I took an honest look comparing my DSLR vs my iPhone for photography. Teaching both a Basic Photography Class as well as a Smart Phone Photography class, I’m a fan of both! But, I’m also a photography nerd who loves her DSLR camera! I’ve paid big bucks for my cameras (multiple!), lenses, accessories and software that goes with it. In a word, I’m invested in the DSLR world! You still can’t beat DSLR’s for the image quality and control…yet. However, here’s something I don’t hear my fellow pro photographers saying much; I kinda hope Smart Phones end up eclipsing DSLR cameras just like they have Point and Shoot cameras, at least the entry level versions.
Frankly, I don’t think it’s fair that DSLR cameras can be so hard to figure out. It is an art form that comes with such a steep learning curve that it’s not available to the average person unless they invest time and some money in education to help figure it out. Can you imagine if the same were true about painting? Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot to learn and be educated about with painting but picking up a paintbrush and smearing paint across a canvas doesn’t need to be taught. That’s essentially what anyone must do to learn photography! They need to be taught a bunch of new terms, numbers, equipment etc. just to equivalently smear paint on the canvas. I’m in the Smart Phone camp for that reason! BUT, as I said above, there’s a lag still between the two.
Before we dive in, I also want to say, this was a hard one to do because it’s not comparing apples to apples. I tried to make it as fair a comparison as possible just to help you decide if you’d actually use a DSLR or if you’re better off just sticking to your Smart Phone to capture your life, people you love and places you’ve been. Let’s see how these cameras did!
Detail and Quality
Here’s an example of images shot of the same subject. One with a DSLR and the other with an iPhone X.
DSLR (straight out of camera, no edits) –
iPhone X (straight out of camera, no edits) –
The iPhone did pretty well on this one. I used the Portrait mode on my iPhone so that the images would look similar. My DSLR is better at a true shallow depth of field (blurry background) than the iPhone but, the iPhone is really not bad.
Here’s an enlargement of the two images to compare up close. You can see the that the level of detail is much better and cleaner in the DSLR shot. The iPhone images is grainy and pixelated (especially noticeable in the horizontal window lines that stair step instead a smooth curve like the DSLR).
Now, it’s not exactly a fair comparison because I’m using a full frame professional camera with a very nice lens. This set up costed me roughly $4,000! But the point is, I can. With my iPhone, there’s very little room to grow or improve. I can buy nicer lenses for my iPhone like the Moment Lenses, but I’m still bumping up against the available mega pixels and there’s not the variety available that there is with the DSLR for lenses and equipment (yet!). With DSLR, there’s always more you can do to improve an image. WIN for DSLR…but only a 1/2 a point…
Variety and Control
When it comes to controlling your camera to get exactly what you want, there’s no doubt that DSLR cameras have a big lead in this. For this reason, it’s a bit like comparing a Tesla to a bicycle. There are many examples of this but I think one the best example is controling your shutter speed. Whether it’s slow shutter speed shots or frozen action shots There’s just no easy way to do this with an iPhone. There are apps you can get, and tripods etc. but by this point, you might as well be using a DSLR with all the tweaking you have to do to make your iPhone work.
This image of the Wheel in downtown Seattle would be tricky to get with your iPhone –
On the other end of the spectrum, very fast shutter speeds are also difficult to get with iPhone –
Not only am I able to get frozen action of the individual droplets with my DSLR, it just looks like a better image because I can combine it with aperture to get that nice shallow depth of field. I feel like this is a 2 point WIN for the DSLR.
Enlarging and Printing
I love printing on canvases or making large prints! They make a statement, allow you to enjoy your work and look so cool in your home or office! What a shame to just leave them to hide on your computer or phone! Print and enjoy! The available megapixels will affect the quality and size of the print or canvas. The maximum size you can print depends on your phone. Check the specifics with your phone. For my iPhone X, I can print up to about a 20×30. Not too bad! But my DSLR?…I can make wallpaper out of my images if I want to! So, because I do often print very large images, that’s a WIN for DSLR.
There’s absolutely no argument that this the big fat trump card that Smart Phones have over DSLR cameras. DSLR and even mirrorless cameras are bulky! No matter how you slice it. I have gotten used to carrying a camera or camera bag though. I liken it to when I needed to carry around a diaper bag. You just get used to it. Still, this is a definite WIN for the Smart Phone.
Getting up and running and taking images on a Smart Phone is definitely easier and, in many cases, takes a better photo initially. But, as we already covered in detail and quality, and with the investment of some time and education, you have room to grow more and get overall better shots with a DSLR. I still think though that this is a WIN for Smart Phones.
This is a big hang-up that I have with my DSLR. I have to put the card in my computer, upload, store, sort and edit before I share with anyone. I’m motivated to do this for clients but if I took photos at a friend’s birthday party, it may be several months before I get around to sharing the images. I’m just not disciplined in this way. My mirrorless Fuji has WiFi that will connect to my phone which makes it a whole lot easier but just that extra step sometimes still stops me from sharing. Sharing images on my iPhone? Freaking piece of cake. WIN Smart phone.
This one I could go either way on picking a side. I don’t like to spend hours tweaking every pixel to make stunning images. I like to take the photo and may make a couple changes but, overall, it’s close to the way I shot it. So, in that way, the iPhone is easier (again!) for this. I just pop it in Snapseed, make a couple quick changes and voile! But, if I’m shooting on my DSLR, I shoot in RAW (which you can actually do on your Smart Phone as well. I just never do) which will record more info in a photo and allow you to manipulate it to your heart’s desire! If you like HDR photography or any other kind that needs more manipulation, the DSLR and the software available is still miles better. NIL.
If you were keeping score, it’s 3 1/2 points to DSLR and 3 points to iPhone but, again, you might stack it differently and may want to add more points because of the way you shoot. I am, as stated above, still heavily in the DSLR camp but I’ve practiced a TON and invested a lot. It is worth it to me to get the images I can get! But my criteria might not be the same as yours.
I hope this helps you decide whether or not to take the plunge into DSLR photography or just stick with your Smart Phone. The great news is, with either camera option, you can take beautiful images! Take some time to learn about composition and lighting and all the things your camera is capable of! When I teach my Smart Phone Class, people are often blown away at features on their Smart Phone they didn’t know were there!
Whichever set-up you decide is best for you…just get out and shoot!