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Can Smartphones of Today Replace Our DSLR Cameras?

As smartphones are increasingly getting more sophisticated and powerful, their cameras, too, are seeing some massive improvements. But can iPhone's tiny sensor really compete with its 35mm counterpart?

By Becka MaisuradzePublished 5 years ago 4 min read

The world of smartphones is undergoing a serious revolution. If you've lived long enough to see those Nokia brick phones, you'll know what I'm talking about. Just look at it yourself: the phones some 15 years ago had small screens, physical keyboards (some qwerty, some those good-old 12345 ones), small batteries and cameras, and no computational power whatsoever.

iPhone changing the smartphone landscape

It all changed in 2007 when Apple introduced a device that would revolutionize the whole mobile industry. Standing at Apple's Macworld Keynote, Steve Jobs announced iPhone - a smartphone that could store music in its physical memory, allow GPS navigation, and take pictures.

At that time, all these features were, of course, present in separate devices - music in iPod, GPS in navigation devices, and pictures in DSLR cameras. But combining them into one single device that could also make calls? Who would've thought about that back then? It was truly revolutionary.

After the iPhone became an overwhelming hit to the industry, other tech giants like Samsung, Nokia, and Sony started to make their own smartphones as well. And the furious competition that arose between them got us where we are right now - in a world of smartphones that can easily overtake some full-fledged PCs.

Camera as a most-used feature in smartphones

One of the biggest changes in smartphones is the camera. As the social world grows beyond what anyone could ever imagine, people increasingly find themselves taking thousands of pictures with their smartphones and then sharing them on Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media website.

And while for those purposes any regular smartphone camera can do, the recent developments indicate that the smartphone manufacturers are growing beyond this niche and starting to compete with the actual DSLR cameras. But is it really the case for today's iPhones, Galaxy phones, and Huaweis? Let's check it out.

DSLR specs

Big sensor

First, let's have a look at what the DSLR cameras are and how do they deliver the best results out of the camera. The first main advantage of DSLRs is their giant sensor size. While there are two types of sensors - full-frame (35mm) and APS-C (1.5 or 1.6x crop) - they are still way bigger than their smartphone competitors.

This results in better low light capabilities, much sharper images, as well as clean and soft textures. And the megapixels don't really make much difference here - since every full-sized image from a DSLR has all those features (with varying performances, obviously).

Interchangeable lenses

The next big DSLR advantage is the ability to change lenses. For every instance - whether you're taking landscape or portrait images - having this level of versatility can be a deciding factor. For example, you can break out your long lens if you see something interesting in a distance, or put a macro lens on the camera and get very close to the subject.

Okay, that's just about it - maybe there are some other advantages, but a big sensor and the ability to change lenses is the most obvious choices here. Now, let's talk about smartphones in the same framework.

Smartphone camera specs

Smaller sensors

First - the sensor. Now, since I've been using the iPhone from the moment I bought a smartphone, I'll discuss camera capabilities in this phone. The iPhone sensor has been one of the greatest in any smartphone ever, and when a brand-new iPhone 11 came out, it was even named the best sensor in the world.

The images taken with it are surprisingly clean and sharp. At a regular viewing distance, there's virtually no way anyone can spot the differences between the DSLR and smartphone images. In fact, the software processing on the iPhone produces images that are much better straight out of the camera in terms of the high dynamic range capabilities.

However, the difference starts to become much more noticeable when zooming in. At a 100% zoom, you can already see that while the DSLR images are still sharp and clean, their iPhone counterparts lose sharpness and get more grainy. That's because of the smaller sensor in the latter device.

Three lenses isn't enough

Next up, lenses. Now, the new iPhones come with two or three separate lenses attached in front of the sensors, giving them regular 35mm, wide-angle, and zoom capabilities (iPhone 11 doesn't have a zoom lens). And to be fair, all those lenses are built with the highest quality material to produce the best results any smartphone camera can ever achieve.

However, the fact remains the same: beyond those lenses, there are not many conveniences of choosing another lens. What if you need more than 2x zoom? What if your goal is to go way closer to your subject? In these cases, there aren't a lot of options to choose from since you're locked with just those three.

Software offsetting some optical shortcomings

But, as mentioned earlier, iPhones and other smartphones have more sophisticated software that can imitate the DSLR-type results. For example, the newest iPhones come with a new Night Mode feature which is basically a long exposure mode that's easily accessible on any DSLR. With this feature, you can easily take low-light pictures, even pursue your very own astrophotography, at some incredible results straight out of your pocket device.

It's a nit too early

So, to answer this ever-prevalent question that's been bugging every tech geek of today: no, I don't think that smartphones at this point can replace DSLRs. But there's a catch here: if you're someone who pursues photography as their job that pays them for living, then you should definitely stick with your camera. The majority of employers want the best-quality images that can be printed as well and for that, iPhone shots can't really cut it.

However, if you're an Instagram creator and influencer that does photography as a hobby, then iPhone might be the best option for you. Just the fact that you've got a serious camera in your pocket that follows you everywhere you go is the biggest convenience that the smartphones of today bring to millions of people. And as their software takes the lead, they produce some incredible results.

And who knows, maybe the iPhones and Pixels of the future have a camera that can make DSLRs pretty much obsolete. Well, not today though!


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    Becka MaisuradzeWritten by Becka Maisuradze

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