The camera you use, whether a smartphone, a DSLR or something in between is a personal decision that’s determined by the kind of shooting you do, what you are willing to spend and the type of equipment you want to carry around. There are a number of factors that influence that choice. Here are a few things to consider.
Through-the-Lens Viewfinder or Video Monitor
Those of us who came up in the days of film have a preference for looking through an optical viewfinder and seeing exactly what the lens sees. There is something reassuring about peering into an eyepiece and holding the camera against your head. Your vision is bounded by the edges of the frame and it is easier to concentrate on exactly what you are shooting. Many people find this a more immersive experience than looking at a four-inch monitor in your hand. And pressing the camera against your head provides an extra measure of stability that is not possible when holding a camera phone at arm’s length.
Some cameras offer an eyepiece video monitor, but it is becoming increasingly rare. The DSLR is one camera that will always have the option of looking through an eyepiece. With your eye to the viewfinder your head and the camera move together as one. It is easier to follow fast action, especially with a telephoto lens. You can feel where the camera is pointing and move quickly to frame the subject. Video monitors are difficult to see in bright sunlight. There is no physical connection between your eye and the camera. It is harder to frame and follow moving subjects. Shooting sometimes comes down to point and hope for the best.
But the video monitor is here to stay based on the prevalence of camera phones and the fact that most cameras and video camcorders have done away with the eyepiece viewfinder altogether. Will smartphones replace the SLR? Don’t bet on it since looking through the lens is an advantage that many people are not willing to let go.
All “real” cameras have a ¼-20 thread on the bottom to accept a tripod or other support device. Smartphones have no such advantage. But it is easy to add a tripod adaptor. There are many of these devices in different styles and prices. It is an inexpensive accessory that allows you to stabilize your smartphone on any camera support like a tripod or the versatile HandlePod. Why stabilize a smartphone with a support device like HandlePod when just about everything shot with a camera phone is hand held? There are several reasons. One is low light. Improvements in smartphone technology have made it possible to hand hold camera phones in almost any light with good results. But certain techniques and apps could use camera stabilization for best performance. Apps that take multiple exposures of a low light scene then combine them could benefit from a stabilized camera. Apps that allow you to set a long exposure for effects like traffic trails or light painting require camera stabilization to work properly. Time lapse video is another technique that needs a stabilized camera to keep the image from jumping all over the screen. A camera stabilization device allows a smartphone to do much more than is possible hand held. All it takes is a tripod adapter and a camera support like HandlePod.
Camera stabilization for a DSLR, or any camera with full exposure controls, is a given for the best performance in low light situations. A tripod or other stabilizing support allows a low ISO setting to minimize image grain. Camera stabilization is essential for shutter/aperture combinations that require long exposure times. A DSLR and other “real” cameras offer physical control over shutter speed, aperture settings, focus and zoom. You can adjust ISO sensitivity to accommodate any shooting situation. Smartphones approximate these controls with electronic settings and a wide choice of apps. Some of these apps can accomplish effects that are, as yet, beyond the capabilities of the most sophisticated DSLR.
So do you shoot with a “real” camera that has full manual control over every photo parameter? Or do you use the smartphone you always have with you that will shoot in seconds with little or no adjustment? Each system has its strengths and weaknesses. If you have access to both, learn the capabilities and functions of each and use the one that best suits the subject you are shooting. Above all, remember that the best camera is the one you have with you.