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25th Sep 2018

Are Smartphone Cameras as Good as a DSLR?


Roughly a decade ago, many people were still using point and shoot digital cameras to capture photos. But in the intervening years, smartphone cameras have advanced to incredible levels. Today, the point and shoot camera market has all but evaporated because of this. After all, who needs an independent camera if all you have an amazing piece of equipment right inside your smartphone?

The exception to that notion has been for keen photographers, or those looking for more advanced capabilities from their camera equipment, who stick with the professional DSLR. The digital single-lens reflex camera, or DSLR, contains mirrors, a prism, and other pieces; a digital camera that “combines the optics and the mechanisms of a single-lens reflex camera with a digital imaging sensor.”

Yet some may be eschewing the bulkier, more complex DSLR cameras for the high-calibre ones inside their smartphone. After all, your smartphone camera is far more convenient to use, usually sitting just inside your back pocket. These cameras are also incredibly simple to use, operating in a quality ‘auto’ mode that just requires you to press a single button to grab a great shot.

People are often talking about how smartphone camera technology is catching up to DSLR technology due to its constant advancements. Such opinions hold that in another decade or so, smartphone cameras will have come so far that DSLRs may be nearly obsolete. Yet we can’t disregard that, while smartphone camera technology is developing by leaps and bounds, DSLR tech is too. In 10 years’ time, we’ll expect a lot more from DSLR cameras, and smartphone cameras may or may not be comparable.

Modern smartphones offer powerful camera features right in your hand.

Photography for the Masses

When talking about smartphone cameras vs. DSLRs it’s important that we look at the photography world as a whole. Things are changing, and have been for a while. Though there will always be professional photographers who are likely devoted to the top professional equipment, today’s smartphone camera ubiquity has made amateur ‘photographers’ out of many of us.

Smartphones have allowed us to capture images instantly, and not just to capture them but to edit them and share them. In 2018, we no longer simply want the convenience to take photos whenever we like, we also want to be able to share them right away. This is why for the ‘modern photographer,’ a smartphone camera really is going to be more important.

Take, for instance, today’s social media ‘influencer.’ This individual has built a career on sharing images that portray a certain lifestyle, encouraging followers to visit a destination or buy an item. These individuals may not always be trained photographers (or even consider themselves photographers), but with the growing competition on Instagram and other platforms, these influencers need the best camera gear. Not only that, but they need to produce content quickly and share quickly. For this type of 2018 photographer, a smartphone is probably the ideal way to do business. A smartphone camera can easily go with you wherever you may be.

One might argue that the ease of snapping and sharing images is hurting the photography industry. With so many of us claiming to be ‘photographers’---and with the resulting inundation of images---are we starting to glaze over what we see? Are we less attentive to detail simply because we’re overwhelmed with an endless barrage of photos? We’re living through a changing culture of camera use. People are shooting more photos, more spontaneously, and it could be that individual photos mean less to people. Perhaps the constant convenience of photography has resulted in an oversupply of photos which has driven their sentimental value down. These are big questions, but they are ones worth considering when it comes to how photography is transforming.

Is the prevalence of smartphone cameras changing the culture of photography?

The Best Smartphone Cameras Out There

Demand is up for mobile phones to come equipped with first-rate cameras, and many manufacturers are eager to provide.

There are some truly excellent cameras found in a handful of today’s flagship smartphones. The Samsung Galaxy S9+, for instance, is well-known for its superlative camera capabilities. Its impressive 12-megapixel rear-facing camera does not have a fixed aperture, but instead has a variable aperture that can move between f/1.5 and f/2.4. This enables it to grab far better images in low light situations. There are also dual cameras on the back, which let users create that beautiful ‘bokeh’ effect. While you’d need a special lens and some photography knowledge to manage this on a DSLR, the S9+ does it for you. This means a level of professional imagery delivered even to those with little to no photo experience.

There are many smartphones, like the S9+, which are able to shoot RAW files, too. This is standard in DSLRs but unusual in a smartphone camera. When editing a RAW file, vs a JPEG, photographers can have a lot more control over the resulting image. Combined with advanced level smartphone editing apps such as Lightroom CC and you see how smartphone cameras could start to hold a candle to DSLRs.

Yet even the Galaxy S9+ falls short in many ways. Despite plenty of options in the PRO mode, mimicking what a DSLR can do, the S9+ cannot quite accomplish the same results. For instance, on a DSLR you can control your shutter speed, turning it down to a very slow speed in order to capture beautiful effects, such as smooth waterfalls or a brilliant night sky. The S9+ cannot capture beyond a few seconds, so Milky Way astrophotography is out with the S9+. While not everyone intends to take night sky photos with their camera, this example shows how a DSLR always pulls slightly ahead of the smartphone camera. Ultimately, DSLRs will always produce better image quality than a smartphone camera will.

Why the DSLR Will Always Reign Supreme

Even the very best smartphone camera just doesn’t quite compare with the ultimate versatility and superiority of a DSLR. Primarily, this is due to the lack of full control you have with a smartphone camera.

DSLRs are built to help you achieve the exact photo you want, in virtually any conditions. Photographers can alter countless aspects of the DSLR to capture the image they need. These minor tweaks can make a huge difference in the final image result. But when you only have a split second to capture a shot (such as in wildlife photography or at a wedding) you need that total control. Those little adjustments can mean the difference between a blurred image and a downright masterpiece.

The DSLR also is capable of enormous versatility. It can accommodate interchangeable lenses designed to match specific photo settings. The smartphone camera, on the other hand, must strike a balance between the various lens powers. For something like a telephoto lens, which allows photographers to capture high-quality images at a distance, there is no substitute in the world of smartphones.

Truthfully, there’s a reason you don’t see a professional portrait photographer snapping photos with their iPhone. There’s a reason that you probably wouldn’t want your wedding photographer to show up with just a smartphone. No matter how amazing our camera technology gets, there are certain advanced abilities that can only be attained with a full frame DSLR camera. Even the size and shape of them indicates that there’s a lot of mechanics and physics going on in there that a skinny smartphone cannot fully replicate.

The Best Camera is the One You Have With You

There’s a saying that “the best camera is the one you have with you.”

There’s so much truth to this statement. A skilled photographer can capture an amazing shot with just about any piece of equipment. Sure, there may be limitations, but photography is often more about the artist than their tools.

This means that you can have a great time creating art with whatever camera you have available to you. For many of us, having a great smartphone camera makes sense because we don’t want an extra piece of equipment, and if we’re spending a fair amount of money for our smartphone, we probably don’t have heaps of funds left over to purchase a DSLR.

At the end of the day, smartphones can be an excellent photographic tool for the average user, or even the busy professional who needs to create quality content and share it fast. (Of course, many modern DSLRs have Wi-Fi connectivity so you can share your images quickly).

There’s no doubt that smartphone camera capabilities will continue to impress us going forward. But, for the absolute best quality photos there are a lot of reasons why the DSLR will always reign supreme.

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