Before the advent of the smartphone, producing astounding imagery required a complicated camera, multiple lenses, and image manipulation software on a desktop computer. But now, you can shoot high-quality pictures and edit them with just one mobile device, along with its built-in photo editing apps. Today’s smartphone has evolved considerably with its camera technology, but is it better than a standalone digital camera?
Buy a camera if you’re serious about expanding your photography experience and plan to be a pro. Use a smartphone when viewing photos only on phones and tablets or taking pictures just for social media. DSLRs with video capability are great for vlogging, but smartphones are better on the go.
Read on to examine the reasons for using cameras and smartphones for photography, which will help you determine whether to buy a new camera or just hang on to your smartphone for taking pictures.
Should I Buy a Camera or Just Use My Smartphone for Photography?
Whether you should buy a camera or just use your smartphone for photography depends on several factors, including what type of photography you do and if you plan on becoming a pro. Recent technological advances on both devices have also made choosing between them even trickier.
It doesn’t help that the smartphone industry has made massive strides in photography, as it’s now common to have smartphones with the capability of capturing 12-megapixel photos.
After having sales beaten by their smartphone counterparts, camera manufacturers have fought back, creating new models with improved photo and video quality using proprietary software, faster microprocessors, better connectivity, and a wealth of features.
They reduced the size of their units by developing mirrorless models. With these improvements, post-shoot adjustments are now optional.
How To Choose Between a Smartphone and a Camera
Let’s take a look at some of the things you want to consider when choosing between smartphones and cameras.
- What type of photography do you do?
- Do you plan on becoming a pro (or setting up a photography-related business) someday?
- What’s your budget?
- Do you need interchangeable lenses?
- Do you take pictures only for social media or uploading to websites?
- Do you mind taking extra gear with you?
- Are portability and convenience vital to you?
- Is ease of use vital to you, or do you like tinkering with controls?
- Will you capture a lot of fast-moving subjects?
- Will you do time-lapse photography?
- Will you shoot in low or difficult lighting?
The Pros of Smartphone
These are some reasons to stick to your smartphone:
It Is Portable
Smartphone compactness beats cameras in that they fit in tiny bags and pockets. You can whip them out and shoot right away.
Sure, there are small cameras, but even the smallest ones won’t take the place of a smartphone because of their limited capabilities. Also, these cameras would be extras to carry around because you always have your phone, anyway.
Portability is why smartphones win in the mobility aspect, despite cameras being of higher quality.
It Is Simple To Use
Smartphones top cameras in ease of use. Steady software development improves smartphone capabilities and solves some limitations. You can download photo editing apps to create a fantastic picture then share it online instantly without plugging your phone into a separate device.
It Offers Fancy Built-In Features
Functions and effects previously possible only with digital cameras can now be carried out by smartphones. These include:
- Automatic panorama stitching.
- Multiple exposures, which is the same image shot in various light settings.
- Natural high-density resolution images.
- Dynamic contrast.
- Artificial background blurring, which is helpful for portraits since it makes subjects stand out.
The last feature isn’t 100% reliable because the phone’s algorithm cannot constantly assess the distance between the main subject and surrounding objects, leading to mistakes, like not obscuring sections that should be blurred or unfocusing only a portion of an object.
Future updates may correct this limitation, however. Although this blurring capability cannot replicate the natural effect of a real lens, it is acceptable to most smartphone owners.
Editing and Compression Are Faster
Smartphones can host photo editing software, like Adobe Lightroom, that processes and compresses photos before upload. Compare this with shooting with a camera, sending the pictures to a computer, then processing and editing these.
The smartphone wins in the post-production convenience aspect because it can do this multi-step process with one device.
The Pros of Camera
The benefits of a dedicated digital camera are vast.
Whether you’re a novice, a hobbyist, or a professional, there’s an appropriate one for you, including DSLRs (digital single-lens reflex), mirrorless cameras, and point-and-shoot models. Each type offers unique benefits for different photography styles.
For more information, check out why cameras are so expensive.
The following are some reasons for getting a camera.
It Has Low Light and Fast Object Capture Capabilities
Proper exposition of an image in a dark environment requires a higher ISO (International Organization for Standardization).
ISO refers to the camera sensor’s sensitivity, which compensates for low-light conditions. Smartphones have small sensors that lack dynamic range and generate noise in higher ISO. They start having problems at 400 ISO, while cameras produce sharp images even at 3,200 ISO.
Although higher-quality smartphone lenses can now rival camera lenses in light concentration, their capabilities are insufficient for low-light conditions or faster shutter speeds.
Some high-end smartphones now offer dynamic contrast, but cameras top them in the ISO aspect because they have bigger sensors, which capture more light.
The Design Is Ergonomic
Cameras have textured surfaces, comfortable grips, and highly operable buttons, which guarantee a secure hold. In contrast, smartphones become slippery and uncomfortable to handle after a few minutes of use. Poor ergonomics affect one’s picture-taking ability.
You Can Change the Focal Length
Cameras have lenses in various focal lengths, which give users extensive flexibility, while smartphone cameras are restricted to wide lenses.
Some newer smartphones have additional cameras with telephoto lenses, but their performance doesn’t equal that of cameras because their telephoto lenses are bigger than wide lenses. Also, telephoto lenses need stability, which smartphones (even those with optical type lenses) cannot guarantee since their stabilization system is inferior to cameras.
You Can Adjust the Aperture
Cameras can change the aperture, which is the opening that influences the amount of light entering a camera. A smartphone camera has fixed focal lenses and aperture, restricting its viewing angle.
With a smartphone, you cannot adjust the depth of field to a shallow one to direct attention to a subject, nor can you control it to achieve foreground-to-background sharpness, like in landscapes.
Many smartphones have automatic landscape and portrait modes, but these are limited.
Also, smartphones don’t have aperture blades, so you don’t get that starry effect from light sources. You can add these later with an app, but they look contrived.
Things Cameras Are Great at That Smartphones Cannot Do
Now that you know what each device is capable of and what you can do with each one let’s look at how cameras are better than smartphones.
- Shooting at very high ISO (for low-light scenarios).
- Shooting at a high dynamic range.
- Rapid zoom-ins and outs.
- Shooting with a slow shutter speed and a rear sync flash to create a blurry trail behind an object in sharp focus.
- Capturing a clear image of people at night in near darkness without flash.
- Their gear is interchangeable, which considerably expands what photographers can do.
- They have superior mounting capabilities and other tech upgrades.
- They process complex data faster.
- Their medium telephoto lenses fill frames, isolate subjects, and bring distant subjects closer—indispensable in portraiture and landscape photography.
- Their super-telephoto lenses isolate subjects and shoot objects at a great distance, like the moon and wildlife.
DSLR Cameras Have Tech Advances Smartphones Haven’t Perfected
DSLR cameras have features whose quality and tech have not been adequately replicated in smartphones.
- Accuracy in capturing fast-moving action.
- An off-camera flash. (A smartphone has an LED flash, which is dimmer, operates at a considerably shorter distance, and cannot trigger off-camera.)
- Bigger sensors that get more light in.
- Lenses with 10x optical zoom capability are vital for light capture, adjustment of tone and perspective, and varying fields of view.
- Cameras shoot in RAW format, which produces higher quality images suitable for large-format or print reproduction.
- You can print DSLR images without losing quality. Phone photos, when printed large, have noticeable grain and noise because they are saved in JPEG format (highly compressed). Exceptions, like LG’s G series, can save shots in RAW format.
- Comprehensive adjustment capabilities on white balance, exposure, and ISO compared to smartphones.
- Expanded control on shutter speed and aperture—necessary for superb action shots and fab portraits.
- Fast, reliable autofocus.
- Speedy startup.
- Dedicated hardware for image signal processing is responsible for color reproduction, noise reduction, artifact correction, and autofocus.
- They have polarized lenses that eliminate glare, allowing users to see through windows or windshields obliterated by bright light.
Why Buy a Camera When You Have One on Your Phone
CNET explains that many cameras have or support genuine zoom lenses, covering a broader range than the computational zoom of some dual-lens smartphone cameras.
Computational zoom combines data from two cameras with different focal lengths to create an image better than a digital zoom one, but it pales in comparison to the result of a true optical zoom.
Those who primarily use cameras still send pictures to their smartphones, especially when they are for Instagram. Camera manufacturers are aware of this practice, so they have added apps to their cameras that allow easy file-sharing and camera-to-phone sending.
Smartphones can produce decent photos, but they are drastically inferior to those taken with larger format cameras. Despite advancements in smartphone cameras, they cannot match the top standalone camera’s quality, speed, or control.
Modern smartphones are better than basic cameras, but it will take some time before a smartphone matches a DSLR’s capabilities. Ultimately, choosing between the two depends on what you want to achieve.
If you take snapshots for social media sharing, posting on websites, and print them occasionally for photo albums, a smartphone will suffice. Some brands produce better results than expensive cameras with high-quality lenses.
But if you’re a serious photographer, whether beginner, hobbyist, or pro, you must have a dedicated, standalone digital camera.
For those in between, use one for special events and a smartphone for daily life.
- Quora: Should I buy a camera or just use my phone?
- Quora: Why many people buy a DSLR camera when a mobile phone camera can take good pictures
- iMore: Should you buy a digital camera in 2021?
- No Film School: Buy a camera? Or just continue to use my phone camera?
- CNET: How to buy a camera
- TRvid: Should I buy a camera or use my phone?
- Hubspot: Phone Photography 101: How to Take Good Pictures With Your Mobile Device
- The Verge: How to choose between a phone and a camera
- Evan Ranft: Smart Phone Cameras vs. Real Cameras
- Turul Films: Phone vs. DSLR Videography—Are cameras still worth buying?
- Techquickie: Are Digital Cameras Still Worth Buying?
- Matti Haapoja: Can the iPhone 11 Pro Replace Mirrorless Cameras?
- Amanda Horvath: Are Digital Cameras Still Worth Buying?
- Kunal Malhotra—The Photography Blogger: Mobile vs. DSLR Camera