Smartphone vs DSLR: Which Camera is Better?

Smartphone or DSLR camera, which one is better for you?

On the surface this question may seem very straightforward. A real camera is going to take better photos and better videos. But that is not the only thing to take into consideration. Sometimes the weight and size of a camera can be inconvenient. For some folks cost of buying a DSLR may be prohibitive, but through their telephone carrier they can easily finance a high-end smartphone with a great camera.

There are many reasons why someone could decide to choose one over the other, and in today’s article we will explore these options to help you make the best decision for your situation. Here are the advantages of each:

Advantages of Smartphones

There are many reasons that some people would prefer to shoot with a smartphone rather than a DSLR camera. Mostly this choice comes down to overall weight, as well as convenience. DSLRs sometimes just feel like overkill if you’re not doing photography professionally. A smartphone is something you’re likely to have on you and doesn’t require any special accessories most of the time.

With each new generation of smartphones adding more features, higher resolutions and expanding into high-quality video, there is a legitimate argument for the average person not needing a “real camera.”

  • Lightweight and fit in your pockets
  • Uncomplicated and easy to use
  • Images are immediately usable
  • Apps in the phone allow for easy editing
  • Pictures can immediately be shared online
  • Capable of easily shooting slow-mo and time-lapse
  • Create easy panorama images without complex editing
  • Small and unintimidating for models and small children
  • Affordable 4K video footage

See Also: Are You a Creative Professional or a Hobbyist?

Advantages of a DSLR Camera

Whether you are shooting photography or video a DSLR camera is a powerful option. These cameras are enjoyed by enthusiasts and professionals for several reasons—from the ability to adapt the camera by using lenses and accessories to knowing that one has complete creative control of their image. DSLR cameras have many great features, but the trade off is weight, complexity, and cost.

  • Interchangeable lenses give you more options
  • Zoom lenses give you the ability to shoot further away
  • Superior image quality overall
  • The ability to have artistic control over the exposure
  • More options for shooting in low light situations
  • Better overall build quality (some are weatherproof)
  • Larger image file-size capacity
  • Higher resolution images and more detailed photos
  • Better dynamic range and color accuracy
  • The ability to create high depth of field with wide apertures
  • Faster shutter speeds for shooting action or sports
  • Capabilities can be enhanced with a variety of accessories

Which Camera Solution is Right for You?

The best camera is the one you have with you and the one that you know best. If you don’t have the ability or the patience to use a DSLR camera you shouldn’t feel pressured to do so. There can be other valid options for you including smartphones, point and shoot cameras or mirrorless cameras. It all comes down to user preference and your individual needs, not unlike my Mac VS. PC argument.

If you find yourself wanting to get shots in the moment and they don’t need to be professional then a smartphone is the convenient option, and still capable of producing a level of quality that is more than acceptable for prints.

When you are shooting professional photography or video that you’re being paid for, the reality is that you should probably be shooting on a DSLR (or Mirrorless) camera. The interchangeable lenses and ability to shoot in low light situations will matter. This is particularly true if you are shooting portraits and need to consider lens compression and distortion, or if you’re shooting events where lighting will be an issue.

See Also: 5 Tips for Beginning with DSLR Video

Final Thoughts on Smartphones vs DSLR Cameras

As technology advances, there may come a time when smartphone cameras are truly competitive and offer the options and quality that allow them to replace a DSLR or Mirrorless Camera. For now, traditional cameras still produce superior quality and provide the versatility the professionals need in order to capture moments and create beautiful imagery. For the everyday consumer, a smartphone packs more than enough pixels and features to be fun and affordable.

Which one is right for you and why? Let us know in the comments section!

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Posted on: February 5, 2016

Roberto Blake

Roberto Blake is a Graphic Designer helping Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses improve their branding and presentations. Roberto also teaches Graphic Design and Adobe Tutorials through his YouTube channel and community. Roberto's Photoshop artwork has been featured in publications such as Advanced Photoshop and Photoshop Creative Magazine. See robertoblake.com

10 Comments on Smartphone vs DSLR: Which Camera is Better?

  1. Very helpful,Thanks. I decided to go with smartphone(Lumia 950Xl).

    • i got an old dslr and have a samsung s5 i feel like my phone gets better p9ictures i would love to know your honest poiunt of view on this please tkx

      • the old dslr is the canon rebel t1i tkx in advance

        • Hi,

          Your Rebel T1i should take better pictures than your phone. Even though that camera is moderately old (2009) it still has so much more going for it than the tiny cell phone camera sensor. The significantly larger sensor (20x) is going to provide more detail and lower noise.

          What I think is happening is that if you are shooting them against each other is that the programming in each is making different choices. The only way to tell for sure which is better is by trying to match the settings. This would probably mean you would have to take the cell phone picture, find the ISO, shutter speed, and f-stop then set those on your DSLR and take the same picture. If you were to actually do that you would find that the DSLR takes better quality pictures than the phone by a wide margin.

          It could simply be that you prefer the ease of use of the cell phone and it may really be all you truly need.

          My 2007 Nikon takes better pictures than my iPhone 6s by a wide margin, so that is what I have chosen.

          You’ll have to judge your own needs and make your own choice.

  2. Interesting article….

    As an avid photographer since 1977 (age 55 now), using a professional Nikon DLSR (D700 full-frame), who still shoot B&W film up to 4×5 inches (developing the film and making prints in my darkroom), image quality is important to me. However, I am frequently frustrated by the unedited photos from my Samsung Galaxy S6 vs my Nikon D700.

    Yes, I have my D700 “dialed in” quite well (custom trims for color balance, saturation and sharpness). I find that from the D700, despite taking care to shoot in optimal lighting conditions (the “golden hour” to reduce dynamic range by improving the odds that the sky and foreground are similar in illumination), using polarizing filters, colored gels on flash equipment to balance color, neutralizing filters, etc, to control exposure, that I still have to manipulate the images. When shooting scenery, I tend to underexpose at the time of shooting, then pull up the shadows in PhotoShop or other photo editors I use, to keep the sky and clouds from being “blown out”.

    With my Galaxy S6, I can simply take a photo and the foreground and sky are rendered well with little chance of the sky and clouds being “blown out”.

    Sure, my cell phone does not have interchangeable lenses (for the Nikon I have fixed and zoom lenses covering a range from 17mm to 300mm (full frame), cannot shoot 7 FPS for sporting events, pull in a football player from halfway across the field when standing on the sidelines, but I can make great 8×10 prints (sure I have a 16×20 printer which makes great prints from the Nikon) from it.

    I find myself using the cell phone for routine shots for myself more and more all the time (I love the panorama mode)….with the new dual lens systems coming out which use optical lenses to interpolate images and achieve decent zoom ranges (likely 3x or 28-100mm in full-frame terms).

    Not to mention, I can share photos from my cell phone instantly from anywhere, even many areas inside National Parks.

    • I forgot to mention that I suspect the reason cell phone images are so good in 2016 is that they have excellent programmers/engineers who extract the most from the sensor….increased dynamic range, great color balance and saturation….Nikon needs to hire some of these guys!!!! Nikon seems great at camera design and sensor implementation (they do not manufacture sensors to my knowledge), but they are lousy at image processing.

      I do not expect Nikon to solve the image sharing issue very well, the image files a are quite large these days, sharing them via wi-fi to your cell phone then through a cellular connection would be slow and beyond the means of many data plans. If Nikon programmed the camera to capture images in two different sizes at once, full frame and something like 1076×768, perhaps the small file could be shared instantly (assuming they program the camera to process the image so it does not need to be PhotoShopped first), I for one would pay extra for built in cell phone data hardware and a separate data plan for just the camera…I suspect others would as well.

      • Hi Craig,

        Nikon still arguably renders the best images in the industry. Maybe back in 2008 (when the D700 was released) it wasn’t so great, but images coming out of today’s cameras (D5, D500, D750, D810) have top of the industry dynamic range, resolution, and color.

        Nikon certainly does have issues with image sharing, Thom Hogan (www.bythom.com) writes about this frequently. But they do offer this capability in some of their cameras like the D750 which offers the ability to download a smaller sized image file just like you mentioned.

  3. The comment about getting a DSLR if doing professional work, pretty much (and appropriately) undermines the previous comment that a camera phone can produce good print quality.

    Several times, people have sent me their cell phone files to prepare for prints, and they are not even close to “good” print quality files.

    People who think their phone prints are good prints, have trained themselves to accept junk in place of high quality. By today’s technology availability that is.

  4. You don’t get better depth of field with wider apertures. Why do you make that statement?

  5. I love to take pictures since the time of film camera. After so many years, I finally retired all my digital cameras and only bring smartphone camera. The quality of the phone pictures in many ways better than the digital camera these days. What you see from the LCD screen of the phone camera is exactly what you get in the photo image. Most cameras come with 2F and this really helps in low light condition. The applications can manipulate straight away the images and you can post the photos right away. As for DSLR, we need a computer to process the photos. What a great waste of our precious time.

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