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Smartphones cameras versus DSLR — the ongoing debate

By Jean-Claude Elias - Jan 03,2019 - Last updated at Jan 03,2019

It is an on-going story and a rather fascinating one, and there is little doubt that the progress achieved by smartphone cameras over the last five to seven years has virtually killed an entire market segment, that of small point-and-shoot cameras. Moreover, in many instances, the quality of the photos that high-end phones can take is getting closer than ever to what can be taken using DSLR cameras. So what is the debate exactly about?

There are facts and then there are subjective points to ponder.

The fact is technology is now enabling the very best (and the most expensive) smartphones to take photos of excellent quality with high resolution in terms of pixel count, allowing consumers to crop at will and still obtain large enough photographs.

Quality is enhanced further by the possibility of the phone itself to do post-processing. I recently saw photos taken with an Apple iPhoneX and others with a Samsung Galaxy S8 that had all undergone post-editing. I could not believe that they were not shot with a professional DSLR camera.

Naturally, shooting in low light is the weak point with smartphones cameras — this is where DSLRs are still making a big difference.

Another difference is the way you handle a camera to take a photo. The vast majority of photographers, even amateurs, feel better holding a big, heavy, steady DSLR, looking through the large viewfinder, and making better photos in the end just because they could see the subject better before releasing the shutter.

Of course when convenience matters most, nothing beats a smartphone. In countless instances we would all gladly sacrifice a bit of technical quality for convenience. The most striking example is that of “Unsane”, a full-length feature movie made in 2018 by the celebrated American filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, and that was shot with… an iPhone. 

The fact that people like Soderbergh believe in smartphone cameras says a lot about the technology. It also stresses the fact that for them, artistic quality comes before technical quality.

Suffice it to look at MP3 audio and streaming music for instance. Although the quality of MP3 sound is not on a par with high-resolution uncompressed music, an overwhelming number of listeners use MP3 these days, gladly living with “good enough” MP3.

Moreover, this is not yet the pinnacle of technical progress available to cell phones cameras. They are expected, in the next couple of years, to get even closer to what DSLRs can produce. If designers and makers could solve the issue of shooting in low light, it would be a great achievement. It could make me want to sell my DSLR and definitely stick to my smartphone camera.

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