Is A Smartphone a “Real” Camera vs a DSLR

Is Your Smartphone a Real Camera

HP Canon on pole

The answer to that question depends on what you consider a “real” camera to be. If your concept of a real camera is a DSLR with through-the-lens viewing, shutter and aperture controls, wide range ISO settings and a zoom lens with lots of glass, then that gadget in your pocket that you phone and text with doesn’t measure up. But if your camera definition includes something you always have with you, is fast and easy to use and captures high quality images without a lot of adjustments and technical expertise required, then the smartphone is your tool.

Of course a smartphone and a DSLR will both take excellent photographs. But they are very different in function, performance and use. There are many articles comparing the quality of both and some even talk about film. But the focus of this article will be the hands-on use of both devices in real world shooting situations. Click here for an amusing video comparison.

First of all they perform differently. Depending on the situation, one will sometimes do a better job than the other. Glass is an obvious difference. A smartphone has a fixed lens, no aperture, a very short focal length and no optical zoom. Of course it lets you “zoom” digitally which reduces the number of sensors used to capture the picture. Results are pixilated and less sharp. Always avoid digital zoom. With smartphones you must zoom with your feet—walk closer to the subject if possible. A DSLR, on the other hand, can use any focal length lens you are willing to spend money on and lug around.

How does this affect what you shoot? If your subject is sports, wildlife or anything requiring you to zoom in close, a smartphone is not the camera to use. A DSLR or any camera with a reasonable zoom will get you close to the subject and allow selective focus for a more pleasing effect.

The short focal length and tiny image sensor of a smartphone means everything is pretty much in focus. Most have some focus capability but nothing approaching the manual focus ring on a DSLR lens. Selective focus or bokeh is not really possible with smartphones. There are apps and post processing techniques that simulate the effect, but optical focusing options are minimal.

Smartphones, on the plus side, are small, unobtrusive and everybody has one, which is a big advantage for street photography. You can point your smartphone camera at just about any subject out in public and if you’re careful they won’t know if you’re taking a photo or checking email. The smartphone camera has completely changed street photography. It allows candid shots that would be impossible using a huge DSLR with a big piece of glass.

There are other considerations comparing smartphones and DSLRs such as TTL viewfinder versus monitor, low light performance, stabilization, and others that will be covered in another post. Keep in mind that, like they say, “whatever camera you have with you is the right one.”

 

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