Can Cell Phone Photos Compete Against DSLR Cameras?

I will be honest: there are photos on my blogs that I have taken with my phone, instead of with my DSLR. Readers sometimes ask me why my smartphone photos look better than theirs. Well, here is what I know.

To start, some phones cameras are just better than others.

smartphone vs dslr comparison

Photo taken at night with my Samsung Note 20 Plus

I often will go on a trip with my work, and wonder whether I should bring my DSLR. I have two thoughts on this: If I do see a photo opportunity, it’s easier to use my phone; and my phone was designed to be a good camera, so why not use it?

But if I am going somewhere really scenic, with the opportunity to capture wildlife photos, then I will always bring my DSLR.

So what, then, is the difference between a good phone camera and a DSLR?

smartphone vs dslr photography

Tulips in the spring, shot with my DSLR

I want to explain this carefully. If you had a phone camera that bragged about having a 24-megapixel sensor, and wanted to compare it with a DSLR camera that also had 24-megapixel sensor, which one would produce a sharper image, especially in enlargements? Answer: the DSLR! Why? Because the sensor in a DSLR is much, much bigger than the sensor in your best phone.

A phone sensor is small. Look at the size of your phone compared to a DSLR. Now, this is in comparison to the old film days: Eastman Kodak made Kodacolor film in all sizes, with the most popular being 110mm and 35mm film. The film is exactly the same. It has the same sharpness. But if you made an 8×10 from a 110mm negative, it wouldn’t look very good. If you used 35mm film to make 8×10, however, it was magnificent. This is simply because you are enlarging from a much bigger piece of film.

smartphone vs dslr photography

Another photo taken with 35mm film changed to digital

Modern technology is amazing. The question, then, is whether a phone camera can compete in sharpness with a DSLR. I think that technology will continue to make your photos sharper, year by year. But, also realize that as your phone’s sensor improves, so will the sensor in a DSLR. There will always be that gap—I think camera manufactures will make sure of it. A 30×40 print enlargement from a DSLR will look amazing, but I would never attempt to do that with a photo from a phone (unless the viewer won’t ever look at it close).

Conclusion

To get the best images possible, you still need a good DSLR. If you want to ever make money with your photography, then you need to look at a DSLR. If you want good photos from your phone, get a phone with a quality camera and lens for the phone. Hope that helps.

The fence anchor, shot on a dslr

Frost on a berry bush, shot on a dslr

Photo taken with a dslr, sunset photo with a dslr

Photo of snow on pine needles. Taken with a dslr

About the Author:
Lanny Cottrell has been involved in teaching photography for over 25 years. He has worked as a manager of a photo store in Utah, and now has started to do the things he loves the most, and that is to train photographers to be the best they can be. He has a blog at: 123PhotoGo and has a gallery page of black and white photos he collects every year that you can find in the menu of the website. Now with over 37,000 followers on Facebook, you can always find some great information there too.

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4 responses to “Can Cell Phone Photos Compete Against DSLR Cameras?”

  1. Stan Hooper says:

    24 megapixels ought to be 24 megapixels anywhere unless you were talking about megapixels per inch rather than total megapixels on the sensor. Cram 24 megapixels onto the tiny sensor in a phone vs. in a DSLR and you’d have to have very different sized pixels. Or, did I misunderstand your statement?

  2. Ian says:

    Stan,
    Maybe the article could’ve been written a little better. You are absolutely correct: 24 megapixels is 24 megapixels no matter what, and yes the pixels on the phone will indeed be much much smaller than the pixels on the full frame DSLR. And that’s the problem: They will have to be magnified much more to make a final image that matches the size of a given DSLR image. Additionally, each tiny pixel site on the phone will capture far fewer photons during a given exposure, so the signal-to-noise ratio for the phone will likely be much worse than the DSLR. And wavefield diffraction effects will be much more noticeable with the smaller pixels.

  3. Ranjan says:

    Thank you. I shoot with both DSLR & Iphone. The shot with Iphone is way quicker than DSLR. When using DSLR I tend to take shots with different settings, which irritates my wife , plus she posts her pics on social media way before me.

  4. Burt Marks says:

    Ian, I disagree. There is no image within a pixel; it’s all one color and one brightness. If you magnify a pixel, you get the same color and brightness, only bigger. Both images have the same resolution.

    As far as the light falling on a pixel, that’s the same, too, assuming that both cameras have the same acceptance angle (where it is in the range from wide angle to telephoto). The camera with the larger sensor has the sensor further away from the lens. Light follows the inverse-square law, so the lower light intensity exactly compensates for the larger pixel, and the larger pixel gets the same number of photons as the smaller pixel.

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