PART 1: Smartphone's V DSLR's

by Peter Levenspiel

Posted on 2016-11-01 (2314 VIEWS)

On our Lens Lab walkshops in London and Brighton, we start by asking eveyone what they want to get out of the evening and we very often end up in a conversation about the merits of smartphone photography. I love this debate and so I am not looking to put it to bed here but I do think it's worthwhile making some serious comparisons.

Not so long ago, after reviewing some pictures from my phone I made a bold statement. I claimed that I didn't think I would buy another DSLR? I'm not prone to throw away comments but this was clearly a throw away comment! I love cameras but I love the photography more and I think it is clear that each of these class of gadgets has its own merits when it comes to photography. Phone photography is very handy in lots of situations, but if it's awesome picture quality you're looking for, then leave you iPhone in the glove box.

On one of our recent Landscape Workshops, Liz and I did a little experiment with our phones. We took the same pictures with them as our DSLR cameras. Phone shots are on the right, DSLR on the left, but I didn't have to point that out, did I? We took a point and shoot approach to this test to try and make it fair and here are the results:

Round 1: Nikon d3300 v iPhone
< DSLR on the left, SMARTPHONE on the right >

First up, iPhone versus a Nikon d3300 with a bog standard zoom lens. The Nikon image is far superior to the iPhone on the right because the sophisticated focus systems in a DSLR allows for beautifully blurred bokeh backgrounds.

Round 2: Nikon d3300 v iPhone
< DSLR on the left, SMARTPHONE on the right >

This round goes to the iPhone (on the right) because of the clever robot that has identified the sky and made it much bluer than it really was. Otherwise the Nikon returned a slightly richer green, but with not a lot more detail given the file size was 3 times greater at about 6mb v 2mb.

Round 3: Nikon d3300 v iPhone
< DSLR on the left, SMARTPHONE on the right >

This one is very even. I think the Nikon gave us the superior shot with more detail and truer colour. Some of the iPhone colours are way too saturated for my liking but then that looks good on a phone and facebook so I'm going to call this one a draw.

Round 4: Nikon d3300 v iPhone
< DSLR on the left, SMARTPHONE on the right >

I'm going to give this to the iPhone (on the right) for the same reasons as above but in this one the Nikon is looking a bit flat. Nothing a bit of post production couldn't sort out but straight off the sensor, I would take home the iPhone shot.

Round 5: Canon 60d v Android
< DSLR on the left, SMARTPHONE on the right >

This is just a fail for the phone, washed out, bland and yuk. It looks fine on the phone but blown up a little on a computer screen you can see how hopeless it really is. This is one of the great phone photo deceptions at work

Round 6: Canon 60d v Android
< DSLR on the left, SMARTPHONE on the right >

This one goes to the DSLRS because of the background bokeh and the rich colour making it a much better shot. Android phone cameras have some great software but it still tries to get everything in foucus and that leaves no room for creative controls.

Round 7: Canon 60d v Android
< DSLR on the left, SMARTPHONE on the right >

This is really testing the phone here and in a lot of ways it has done very well. Keeping detail in the shadow areas with vibrant colour in the high lights. But the phone has lost a lot of detail, particularly in the pampas grass and personally I prefer to see the dark shadow area as it captires the mood better.

Round 8: Canon 60d v Android
< DSLR on the left, SMARTPHONE on the right >

I have to give this one to the DSLR again for the background bokeh that phones seem to lack ability with. Also better, deeper colour that makes for a muchmore appealing image particularly at sizes bigger than your phone.


So on this particular day, the DSLR came home head and shoulders above the phone camera but this is only the start of the argument. Firstly, phone camera development is moving fast. It's not hard to imagine phones with a much greater level of image quality and creative controls within a few years. Secondly, I'm pretty sure that the phone would do a great job capturing my kids on a sunny day out at the beach. A phone fits in your pocket and therefore you're much more likely to catch the magic moment when the seagul steels the sandwich! From your phone you can email and facebook small images instantly so phones definately have it for the share factor. However phones cannot do what the DSLR can do in so far as image quality and I would still prefer one or two beautiful images of my kids than two dozen average ones flying about the internet. On balance, Im still a DSLR fan today but ask me again in 2020 and I might be saying someting like: "DSLR... yeah... I remember them!"

Why not try your own experiment? You can hire the Canon 60d here for just £4.23 per day, or the Nikon d3300 from only £3.52 per day. If you do get invovlved in this experiment, please let us know what you think.



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