As someone who shoots primarily on their smartphone, you may say I am biased, so I will do my best to put my bias aside for this article.
DSLR and mirrorless cameras have been the choice of professionals since their existence which means they have years of improvements and research behind them. There is no questioning of their capabilities. Yet there can be no doubt that smartphone cameras have improved monumentally in the last ten years or so. That said, so have cameras. But will the smartphone ever replace the camera? Let’s compare the two across a few different categories and see how they stack up.
- Versatility and Functionality
- Image quality
- Battery Life
Everyone has at least one smartphone in their pocket at all times. I think in this category, the smartphone takes the lead no question. With the range of smartphones available, there is one that suits everyone. Even in the amateur category where some amateurs do have a DSLR or a mirrorless, they are nowhere near as prevalent as smartphones are.
Again without question, the smartphone wins hands down. Let’s face it, DSLR and mirrorless cameras are bulky in comparison plus, if you add the gear like a tripod and an array of lenses, some so incredibly long, forget it. Photographers need whole bags dedicated to their gear. A smartphone fits in your pocket, that’s a win in my books.
Versatility and Functionality
Here is where DSLR and mirrorless start to shine and heavily outway the smartphone. The ability to switch lenses and add on ND filters and such make the DSLR and mirrorless cameras an obvious choice for versatility. Smartphones come with or two built-in lenses, though recently, smartphones contain up to four lenses. Even with these new lenses, the built-in lenses can’t compete with low focal length 8mm to the 50mm lenses up until 800 mm lenses. These 800 mm are known as telephoto lenses and are basically telescopes attached to your camera. Think about the zoom capabilities and compare that to the smartphone which gives the impression that it can zoom on images whereas it is only an illusion. Smartphones can enlarge a specific portion of the image thereby reducing its clarity and sharpness.
On most smartphones, you can control the shutter speed, however, as you slow down the shutter speed, you have to compensate for the extra light let in and you start to lose image quality, and you get a lot of noise not to mention the need for a tripod. Also, smartphones have an auto-focusing lens which can be slow and have a lag. Lastly, the smartphones come with an electronic shutter and display. Both these features have their benefits. The electronic viewfinders allow you to see what the cameras see. At the same time, you can experience more picture noise at higher ISOs.
The DSLR and mirrorless use their versatility to overcome the challenges with the shutter speed and regulate the amount of light that enters the camera thereby ensuring images of better quality. They also can have a physical shutter and optical viewfinder Overall the DSLR and mirrorless cameras take the cake in this category just for the capabilities of the shutter.
Quality is determined by ISO, Sensor size, and power, as well as format not to mention the lens. DSLR and mirrorless have much greater ISO ranges then smartphones as well as having larger and more powerful sensors and processors. The lenses available are by far much better then what a smartphone has. Lastly, DSLR and mirrorless shoot in RAW as well as JPG. When editing the RAW you can coax out many more details in the shot. Now some smartphone apps will allow you to shoot in RAW or DNG but you usually will have to pay for those apps. Another win for DSLR and mirrorless.
I was once in a photography class and I remember the teacher saying never, never use your phone flash. It is really terrible. You never want the light to shine directly at your subject which is what the phone flash does. You want it to illuminate the room area and not shine directly on your subject. Use natural light when possible and if not you can get lighting equipment. I stand by this. Don’t use your phone flash. Now your DSLR and mirrorless is another story. Now, most professionals use multiple flashes to light up the area properly, and if they do attach a flash to their camera its always pointing away from the subject. So once again DSLR and mirrorless are better off.
Your smartphone battery will last tops one day but we use it for a million things. A DSLR or mirrorless is just being used for taking photos. Some DSLR batteries can go for days. Mirrorless tends to have worse battery life but still better compared to a smartphone. Also, note that a DSLR or mirrorless can have pretty powerful processors that suck battery life. Lastly, there is a standard for DSLR or mirrorless to have multiple batteries; most people don’t have multiple batteries for their smartphone. To me, there is no massive winner, as we are always near a power source, so maybe it's a matter of preference here.
Show me the money! When it comes to price The most expensive smartphones are between $1,000 and $2,000 but start as low as ~$200. Compared to DSLR and mirrorless which start at ~$500 and can easily reach $40,000. So smartphones win at being more cost-effective and in order to buy a camera that will surpass the quality of your smartphone you need to spend a minimum of $3,000. So while smartphones may win you certainly get what you pay for.
In conclusion, DSLR and mirrorless aren’t going anywhere. If you are really interested in photography and want to experiment and care about getting the best possible image, you are going to buy a DSLR or mirrorless. The biggest barrier being cost. Even if in the coming year’s smartphones progress beyond imagining just remember so will DSLR and mirrorless progress and think of how powerful they will become. That said a smartphone is an incredibly powerful and compact tool that can aid any photographer and is definitely worth not forgetting its growing capabilities.