Updated: Jun 23, 2021
I’ll always remember the feeling of having my first camera in my hand. I was 11 years old and it was something I had set my heart on getting. The idea of taking pictures of people and places, then waiting in anticipation to have the film developed, held a fascination for me. Two years ago, when I bought my first digital SLR, the feeling was not quite the same, but not far off. I was looking forward to embarking on a new chapter in my life and this camera was going to be my companion on the journey.
This was one of my first photos on my first photography 'shoot'. I didn't know anything about composition and worked on instinct, but I enjoyed the experience immensely. Without realising it, my eye was drawn to the symmetry of the scene, a commonly used composition technique
It is now 2 years on in my photography journey. My second purchase was a more portable Olympus mirrorless camera, which is also an interchangeable lens camera. I have also taken an interest in mobile phone photography and in recent weeks I have been investigating the potential of the smartphone camera as a tool for real photography and have shared some of the images taken with my phone camera. Many people will argue that a phone camera can take images that will rival those of a dedicated camera and that they are becoming all that we need for real photography. Others will say that a phone camera will never compete with a dedicated camera and I tend to agree with this latter view.
I will say that I do see some compelling reasons to ‘ditch’ the big cameras and use the phone camera for all my photography. It is convenient, it is portable due to
having no extra lenses to carry around, and the images it produces are as good as I need. Yet, despite this, and while I enjoy doing mobile photography, I do accept that it has its limitations and I am not yet willing to give up my dedicated camera in favour of a smartphone camera. Here are some reasons why.
Image quality is better
Due to the size of the sensor in dedicated cameras compared to that of a smartphone camera, it is understandable that image quality will be better in the dedicated camera as the larger sensor allows in more light. While I do find that the images produced by my phone camera are sufficient for my needs, I think that those produced by the camera, even my entry level camera, are sharper and look better when printed. While phone cameras are improving all the time, so too is camera technology, and the fact that these cameras will always have larger sensors will mean that images taken with a good dedicated camera will inevitably surpass the images from a smartphone camera. While I am not obsessed with getting razor sharp images, I do like the quality of the images produced by my camera. At a recent family gathering some comments were made about the clarity of images captured on my camera compared to those from phone cameras. While other factors do come into play, such as managing to get people to stand still more easily when you have a ‘big’ camera in your hand, I do believe that the camera gave better overall results in terms of image quality.
Low light images are more superior when taken with a dedicated camera. Until recently, phone cameras could not cope with low light conditions and this is still only possible with more advanced phone cameras.
You get greater flexibility for different styles of photography
Phone cameras tend to be a ‘one size fits all’ type of camera, albeit with some flexibility in terms of lenses, while in the world of real cameras there are specific cameras and lenses for different types of photography. I am somewhat limited by my current entry level camera and lens set-up, but I do still get to choose between my cameras and various lenses depending on what I want to shoot. On a recent trip to the west coast of Ireland I used my Nikon D3400 with Sigma 17-50 mm lens for landscape photography and my Nikon 70-300mm zoom lens to pick out some more distant subjects, as well as my Olympus 40-150 mm. I like the variety of images from the different lenses. For nature photography I often use my 50mm fixed lens which achieves a pleasing bokeh. When doing street photography I have begun to use my Olympus E-M10 11 as it is quite small and unobtrusive, yet the 14-42 mm lens has decent zoom capabilities.
Olympus E-M10 11 40-150 mm lens
Nikon D3400, Sigma 17-50 mm lens
Nikon 70-300 mm zoom lens
Nikon 50 mm fixed lens
Using Aperture Priority mode you can almost block out the background if you want to do that
I recently came across the following article, which illustrates my point, even though I am not exactly in that league of photographer!
Since DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are interchangeable lens cameras they give you the facility to adjust your lens to suit your requirements. The lenses on the smartphone camera are built in, which, when compared to the interchangeable lens of the real camera, reduces their functionality. Although many of the latest smartphone cameras have at least a dual, if not a triple lens setup, these still have their limitations in terms of how far they can reach. If my subject is far in the distance, for example a small cottage across a lake, it will appear tiny on a phone camera image. Digital zoom is a poor option since the quality of the images reduces as we zoom. With a dedicated camera and optical zoom lens I can choose my focal length or use a range of focal lengths to show a variety of perspectives.
With a smartphone camera it is not possible to zoom very far. It was not possible to take this image of the moon with my phone camera.
You can experiment with manual controls
Cameras have a range of settings and controls with which to work to enable us to achieve all sorts of photography results. I must admit that I have not investigated many of these although I have given lots of time to learning the shooting modes and am becoming more confident in using each of these. I now never shoot in auto mode, although I am still learning about each of the other modes. I regularly watch or read tutorials on aperture priority mode and experiment to see what outcomes I can produce.
Experimenting with shutter speed to either freeze or capture motion is a great advantage of using a dedicated camera, particularly in the area of sports photography but also if we want to capture that creamy waterfall, a silky wave in a seascape image, or a light trail in a town or city at night.
I spent a long time experimenting with shutter speed to achieve the milky waterfall effect. There is a lot of trial and error and a great deal of satisfaction when you achieve something that is close to what you are looking for
Depth of field has become possible through iPhone’s use of portrait mode, or live mode on android phones, but this feature is limited on a phone camera and does not compare to the depth of field effects that are possible to obtain by experimenting with different apertures on a dedicated camera. It is an area of photography that I enjoy experimenting with, particularly when photographing people or flowers and plants.
You have the ability to shoot in RAW
If you are interested in working with the raw data of your files and making the most of your images, you will want to shoot in RAW and improve your files in post processing. All decent dedicated cameras allow us to shoot in RAW or a combination of RAW and jPEG. While there is some potential for working on a smartphone jpeg image, most of the data is already processed in camera so we basically have very little raw data to work with. Some phone cameras do allow you to shoot in RAW (using Pro mode) but I’m not sure that this function is very commonly used. Personally I have not found it very user friendly and prefer to stick to auto on my phone. This does limit you in terms of creativity compared to working with manual mode on the dedicated camera. While I have done some post-processing work in Lightroom I feel that I have merely scratched the surface of what this program has to offer, so there is more learning to come. I keep my Nikon camera set to shoot in RAW as well as jPEG which forces me to develop my creativity at times, and I consider this to be a valuable added component to the whole art of photography.
You get more battery life, meaning more time for shooting
This is a valid practical consideration. I could spend hours shooting on my Nikon camera and not fear draining the battery. When travelling last year, I chose to bring a small mirrorless camera with an extra battery for my everyday photography as I wanted to know that wherever I was I would have a camera at the ready. I could not ensure that my smartphone would retain its battery life for a full day’s photography in addition to all the other activities that drain a phone battery.
Best of all, you get the real photography experience
From my point of view, something that is more important than the other considerations is that doing photography with a dedicated camera is about getting the experience of photography; it is about relishing the feeling you get when you take your camera out of its bag, choose a lens appropriate to the location, make decisions about the best composition, put the viewfinder to your eye, move around to get the best light, change lenses to get a different perspective and a different photographic experience, arrive home with a memory card full of shots to transfer onto your pc to examine, assess, touch up in post-processing and make choices about what to share, what to discard, what to save for another time. It’s a slower, more deliberate process, an experience to savour and enjoy, and in my view this experience which we get from the ‘real’ camera cannot be rivaled by the convenience of the smartphone. While I am not against smartphone photography, and have written in praise of my smartphone camera on different occasions, it is the feeling that holding the dedicated camera gives me of being connected to life in a tangible way that I would be afraid of losing if I went completely to using a smartphone camera for photography. Even the slower pace of dedicated camera photography, the time taken to choose and change lenses and adjust dials, has its joys, allowing me to be totally present to my surroundings and completely awake to the moment as I try to capture that perfect shot.
And there's nothing wrong with having both camera and phone, to get the best of both worlds!
I previously wrote a post asking whether smartphones are destroying photography, which you can read here
What's your opinion?