabilization. These features really reduce the amount of post processing that needs to be done in Premier Pro
You can see some samples of the videos I’ve taken on my iPhone 7 in the YouTube clip below. These video clips have not been post processed.
The iPhone 7 has been a highly functional smartphone for my hiking and traveling needs. The highlight of the phone is the photo and video capturing ability. The only changes I’d like to see in the iPhone 7s(8), is an OLED display, and a larger battery.
- Great camera for photo and video
- App availability
- Size and portability
- IP67 rating for water and dust protection
- Durable and toughness
- Battery life
- No headphone jack
- Directional stereo speak
- Haptic home button in cold weather
11 thoughts on “Gear Review: The iPhone 7 for Hiking and Travel”
Great review. Sounds like the camera is pretty decent which is always a big factor for me as well. My battery life gives me lots of grief, think I need to upgrade but not sure I can afford the 7.
Thanks, Miriam! The camera is pretty nice for a smartphone. I love being able to take shots at restaurants or museums without lugging my larger camera around. Batteries on smartphones are always a point of grief when they reach around two years old. Very few manufacturers make them easy or cheap to replace.
True. I still need to get a new one though.
I’m glad to see this today! I just switched last week and hadn’t had time to really see what I could do with it. Honestly I got it because I knew I would buy Apple, and my old one was not working great and only had 16g which was always full. If you’re traveling a lot and taking a lot of photos that fills up in a about a minute! Thanks for the insight!
I agree! I have the 128GB for that exact reason. I shoot a ton of photo and video which fills up a hard drive fast!
Nice review! I have the iPhone 7 Plus, and I love it! When you get older (I’m 63), you’ll see why it’s great having a bigger screen, Drew. 😉 What I especially like about the 7 Plus’ camera is the 2X optical zoom. It’s excellent! I’m scheduled to hike in the Grand Canyon next weekend (for the first time!). Of course, I’ll take plenty of photos with my iPhone; however, I also will have the Nikon 1 V2 mirrorless camera attached to my Camelbak strap (via the Peak Design Capture Clip) and a Nikon Coolpix S3700 point and shoot in my pocket just in case. I’m hoping this combination will give me plenty of great photos to add to my visual memories.
Thanks, Susan! I guess I’ll have to get the Plus version for my next phone 🙂 The 2x optical zoom is pretty amazing, and I really like the new portrait mode that adds a bokeh effect with software. It was a tough call to be sure, but the size is what sold me. Maybe I need to get a backpack with bigger pockets!
It sounds like you’re going to have all of your photography options covered for the Grand Canyon. Are you hiking down South Kaibab? The Canyon is an incredible place for photography. I like hiking down before sunrise and then watching the sun illuminate the Canyon walls as it comes into view.
We’re hopefully doing two hikes. The first one on May 20 will be down South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch, adding on the Clear Creek Trail, and then back up Bright Angel. The second one on May 22 probably will be down South Kaibab to Tonto’s Traverse to Plateau Point and up Bright Angel. We were supposed to do South to North Rim on the 20th and North to South Rim on the 22nd; however, a rock slide knocked out a water pipe on the North Rim, causing the North Rim Lodge to cancel reservations until the next weekend. Bummer for us, but any hike in the Grand Canyon will be epic! I’m looking forward to seeing and photographing the sunrise on South Kaibab; it’s supposed to be amazing there.
That sounds like a great itinerary. Hiking down South Kaibab and back up Bright Angel is a really nice hike. I’ve done the South Rim to North Rim hike a few times, and was planning to do it again this year, so thanks for the info on the water pipe. I had not heard of that happening. Have fun!
Here’s an update: Just before we left on our Grand Canyon trip, the North Rim pipeline was fixed. So I got to hike South to North Rim (South Kaibab to North Kaibab trails) and stay at the Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim. Very lucky! I ended up snapping more photos with my iPhone 7 Plus than with my Nikon 1 V2 during the hike—both did a great job. Unfortunately, I strained my left knee during the steep downhill descent, so I had to ride in a car back to the South Rim instead of hiking there.
Here are my first two of four blog posts (the other two should be up next week):
Thanks for the update! I’m going to check out your posts now. Too bad you hurt your knee. At least you got to go South to North though!