We’re fast reaching the point where anyone with a smartphone can be a professional photographer. It’s not quite there yet, but the quality of the images you can take with the top-end smartphones like the iPhone 11 Pro and the latest Samsung Galaxy iteration is highly impressive and has started the competition of smartphone vs. digital camera. On top of that, there are apps you can download onto your phone that give almost full manual control over your phone’s camera.
With the vast improvement in phone cameras, is it really worth getting yourself a great DSLR or mirrorless digital camera? You’re already carrying your phone with you everywhere you go, so you can’t beat that for convenience. But what about the quality of the pictures, and the control over the images you want to capture? Can a smartphone really compete with a purpose-built device?
Let’s look at comparing smartphone vs. digital camera.
File Size And Quality of a Smartphone vs. Digital Cameras
An entry level DSLR is still going to be shooting images with more megapixels. You’re looking at around 24 megapixels on your camera versus around 12 on a top-of-the-range smartphone. That’s quite a large difference if you want to blow up your image for a very large print because the picture taken with the DSLR will have double the information in it. However, for the vast majority of even a professional photographer’s needs, between 10 and 16 megapixels is ample.
Another big thing to note is that most smartphones have some kind of compression that they apply to their photos to keep file size down. As soon as compression is applied, the image loses quality and information. However, it’s possible to change your settings to prevent a smartphone from doing this, meaning you’ll end up with JPEG images that are around 2-5Mb. A DSLR will give about the same file size if you’re saving photos as JPEGs.
Where a digital camera always used to win out in terms of photo quality was the ability to take RAW images. These are the very large format photos that professionals prefer because it gives them so much more detail in the image. With some better camera apps you can buy for a smartphone, you can shoot in RAW format and export those images for editing on your computer.
This is still one area where a smartphone just can’t compete with a digital camera with optical zoom. Phones with two or three cameras give you some options in terms of how close you can get to a subject, or how wide you can shoot. Other than that, you’re working with digital zoom. This means you’re losing out on quality when you take a picture.
Even a camera with a built-in lens offers you a significant amount of optical zoom, which allows you to get much closer to a subject without compromising on image quality. When you get into the fancier cameras with interchangeable lenses, you can get a lot closer, and achieve so much more.
There are some lens manufacturers who make clip-on lenses for smartphones. These have come a long way—especially if you go for one of the more reputable brands—but they still won’t give you the same flexibility and functionality as a digital camera.
Shooting in low light conditions used to be another area where smartphones weren’t able to compete. However, the hardware built into the phones, and the software that controls it has come a long way. These days, it can be very difficult to tell the difference between a nighttime photograph taken on a high-end digital camera, and a high-end smartphone. A smartphone can now take several images at once and put them together to form one image, ensuring that as much detail as possible is included.
Most native camera apps on a smartphone offer you a degree of control for focus and exposure. This is great for the average person who wants to get good point and click photographs. For those who want more in-depth control, you need to buy a camera that allows this. The good news is they have become incredibly advanced, and offer you detailed control to get just the right shot.
An entry-level DSLR or mirrorless digital camera will automatically offer you full manual control, and several scene modes that you can select depending on the shooting situation. You can also set the device to full auto and happily snap away if you don’t know what to do with the manual.
Comparing smartphone vs. digital camera when it comes to aperture, a digital camera is still way ahead of a smartphone. The aperture on a smartphone is fixed. This is the opening that lets light into the camera in order to capture the image. On a smartphone with the full manual control apps, you can change shutter speed and ISO to let in more or less light, but you cannot change the size of the physical aperture of the lens.
On a digital camera like a DSLR or mirrorless, you can change this aperture and enjoy greater control over the depth of field in your image. Some higher-end smartphones try to trick their way through this by using two lenses on the back of the device. They combine the two images taken by the lenses to create a softer background and a sharp-focus foreground for portrait shots.
Smartphone vs. Digital Camera, And The Winner Is?
For a professional photographer showcasing their work in an online portfolio or gallery, a proper digital camera is still the answer. They are definitely pricier than a smartphone, especially when you factor in the appropriate apps and lenses. However, if a camera is a tool of your trade, it’s worth the expense.
For someone who’s interested in learning about photography, or an enthusiastic hobbyist, it might be worth exploring what your smartphone can offer. You can still take good photos, and it’ll be cheaper than buying a digital camera to learn the basics and get your eye in. However, a smartphone can only take you so far. If you become serious about photography, a digital camera is the way to go.
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