It’s a common saying that “the best camera you have is the one you keep with you.” You can browse the Internet to find stunning photos taken with many cameras, including smartphones and DSLRs. Perhaps you are a professional photographer who looks at a smartphone shot and thinks, “Imagine how much more beautiful that photo would look if it was taken with a professional-level camera.” If so, you might be a photo enthusiast who can capture stunning photos with your smartphone and wonder why anyone would want to sell their car and buy a full-frame rig and then carry all that gear around. A smartphone can fit in your pocket. But, it doesn’t come down to DSLR cameras being better than smartphones. It all comes down to which one is best for you. Let’s explore.
Smart Smartphone Cameras
Smartphone cameras have become a powerful tool that has largely replaced point-and-shoot cameras. It is extremely convenient to use one device to handle all your tech needs. Many of the high-end features smartphones used to lack are now available in the latest iOS and Android phones. Although older smartphones had a single lens that could be used for digital zoom and fixed focal length, it is now more common to find smartphones with multiple lenses. The iPhone 11 Pro Max and 11 Pro Max have three rear-facing lenses with 35mm equivalent focal longs. They are 13mm f/2.4 and 26mm, respectively f/1.8 and 51mm respectively f/2.0. The iPhone 11 has two rear-facing lenses with equivalent 35mm focal lengths, 26mm f/1.8 and 51mm, respectively. The Portrait Mode on each phone allows for soft backgrounds and longer lenses with wider apertures. Many clip-on lenses can be added to your smartphone that will allow you to adapt it for macro, fisheye, wide-angle and telephoto photography, as well as anamorphic video. You will not be carrying four lenses on your smartphone, but the weight is much less than four DSLR lenses. B&H offers a variety of mobile filters and add-on lenses.
Moment Wide Lens
Smartphones are being made with faster lenses to allow for greater light intake. The iPhone 11’s 26mm and 51mm lenses open to f/1.8, f/2.0 respectively. The Samsung S10+ has a 12mm lens that allows for an aperture value up to f/2.2. Faster apertures capture more light and allow easier control over the focus of which area of the image you want. Using manual exposure, you can control shutter speed, ISO, JPEG, raw captures, and more. This is similar to a DSLR. Lightroom CC is a popular smartphone app that allows users great control over their images. It can shoot HDR images in Adobe DNG format and produce high-quality images for small print or the Internet. Synchronization is available for Adobe Creative Cloud users. Many phones now have LED flash units, which blend better with ambient light sources to provide flash for your photos.
Samsung Galaxy S10+ SM-G975U 128GB Smartphone
Smartphones and DSLR cameras are great, but…
Smartphones are an extremely user-friendly tool for taking photos. But, there are certain areas that they cannot do with a DSLR system. Their small image sensor size is the first. The iPhone 11 Pro Max has a 12-megapixel sensor. It is a great camera, but it cannot match or even replace high-resolution full-frame sensors 24x36mm from Canon or Nikon, such as the 5DS R, 5D Mark IV or D850. Why not opt for a smartphone with more megapixels, such as the Nokia 9 PureView TA-1082 with its 20-megapixel front and five 20MP rear cameras? Although more pixels will give you more resolution, a smaller sensor and more pixels mean that the results will not represent a larger sensor. Image noise, especially at higher ISO settings, will be more evident.
Nokia 9 PureView 128GB Smartphone
These cameras offer superior resolution if you shoot in DX or APSC formats. The larger sensors of DSLRs also offer a greater dynamic range, which is particularly useful for low light scenes or scenes with high contrast. You also can swap lenses and use any focal lengths that you like.
The difference between smartphones and DSLRs is the physical shutter and optical viewfinder on the DSLRs versus the smartphone’s electronic display and shutter. This is not necessarily a disadvantage and can be a matter of preference. EVFs and shutters allow you to see exactly what your camera sees. This will give you a good idea of how your exposure will look, including highlights and shadows. You can then make adjustments as needed. The final images and EVF previews can become noisier when using higher ISOs. There can also be rolling shutters with fast-moving subjects. External flash units can prove difficult. Smartphones can also experience shutter lag and slower autofocus performance.
No matter what method you use to capture images, they must be saved somewhere. Smartphones have integrated storage, while DSLRs use memory cards. However, there are increasing numbers of Android smartphones that can also accept microSD cards. These are both good and bad. You can swap out storage with your DSLRs using the card slots. However, you are out of luck if you forget any media (which is quite common). You don’t need to worry about getting memory cards when you go out the door. But once your storage is full, it’s over. There are ways to offload storage from your device while you’re on the move. All USB drives that have a Lightning connector interface with iOS devices are made by SanDisk and Transcend and Silicon Power, Gigastone and Verbatim. You can also use wireless hard drives to transfer images from your smartphone via an app or to download memory cards in the field. You can find more information and see all the options in Roundup Wireless Hard Drives in my Explora article.
My smartphone and my DSLR complement each other as active photographers. Smartphones will never be the best camera, except for the increase in sensor size. But they will still be powerful tools. It’s not about which device is more technically superior, but which one is more useful. As technology evolves rapidly, DSLR systems can also be expected to keep up with the pace of smartphone cameras.