Smartphones (Still) Can’t Compete with Great Camera Gear

When I tell someone I’m the editor of Shutterbug, the discussion quickly turns to photography (imagine that!) and everyone, absolutely everyone, has something to say about taking photos. This is one of the best things about having cameras in smartphones. More and more people are enjoying photography and that’s a great thing!

But are people taking good photos with their smartphones? In some cases, yes. But, for the most part, no. This is not surprising. Ever since the advent of the Kodak Brownie and the Instamatic after it, bad snapshot photography has become a way of life and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a time and a place for terrible selfies, awkward family photos, overprocessed Instagram images and everything else. Unfortunately most of this bad photography ends up on popular social networks (hello Facebook!) and it’s hard to avoid.

There are many ways for folks to improve their photography but one of the best places to start is improving their photo gear. I’m not saying being a good photographer only depends on how fancy your camera is because that’s patently false. But putting your smartphone away and picking up a digital SLR or mirrorless compact system camera – or even a sophisticated point-and-shoot – gives you a whole new perspective on photography.

Not only are these cameras capable of taking better photos than an iPhone or Android phone, they’re also great educational tools, teaching beginner photographers the benefits of careful composition and what adjusting your aperture or increasing your shutter speed can do to help you capture more attractive images.

This is not a knock against smartphone photography at all. In fact, in Shutterbug magazine we’ve just launched a new column called “Going Mobile” where we interview photographers who are taking great photos with their phones or other mobile devices. It’s merely stating a fact: traditional cameras are capable of capturing better photos than smartphone cameras, and I don’t care how many billboard ads Apple puts up.

For one, the slim shape of smartphones prevents them from having a serious optical zoom lens. (A few years ago, Samsung put a 10x optical zoom lens with image stabilization in a Galaxy phone and this rather clunky combination device failed to catch on.) And even the cheapest point-and-shoot digital camera has a larger imaging sensor than what’s in a smartphone. If you compare the pinkie-nail-sized imagers in phones to a whopping full-frame sensor in some DSLR and mirrorless models, the advantage of dedicated cameras is even more pronounced.

These limitations in smartphone cameras translate to blurred and noisy photos that lack clear detail. While this might seem like something only camera nerds care about, talk to the new mother who can’t get a crisp photo of her fast-moving two-year-old because she’s using a smartphone. Or what about the mom or dad who can’t get sharp close-up images of their teenager on the soccer field because their phone’s camera is inherently crippled. Again, this is not a knock against smartphones. I use my iPhone all the time and I’ve made some very nice images with it. But when I want to take potentially great photos of somewhat tricky subject matter, I always reach for my DSLR.

So the next time someone shows you a cruddy smartphone image that they’re unhappy with, recommend that they buy a more serious camera. We’ll all be happier for it.

cdjohannes's picture

In today's society, instant sharing and gratification are more important than quality. Cell phone cameras facilitate this better than almost any other photographic tool. You can shoot a poor or okay quality photo or video and post it the the web or email it immediately. The Polaroid camera provided instantaneous pictures to share with everyone. Sound familiar?

One potential problem that I see is that people who see a well taken picture will think it was a product of Photoshop, because it looks so much better than ones taken with a cell phone!