Smartphone or camera?

Bruce Springsteen Concert

Smartphones are ubiquitous and virtually always within arm’s reach. And isn’t there the saying that the best camera is the one you have with you? Smartphone cameras allow spontaneous capture of moments without the need for carrying a large DSLR or mirrorless camera. Whether it’s a stunning sunset or a spontaneous social gathering, your smartphone is there to capture it instantly. Smartphone cameras are evolving rapidly, with each new model boasting better sensors, improved image processing, and more advanced features than most “real” cameras. But would any serious photographer accept a smartphone as a legit replacement for a “big” DSLR or mirrorless camera? The answer, at least from my point of view, is “it depends”…..continue reading after the jump for some more insights about the question smartphone or camera?…

Bruce Springsteen Concert

Smartphones use sophisticated algorithms to enhance images. Features like HDR, night mode, portrait mode with bokeh, and even AI scene recognition transform what would be average photos into striking images that can rival those taken by “traditional” cameras. These computational techniques can compensate for the smaller sensors and lenses found in smartphones, bridging the gap between convenience and high-quality photo output.

Bruce Springsteen Concert

With DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, we photographers used to carry a lot of additional gear like tripods and filters to be able to capture decent photographs in low light situations or when confronted with a wide dynamic range. Any modern camera in a high end smartphone can handle these situation with ease and stunning results.

Bruce Springsteen Concert

Then there is the portability. Not only you save on a lot of weight for not carrying a large camera plus a few interchangeable lenses around all day, but you also have much smaller footprint, without the need to carry a large camera bag. Then there is simply the fact that traditional professional cameras are simply not allowed in some venues. For example I would never have been able to take my Leica SL2-S into the Bruce Springsteen concert we visited this summer. But no one will object a smartphone.

Same goes for photography inside some tourist attractions, where indoor photography normally is not permitted, or without the use of flash or tripod. But there seems to be always the chance to take a picture or two with a smart phone. Add the fantastic low light capabilities, and there is the chance you get away with a few great images that you wouldn’t have been able to take with your traditional camera. Also for the avid street photographer, people seem never to object when you hold a smartphone in their general direction, while pointing a large, professional looking camera at them would make them instantly feel wary or uncomfortable.

Bruce Springsteen Concert

What is photography all about? In the end, it is about telling a story by visual means. Images need to speak for themselves through the contents. Having a great composition, capturing gesture and putting the story you want to bring across at the center of your photograph is more important than the discussion which sensor, lens or camera body to use. Any photographer can tell a story through a striking image with any device than capture a scene, be it a DSLR, mirrorless camera or a capable smartphone camera.

Bruce Springsteen Concert

When I get questions from readers for advice on a good entry level camera, I always ask what the people intend to do with the camera. If it is more about capturing everyday life and striking holiday images, about not wanting to carry a too big of a camera or avoid the hustle of interchangeable lenses, I would always also recommend to think about investing in a smartphone with a capable camera and use this device to its fullest possibilities.

Bruce Springsteen Concert

Bruce Springsteen Concert

I was more than happy with the images I took with the iPhone 14 Pro from the concert of the Boss. Looking at them, I can still recapture the atmosphere of this great night with great musicians.

So what is your take on the discussion – smartphone or camera? Leave your comment below.

Smartphone or camera – either way, you can find a lot of tips and inspirations around photography in my free Learning Center. Head over and check it out.

Have a great Saturday and hopefully a great weekend of photography!


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10 thoughts on “Smartphone or camera?

Add yours

  1. Smartphones are very useful when it comes to souvenir photos. Anyone who sees photography as a form of artistic expression in which I have control over the creation process will choose a camera. For me, photography means more than creating a “beautiful” image. Jürgen

  2. For the best shots, I still rely on my DSLR-type camera — but this is merely because my iPhone is not one with the higher end camera so it still can’t quite perform to my needs in some cases. But, of course, I still snap many images with my iPhone — even when I have my other camera along. But, at this point, I still rely more on the DSLR for those special shots.

  3. You can’t compare these. It’s like comparing a car and bicycle finally both are taking us from A to B, but the way of driving is absolutely different. Same about photography. As well the density of the JPGs is very thin. Check your smartphone images on the computers big screen with 100% zoom and you will see the damaged pixels, which are very difficult to see on the small and highly highlighted phones. I always prefer to have a camera with me. Digital or film, but allowing me to control my way of taking images exactly as i want and getting the results as i imagine before i press the button.
    Just my opinion.

  4. Erm…. I frequently like wide aperture, and sometimes slow shutter speed, etc Don’t know if a phone could do those things

  5. Marcus, I absolutely agree. All my Greece and Rome photos were taken with my iPhone 14 pro mini. It’s the aspects of framing, perspective, catching the moment that matter more than “what camera did you use?”

  6. I recently picked up the iPhone 15, Marcus, and am very happy with the image quality! My blog currently has several images from it. I too have been considering the differences between my Sony A7C and the iPhone 15 images. Honestly, for my purposes, the iPhone could be a replacement for the Sony. It’s always with me and takes darn good photos. Very handy! Great post, I actually didn’t know who the artist was until you named him! 😂

  7. It’s a good question. I don’t doubt that people can get surprisingly good results with a phone camera, but for me one of the big things is that it annoys me when I see a bunch of phone screens held up in front of my face at a gig, so I really try to avoid doing it myself 😂

    I love the RX100M5 for this reason. I’ll only use it through the EVF so I’m not distracting other viewers from their experience and with the f1.8 lens, I can usually get quite good results.

    And there is just something inherently tangible about the image quality of the smartphone capture vs a full camera. I often find that I’ll take a snap of a nice scene with my phone to share it with my family chat group, but then I’ll take another shot with my full camera. Later on when I process the picture and compare it with the phone version, there’s pretty much always a much better quality to the camera image.

    It’s sort of similar when I compare my RX100M5 shots versus my older (sold now) A7II. I love the RX100 and standalone it looks great, but I can’t deny the better quality of the full frame shots when comparing similar shots side by side.

    Ultimately I suspect I may go down the A7C route for a small full frame camera.

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