mobile_vs_camera
Tips & Tricks

Smartphones vs Cameras: Is PRO Camera Still Worth Buying in 2020

No one can deny the fact that smartphones have taken a great leap forward in camera quality during the past years. Today, almost every phone has two or more lenses to choose from – standard, wide-angle, superwide angle, and many more. Yeah, and imagine the insane 100x zoom on Samsung… it’s becoming almost standard! AI is growing incredibly smart. Every time a shutter button is released, your smartphone combines several photos and automatically creates perfect HDR images. You won’t find blown out spots (too white spots) neither underexposed shadows (too black spots) in the photo.¬†

In other words ‚Äď no matter what you shoot, the phone will handle the situation and the light conditions very well. The same applies to video ‚Äď the software image stabilization is so good that it can‚Äôt be even compared with some modern cameras. You don‚Äôt need to buy an action camera anymore! Sounds great, doesn’t it?¬†

But what if you wanted to take your photos to the next level. Maybe get better results than the average smartphone user? What if you need to print the photo? Or edit the shot in post-production? Or what if you want to take pictures of something more specific like wildlife? 

I am gonna give you 3 great reasons why the classic cameras are still worth buying ūüďł

What’s the better choice DSLR or camera phone?¬†¬†– contents:

iPhone 11 vs. Pro DSLR Camera – image comparison

The Internet is being flooded with controversial articles about the differences between photographic phones and cameras today. I decided to compare the images on a simple scene, which we all love to shoot, a sunset. 

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to take a picture of the same scene with a camera (Nikon Z6) and the latest iPhone 11. Both devices were on a tripod. At first glance, the results are quite different. All the textures, shadows, highlights, and colors look a bit messy in the photo from the iPhone. We will see an even bigger difference if we look at the detail (see the next 2 photos below). Although the iPhone did a good job, the pro camera is clearly a winner. 

All the parts on the iPhone photo are automatically well exposed. Maybe except the sun and the details in the shadows, but it’s easily fixable in post-production. As for the photo from the camera, I needed to blend the sky in Photoshop to achieve a similar HDR result as on the iPhone.¬†

Just to explain, the HDR or high dynamic range is used to achieve a perfectly exposed photo in all its parts. When the lightning conditions in one scene are significantly different eg. you are taking a photo against the sun, you need to use HDR. The effect combines more photos – underexposed, overexposed in one, so you will see the details in shadows and at the same time details in highlights. The smartphone combines these shots automatically, whereas you need to do it manually with your DSLR.

Sunset capture in Krkonose mountains by Nikon Z6
Sunset in the KrkonoŇ°e Mountains - camera
Sunset capture in Krkonose mountains by Iphone
Sunset in the KrkonoŇ°e Mountains - Iphone
Sunset capture in Krkonose mountains by Nikon Z6 - detail
Detail of a sunset scene - camera
Sunset capture in Krkonose mountains by Iphone - detail
Detail of a sunset scene - Iphone

Do you want to print photos in the future?

Although smartphones can capture insane shots automatically, the photo quality is partly an illusion. Photos can look great on your small 6″ mobile screen, but when you look at them on your computer or TV, you will find the resulting image might not be as good as it looked in the first place. And you can be quite disappointed. Remember that average smartphones have 12 megapixel sensors, so after cropping the original photo, you easily drop to 8 megapixels. Which is still enough for A4 printing, but not A3 or larger.

Another fact – the sensor on any smartphone is still very small compared to a digital camera sensor (iPhone sensor size is ‚Äė1 / 2.55‚Äô), which reflects in a lot of noise in the photo in poor lighting conditions. Yes, the AI of the smartphone can handle this problem very well, but the resulting image is often blurry and strange-looking soft textures in the shadows. And not to mention the optics problems like chromatic aberration (such as color defects in treetops), extreme lens flares, and so on.

In short ‚Äď it‚Äôs not all about megapixels (many professional cameras have “only” around 20 Mpx). You should understand that the overall quality of the photo from the smartphone is full of compromises if you do not shoot under ideal conditions. However, the sensor of a smartphone camera is generally significantly better than wide-angle and zoom lenses, which are currently considered by manufacturers as additional lenses.

lens_flare_Iphone
Extreme lens flare - Iphone 11 (photographed without a tripod with a wide-angle lens)
KrkonoŇ°e_z√°pad_Iphone_st√≠ny
100% zoom on a photo taken with an iPhone - blurred textures and shadows

Do you want to edit photos later?

Of course, you can later edit photos from your smartphone as well as from a camera. You can even take shots from your mobile phone in RAW format (a format that allows you to make more significant changes to the photo without compromising quality) if your phone supports it. Usually, smartphones use .dng format for RAW images. Or you can download a new camera app (ProShot, ProCam …). 

The problem is that if you plan to edit photos in a way that you have to use Photoshop-type applications (photo blending, etc.), you lose the main advantage of your smartphone ‚Äď the beautiful simplicity where AI does the vast majority of the work for you and saves you a lot of time. Taking photos with a smartphone then makes much less sense because you voluntarily start the editing process with much lower photo quality.

Do you want to take pictures of something more specific?

This point is probably clear to most of you. If you want to take pictures of sports, wildlife or birds from time to time, it is not possible to take good shots with a mobile phone. Focusing will also be a big problem. While in the case of a camera, all you have to do is put on the appropriate telephoto lens. A difficult situation also occurs in the case of night photos and so on. Likewise, you will not achieve effects such as bokeh (blurring the background -separating the person or subject from everything else in the photo). Yes, the artificial intelligence of smartphones can mimic this effect, but it often works poorly and looks unnatural. And especially bokeh is something that is so pleasing to the human eye, isn’t it?

On the other hand, even with a smartphone, it is possible to take long exposures (for example, the sky, waterfalls, or sea/water) ‚Äď just buy adequate ND filters that will extend your exposure.

Capture of a baby goat (dolomites in Italy)
Example of bokeh effect - Nikon Z6 camera (185 mm)

So should I choose a digital camera or a good camera smartphone?

I cannot believe I would ever say this but… The top smartphones today provide good enough photos in most situations and at the touch of a button. For most people, it doesn’t make sense to buy a professional camera because it’s much less practical. A photo from a smartphone often looks better straight on the display than a photo from a 10x more expensive camera. Why? The AI has already processed the photo, while the image from the camera is waiting for you to upload it to your PC and edit it. And who prints photos from their smartphone, right? Most of us only post them on Instagram. Also, controls of the professional camera are much more complicated, whereas the AI on a smartphone takes care of everything РISO, shutter speed, aperture, white balance, and even colors depending on the situation. Camera manufacturers (especially Nikon and Sony) should finally be aware of this gap, which is getting bigger and bigger every year, and stop focusing only on increasing hardware parameters.

But if any of the 3 reasons above apply to you, the situation is different. The AI of smartphones is amazing, but it works with what‚Äôs at its core (weak optics, small sensor, and few megapixels) ‚Äď and that‚Äôs not enough. Yes, learning to work with a proper camera costs more effort, it is definitely the harder option. But the reward can be sweet!

One more thing ‚Äď the feeling of holding a proper camera and taking a good photo is simply‚Ķ Irreplaceable ūüėČ.

 

Which photo smarphones are among the best today? Take a look at DXOMARK charts and reviews.

Pros and cons of camera phones:

PROS

  1. Amazing AI that solves most problems automatically for you (blending multiple exposures, etc.)
  2. By default, it is not necessary to edit photos on a PC
  3. Lightweight and easily portable (you will especially appreciate it when traveling)
  4. Discreet, does not attract the attention of other people
  5. Ability to instantly share a photo with anyone, anywhere
  6. Simple to use and quick setup
  7. Usually a much lower price, no need to invest in other lenses, or gear etc.
  8. Possibility of manual camera settings – taking long exposures, etc.
  9. The best phone is the one you always have with you ūüėä

CONS

  1. The overall quality of photo from digital cameras is still a few levels further ūüĎĎ
  2. Not possible to take pictures of whatever we want (macro, wildlife, sport, night sky …)
  3. AI does not always work 100% reliably (sometimes you will find strange artifacts / image defects, unnatural bokeh and ugly textures in the shadows)
  4. It is not possible to photograph “effects” such as the sun’s rays
  5. Low battery life

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *