Smartphone or entry level camera?


I get asked a lot for advice on a low-budget entry level camera. I usually respond by asking for what kind of photography it is intended to be used. Because, frankly speaking, if people want to spend 300€ on a simple entry level camera for just some basic snapping of the usual holiday / people / travel photos, they should stay away and just use their smart phone. Because smart phones these days are also really good cameras, and one that you always carry with you….so the question is: Smartphone or entry level camera?

Genoa Harbor
Genoa Harbor

Let’s get something straight. Dedicated cameras are still superior in many aspects. They have larger sensors, better auto focus, more photographic functions. But 300€ these days buys you just a basic point-and-shoot camera. And on that level, the images you get out of it won’t be much better than the ones out of a capable smart phone camera.

Genoa Coastline
Genoa Coastline

If people tell me they want to buy a camera to make the transition to some serious photography, I would recommend them to spend a bit more on a new entry level mirrorless camera system, or take their budget and look on the aftermarket for an older but proven model, that’s now very affordable, but gives you all the bells and whistles of a dedicated photographic tool (have you read my post about getting a used Fuji X-Pro1?).

Camogli Harbor
Camogli Harbor
Monte Portofino
Monte Portofino Coastline

In the end, it all depends on what you want to use the camera for. For snapping away at the stories of life, your smartphone will probably do a better job than a cheap point-and-shoot. If you want to delve into learning composition, you can do this just as well with your smart phone. Street photography is a genre you can shoot exclusively with your smart phone. But if you are looking for a camera for special purposes like sports- or portrait photography, you will need to spend more (look for something more in the range of your premium smart phone), or go for used gear.

San Fruttuoso Abbey
San Fruttuoso Abbey
San Fruttuoso Abbey
San Fruttuoso Abbey

Just to underline my message, here are a few images I shot last weekend when we took a boat trip from Genoa to picturesque Portofino. I had my Fuji X-Pro1 with the 35mm in my backpack, but never took it out. I’ve photographed this trip before and intended just to take some landscape images of the coastal scenery on this beautiful day.

Portofino Lighthouse
Portofino Lighthouse
Portofino Lighthouse
Monochrome Sailing
Portofino Panorama
Portofino Panorama
Portofino Church
Church Portal in Portofino
Portofino Coastline
Coastline at the lighthouse

I knew I didn’t have a zoom for my Fuji to shoot coastal closeups, and that my iPhone Xs has a similar, slightly wider focal range (plus the benefit of capturing panoramic shots) as the 35mm prime lens I had on the X-Pro1. And on a clear sunny day, the quality of the travel pics from the iPhone would be fully sufficient to post on the blog or on Instagram and to put them in the annual family photo book. So in the end I captured the whole trip with my iPhone camera and put together this little photo essay.

Container Ship
Genoa Commercial Harbor

Finally, you have to know how to use whatever gear you shoot with, its limitations and effectively use its creative possibilities.

Genoa Porto Antico
Genoa Porto Antico

If you are looking for tips and inspirations around photography for the weekend, check out my free Learning Center.

Have a great Saturday


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22 thoughts on “Smartphone or entry level camera?

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  1. Marcus, I couldn’t agree more with you about point and shoots under a certain amount. When family ask — as they inevitably do — I ask them how often they’ll be using the camera and what’s really important to them. Usually I end up telling them to get a new iPhone.

    But while I know I always have my phone in my pocket I find I rarely use it as a camera. Maybe it’s the 28mm focal length that I can’t get my head wrapped around, or its the lack of a viewfinder, or maybe just that I need practice.

    Let me know if you’ve got any tips.

    Kind regards – Tobias

    1. Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts, Tobias, highly appreciated! Glad that you can relate!

      28mm takes getting used to. I use that focal length a lot when shooting in the streets with my Ricoh GR, so that definitely is an advantage. You have to know (and accept) the limitations of 28mm, then it is a great and versatile focal length. To be able to maximize the strengths of any fixed focal length takes practice, for sure. A 50mm has its limitations as well. I shoot a lot with my iPhone camera when out in the country (where you would shoot wide angle anyway), but also for example when shooting exhibits in a museum like I did today. Hope this helps a bit!

      Stay safe and happy shooting! Marcus

  2. So true what you wrote about smartphones and camera’s. Your pictures of the Cinque Terra region and the Gulf of Geuna are great. We visited these places last year.
    Greetings from Rudi (Antwerp – Belgium)

  3. Thank you for making me feel better about using my iPhoneXs. It does work well, it’s always with me, and it’s so easy to capture landscapes as you have done so masterfully. I love the clarity of your photos and the light. Nice all around!

  4. Hi Marcus, very nice pictures of that region. I visited it two years ago. I love the picture Monte Portofino Coastline. It’s not only that the picture is well composed (and from the see!) but the fold of the rocks are very, very nice, showing very good which type of relieve the region have.

  5. You are right. A lot of pictures are being clicked for memories, social media sharing and documenting ie for blogs. A good smartphone is capable of decent quality images in a good lighting conditions. This explains falling camera sales over the last few years. BTW the images in your blog are beautiful. Genoa region is so beautiful

    1. Thanks, Jack, much appreciated! Super zoom point and shoots have one advantage over a smartphone – the zoom. That’s something still hard to imagine, putting a 15x optical zoom in a smartphone body. The wife owns a Panasonic TZ-61 and never uses it. On vacation (and wherever), she only uses her phone. This tiny super zooms work in good light. Typically, the image quality at the far end of the zoom is not all that great. And they simply suck in low light. So as (former) user of one, I’m sceptic. That said, a bridge camera with a built in super zoom is a serious alternative. But those cams have the size of a DSLR and almost cost as much. Happy Sunday and stay safe! Marcus

  6. You have another useful discussion here. 😉 When I’m walking in the woods or around the island where I live, I like to travel light, but I always bring the mirrorless camera because my phone just does not have what I want when I’m taking pictures. But sometimes I use the phone for wide-angle shots when I have a longer lens on the camera and don’t want to carry another lens. I’ve learned there are certain things the phone does really well, too, like taking detailed shots of scenes or objects relatively close up, and capturing scenes like the ones of Camogi above. Isn’t it great that we have all these options?

  7. For me, I love the freedom of shooting with my mobile device. It’s so easy to capture the moment without interrupting the experience. I would love it if Apple would add a simple manual mode for its camera. Stay safe and keep busy!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Steven, so much appreciated! I would love the manual mode on the iPhone as well. You can do it via 3rd party apps, but that’s for me requires too much fiddling around. Stay safe and creative! Marcus

  8. Thanks for sharing this. I am not a professional photographer but I do like to take picture while travelling. I do have a medium quality smartphone thus he camera does many things but photos are not the best. I do have 3 non professional cameras: 1 canon and 1 nikon + 1 compact canon. I usually take 2 of them ith me on every trip as each one have a differet settings and the reason is that I do usually print out a photo book for every trip I do, for family purposes only and I like them to be good. But I do totally agre with you: it all depends on the kind of pictures we want to take and especially how much time we want to spend through the lenses of our caera while travelling.

  9. Our Smartphones are not the latest and greatest, but are always a good fallback when I leave my camera at home. The most important thing to remember when using a Smartphone is not to forget that it shoots in both Portrait and Landscape modes. You only have to turn it. So many phone users only shoot in portrait, particularly in video setting. That is OK, if you are capturing the video you want and do not plan to display videos on your TV or computer. Thanks for sharing Marcus. Allan

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