Smartphone vs Camera: The best camera is the one you have with you

Previously, we made a video about when and why to use a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera instead of a smartphone. It seems fair to look at the opposite scenario as well.

Whether we like it or not, smartphones are taking pictures in certain situations and even when they are not up to the task, the social media output hides many problems. Let’s discuss some of the ways the smartphone shines.

Smartphone in front of the camera: the right position

The biggest advantage so far is that we effectively wear smartphones. We have a camera that is always with us. Despite the relatively poor ergonomics, smartphones are very comfortable. From a street photography perspective, smartphones blend into the background of everyday life. They’re discreet and silent, and the ability to shoot with the iPhone’s live burst modes or Google’s top photo modes helps capture those defining moments.

Smartphones don’t have many lens options, but the ones they do offer tend to be pretty good.

They also offer great quality screens that are easy to see in bright conditions and provide high resolution for evaluating and zooming in on images. These LCD panels on many of the latest phones are also HDR capable, allowing you to see your images with greater dynamic range and much more realistic brightness levels out of the box. There’s a big push to make HDR photos more mainstream, and smartphones are leading the way.

Google Pixel 8 Pro Long Exposure
Landscapes and still lifes are strong points of a smartphone.

Phones are as much computers as cameras. The ability to take photos and edit them on the phone before outputting them using cellular data is probably what has made smartphones so popular. Sure, it’s not about the best image quality, but it’s about great comfort, and in today’s world that matters a lot.

iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max next to each other
Smartphones have become an essential part of our daily life.

Smartphone vs. camera: image advantages

While we’re on the subject of image quality, I’d never say that phones can match MILC cameras. However, it should be appreciated that in some situations they come close. Landscapes in particular play to the strengths of smartphones. By capturing an image from multiple exposures, phones can deliver great dynamic range and then display it in full on an HDR display. The main cameras on most phones have a decent focal length for most landscape shots, and ultra-wide lenses provide dynamic images.

Street black and white iPhone 15 Pro Max
On the street, phones are silent and discreet.

Modern phones can also digitally blur backgrounds to mimic shallow depth-of-field lenses. Although the results aren’t perfect, they get better every year and deliver some dramatic portraits. This effect can also be used with wider-angle lenses, and especially in the case of the iPhone 15s, the final look is very convincing.

iPhone 15 Pro Max player
I love the amount of contrast and color the phones can capture.

Finally, smartphones are ideal for blogging purposes. Not only because of their connectivity, but because of the compact nature of the phone and the excellent image stabilization. With a combination of optical and digital stabilizers, they deliver stable videos even when walking or running.

Smartphone vs camera: the right tool

iPhone 15 Pro Max waterfall
Photography is less about image quality and more about experience. I feel that phones should have a place in the world of photography.

I’ll be the first to say that phones are not MILC tools. Relatively small sensors will be the standard for a long time, and frankly, I don’t want manual controls on the phone. That’s not their strength, however, the ability to combine multiple exposures helps them punch above their weight, and the convenience of connecting directly to a phone is very useful. Image making for me has always been about the right tool for the job, and in that sense, phones are a powerful tool in the right circumstances.

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