DSLR vs. Phone Cameras: How to Choose

With the invention of the cell phone, and subsequent invention of the cell phone camera, came an explosion in the popularity of photography. Suddenly, everyone with a cell phone had access to a high-quality image making device. These days, most cell phone cameras are simply incredible, offering high resolution, portrait modes, high speed capture, and of course, portability. But does a cell phone camera do everything and is there still a need for something like the DSLR? Well, let’s take a closer look.

My guess is the vast majority of people reading this post own a cell phone with a camera. Whether it be an iPhone, Android, or any other model, the smartphone has become ubiquitous in today’s modern culture. Even the far reaches of the developing world have cell phone infrastructure. The smartphone is our lifeline to friends, family, business, and yes, our photography.

Cell Phone Cameras

Benefits of Cell Phone Cameras

Why are cell phone cameras so strategic and capable? It all starts with portability. Our phones are seemingly always with us (some would argue too much) and this is the single most important benefit of a cell phone camera. Any photographer will tell you, “The best camera is the one you don’t mind carrying.” If the camera is with you, you will use it, and the phone camera is proof. It is estimated that humans created 1.4 trillion photographs in 2020, many of which will be made with cell phones.

The phone is small, lightweight, and unobtrusive. A photographer working with a cell phone can work quietly and attract little to no attention. With massive storage capabilities and immediate access to the cloud, phone camera photographers also have an endless number of images at their disposal. Phone cameras also allow instant access to things like social media where many of us spend copious time. In addition, due to the increase in popularity of cell phone photography, there have also been parallel advances in things like aftermarket lenses, which have expanded the phone camera’s capability by offering wide-angle and telephoto options.

So why then, if given the choice, would I still choose my DSLR camera over my cell phone camera?

DSLR Cameras

Benefits of DSLR Cameras

Here is where things get interesting. Let’s talk capability. The DSLR camera is a highly refined, highly capable machine designed to do ONE thing and ONE thing only. Make professional images and films. DSLR cameras tend to be large and rather bulky, yes. But with that bulk comes durability and the most advanced picture making technology we have.

DSLR cameras also come with a range of lenses, features, and resolution that are near impossible to beat. If I need a 600mm lens with lightning fast autofocus and massive file size, the DSLR camera trumps the cell phone camera every time. But if I want to make quiet pictures while on a hike with my family, the smartphone is perfect.

So, what is the best solution? And will the cell phone camera replace the DSLR? Well, from a professional perspective, why not use both? These are simply very different tools with very different capabilities. For most consumers, the phone camera is the perfect solution, but for anyone with more professional intent, the DSLR adds a layer of capability that can’t be denied. As with most things, it simply comes down to which tool is best for a specific job. A growing trend today is a “hybrid” approach, referring to the mix of technology and capability. When it comes to the DSLR vs. the phone camera, it really is about a hybrid existence. Use what makes you excited about photography.

Written by Dan Milnor, photographer and creative evangelist for Blurb.


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