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Smartphones versus DSLRs versus film: A look at how far we've come

209

The verdict

Gun to head … time to come up with a number. How many years are smartphones behind the best $2,000 DSLRs? Comparing detail resolved, I'll say the iPhone 5S currently sits 8-9 years behind the DLSRs in bright light, while the Nokia trails by less than 6 years — probably nearer to 3. This is even when you allow the DSLRs the luxury of a $1,700 lens, and shooting in raw. In bright light, the Nokia came close to competing with the detail from the best DLSR yet made.

Step into candlelight, and the gap between phones and DSLRs widens and becomes more a matter of taste, pivoting around your preferred tradeoff between speckly noise and smeary noise reduction. From our ad-hoc panel of 15 non-photographers, the iPhone trails the DSLRs by about 10 years, and the Nokia about 8. 

Splitting the difference between candlelight and daylight, around 6 years of technology has made up for the massive difference in the size of the lenses and sensors between the best phone and the $2,000 DSLRs.

I was stunned.

This isn’t saying that the Nokia is a better camera than a 2007 Canon EOS 40D. It’s not. Detail makes up just a tiny fraction of the goodness of a camera, and none of what makes it a pleasure to use. The Nokia is much slower, can’t focus on moving targets, can’t easily defocus part of the picture, can’t change the perspective and feel of pictures by zooming or changing lenses, and can’t capture the same range of brightness in one shot that the latest SLRs can. Yet.

The curious thing about this list is that everything on it except one — changing lenses — can be fixed with faster processing. The iPhones, Galaxies and LGs have shown it already. And we know that faster processing is inevitable. The physical design of SLRs gave them a huge headstart over phones for both picture quality and usability, but advances in on-board processing are now quickly eroding that lead.

DSLRs aren’t standing still — they’re improving all the time too. But are they improving fast enough?

Looking forward

The graph below charts the progress of still image quality over time for the Canon EOS 10-series camera models, iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones. It uses different scales for the cameras and the phones: DXOMark and DXOMark Mobile, respectively. These are the closest anyone has yet come to condensing the myriad facets of image quality into a single objective number. The graph is misleading at first glance because the phones and the cameras sit on different scales. So it’s not saying that the phones are better than current DSLRs, despite scoring higher. You can only compare phones to phones, and DSLRs to DSLRs.

Improvements over time in DXOMark and DXOMark Mobile scores for Canon EOS DSLRs and two ranges of smartphones. Note that the scales for the DSLRs and the phones are different and not directly comparable. See DXOMark for scores for lots more cameras and phones.

But it does suggest that improvements in pictures from smartphones compared to other smartphones is happening at a much faster clip than improvements in these DSLRs compared to other dedicated cameras. These numbers don’t directly show that image quality from phones is improving faster than image quality from DSLRs, but they give a pretty strong hint in that direction. I certainly wouldn’t bet against it.

I’d wager that a lot more research and development money is directed at improving phone cameras than improving dedicated cameras. Manufacturers currently ship 13 times as many phones as cameras, and phone sales are going up, while camera sales are going down. Where would you invest?

Looking back

It’s sobering to look back at the old reviews of the cameras that we included. The earliest, the Canon EOS10D was a marvel of 2003. Phil Askey from DPReview described it as “the absolute best in its class, with the best image quality, lowest high sensitivity noise, superb build quality and excellent price.” He described the “Excellent resolution”, the “Noise free ‘silky smooth’ images”, with “very low noise levels even at ISO 1600.” The EOS 10D ran rings around the film that we’d been using for 50 years in terms of clarity and freedom from grain.

Yet it’s comprehensively humbled by modern phones. The iPhone out-shoots it, and the Nokia out-resolves it, all by huge margins.

iPhone 4S, 1/30s, f/2.4, ISO 64,
The ingredients for photos come from inside you. Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

The Nokia 1020 has redefined what I thought possible from a phone. I used to think of smartphones as a separate branch of ‘wannabe’ cameras, doomed to forever play catch-up with real cameras. I used to think like Takafumi Hongo, a Canon spokesperson who told the Wall Street Journal "Taking photos with smartphones and editing them with apps is like cooking with cheap ingredients and a lot of artificial flavoring. Using interchangeable [lens] cameras is like slow food cooked with natural, genuine ingredients.'' He has a point. With a smartphone you'll miss a lot of the joy of learning to cook traditionally. But in photography, the important ingredients come from you. Smartphones are now good enough not to need artificial flavoring from apps.

I now see smartphones as like the early steps in the evolution of premium, prime-lens compact cameras. Good quality, convenient, with huge depth of field, but compared to DSLRs, they’re still slow and inflexible, and their pictures aren't as 'malleable' to change in editing. Their results are good, but if you're used to a DSLR, the feel of smartphones — how pleasant and transparent they are to use as a craftsperson's tool — is still a work in progress. Like those prime compacts, phones have subjects that they excel at (landscapes, street shooting), along with subjects that they’re hopeless at: traditional sports, portraits, action and wildlife — anything that benefits from a longer lens or limited depth of field.

iPhone 5S, 1/30s, f/2.2, ISO 40
Smartphones excel at discreet street shooting.

Ironically, as dedicated cameras, prime lens compacts remain niche products with no aspirations to popular appeal. They're aimed squarely at discerning users. But as phones they’ve become the tool of choice in everyone’s hands. We accept their limitations as the price of extreme convenience.

But many of their limitations will disappear in a few short years with zippier processing. Only their fixed lens remains as an Achilles’ heel, with no obvious technology on the horizon to rescue it. Yet.

I’m loving this new breed of smaller, super convenient, high-quality prime-lens compact cameras that make phone calls. They help me heed the call of my favorite photographer, Elliott Erwitt, who said “It’s about time we started to take photography seriously and treat it as a hobby.” Photography can enhance your vision, your enjoyment of the world, your interactions with other people, and your life. If your photography isn’t doing all of these for you, I’d argue that you’re not demanding enough of it.

I find that smartphones help me to reap these benefits at least as well as many dedicated cameras. For me, it’s merely an added bonus that they can now make pictures that compete with those from most DSLRs up to about 6 years ago. And I predict that the gap will shrink further.

If you’ve never considered smartphones as tools for "serious" photography, I'd argue that we’re fast approaching the time to look again.


Dean Holland is a photographer and educator based in Brisbane, Australia. You can learn more about him at Take Better Photos

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.

Comments

Total comments: 209
12
thecameraeye

In candlelight, film looked better to me than even the D800. It has a '3D look' that the D800 didn't have.

0 upvotes
Andres Calderon

In Kickstarter: a new device for photography enthusiasts that connects wirelessly smarphones with DSLR cameras.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hpsaturn/lumera-transform-your-camera-into-the-smartest-one

0 upvotes
chris pfohl

I had a better idea. A conversion of old SLR's gutted and modified to hold a smartphone the controls of which are ... oh never mind.

0 upvotes
RimasRa

Hi there,
Great article. I think, the lense problem on mobile phones could be solved with scopes and additional lenses. For example, Moment's additional lenses look way better quality, than their cheap Chinese analogues. I guess, there are great quality scopes (with prices, that are close to quality DSLR lenses), but there are just a few mobile mounts at this time (nither of them is great, cheap and widely available). I tryed Helios Ranger monocular so far, and the quality is not that bad, but with better quality scope it could be greater. So, I'm looking forward into this emerging market. And I think, it's only the beginning. What do you think?
Happy Nokia 808 owner.

0 upvotes
SmoothGlass

This test is pretty bogus because Canon APS-C sensors have hardly changed for many, many years. If you want to compare state of the art, you have to include cameras with Sony sensors, like most of the recent Sony, Nikon, and Pentax DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, as well as most of the recent Micro Four Thirds cameras.

It seems the author is cynically going for shock value and page hits by using a D800 at a high price point without filling in the gaps with other cameras which have evolved unlike the Canon sensors. For example, you can get Sony sensors in very cheap bodies such as the NEX-3N or a3000 or Nikon D3200. Those cameras would give you better image quality than the Canons and yet cost $200-300.

Comment edited 5 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Dean Holland

Hi SmoothGlass, You make a good point that you can certainly beat a 2007 Canon EOS 40D with any of the cheaper 2013 cameras you list. Do you think including Sony sensors would have changed the figure of how far phones are behind DSLRs? The Sony alpha 700 was the competitor to the Canon EOS 40D, and to my eye the 40D had the edge, and it was cheaper too.

0 upvotes
Razor512

It would massively change it, e.g., compare a iphone to a nikon D3300, and you can increase the gap between dslr's and smartphones. During the time period around 2006 , most camera makers were focused on improving detail and little effort was put into ISO performance beyond around ISO 800-1600).
With modern sensors especially now, they are starting to shift to improving dynamic range and low light performance.

In comparing only crop sensors, the sensor in the nikon D3300 (only comparing sensors) (sony sensor) beats every crop sensor in the canon line (including the 7D mk2 in terms of low light performance, color depth, dynamic range, and detail.

While you can get a good shot with a smartphone camera, you rarely see attempts to get a shot such as those landscape shots done on both a smartphone and DSLR at the same time. There are many shots where smartphone cameras simply lack the dynamic range and color depth to capture properly especially when compared to a DSLR side by side.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
Dean Holland

Hi Razor512, contemporary cameras vs contemporary phones would make an interesting comparison. I wanted to address a different question, though: where would modern phones fit into the evolution of DSLRs? Or wouldn't they fit at all? It's a bit like the ads showing that a modern family car is faster than a 1920's racing car - I wanted to find out if you look back far enough, would phones and DSLRs look similar? And how far back would you need to look?
I didn't think including modern cameras would change where the phones fit into history.

0 upvotes
dsmeltz

Except for the obvious problem (comparing outdated Canon cameras against MUCH newer cell phones and a Nikon) it was an interesting exercise. However, the choice of models for comparison kind of makes it mostly useless as well.

Comment edited 28 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
wetsleet

"Except for the obvious problem (comparing outdated Canon cameras against MUCH newer cell phones and a Nikon) "...
...and I thought that was actually the whole point of the article.

2 upvotes
Capefinn

Great article! If you want to look at what the 1020 is really capable of in the field you should have a look at this New Zealand Road trip that was captured with the 1020. Full disclosure, I was part of the team, but to be honest it was a real labor of love and we tested the phone in every condition imaginable and having the 1020 in your pocket vs a dslr really worked for this kind of project. Its called www.transitions1020.com and it explores the spirit of board sports and examines the snowboarding scene as it prepares for the olympics.

0 upvotes
DSMIW

Great work Dean, not an easy task to build a framework that enables viable comparison of these technologies and leads to a coherent conclusion.

I am an enthusiastic DSLR photographer who marvels at the work produced by the dedicated Hipstamatic community. They provide a wealth of reference data on the versatility of a smartphone as a camera that re-enforces your proposition that, "...we’re fast approaching the time to look again".

Shame really, I kinda like the mystic art of bodies and lenses. The mystic art of Hipstamatic just does not do it for me.

1 upvote
Dean Holland

Thanks DSMIW. I think you (and Eolake below) hit the nail on the head why DSLRs will never completely die... we love using them. There will come a time when they will seems like anachronisms, and then it will only be the people who really ENJOY them who'll use them. Much like the car replaced the horse for transport, horses didn't disappear - they became a passion, rather than a necessity.

0 upvotes
Eolake

I don't know how electronics will replace zooming or selective defocusing, but they probably will.
And so in 10 or 20 years, peasized embedded cameras will have replaced big, beautiful, specialized cameras, and I'll be a bit sad, because I like cameras as much as the results.

2 upvotes
niget2002

I agree with your review, but not sure I can agree with your conclusion. You stated that the cell phones are on average about 6 years behind the SLRs, but then canons that you compared it to are at best 4 years out of date already. Even your graph at the end showed that there's the 60d and 70d out which both have better output than the previous 40d.

As someone else stated, you can't beat physics. The best cell phone cameras will ever be able to do is 'come close' to that of SLRs.

I will state that the best camera you can have is the one you have with you, and most of the time, that camera is my cell phone. It is good for everyday shots of the kids, animals, weird happenings at work, but if I have the time to run to the car, then I'm using the 60d.

2 upvotes
Dean Holland

Thanks Niget, yes - at the start I'd never have guessed that I'd have needed to include 60D and 70D... I thought the results would put the phones much further back in time (closer to the 10D). Based on the pictures here, where would you place the Nokia? Would you agree with about 6 years back or would you put it somewhere else?

0 upvotes
gurmusic

How do you convert film to digital is cahanges the DR, color detail, and contrast detail and may add more noise and color distortion...Its like retaking the printed film photo with a high end camera( you need a decent scanner or high end digital camera to go in digital world and this is a very expensive process)

I take photos with 30D+Tamron 17-50 f2.8 and iPhone 5 in every EV condition, 30D simply outperforms but iPhone 5 is also very usable for me...

Comment edited 3 times, last edit 5 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Dean Holland

Yup, there's no such thing as a perfect scan, nor a perfect analogue print either. We used a Durst Sigma scanner with a professional operator. It's a high-end scanner, but not a drum scanner. It did a good job of pulling out the detail - better than my old $3000 Nikon Coolscan 4000. The mega-high contrast, low dynamic range, and ultra blues really are Velvia... They look like that in the original slide too.

0 upvotes
C France

Great article....thanks for posting. I added the Lumia 1020 to my tool-kit about two months ago. Love it!

0 upvotes
gilo

I agree with brdeveloper that the best performer in daylight was Velvia and I disagree with Dean that the grain in film 'still looks downright ugly now that I’m used to silky-smooth digital'.Personally,I hate that silky-smooth digital look. Digital noise is ugly because it is computer generated and it's too regularly shaped.Film grain brings images alive because it is irregular.Pictures aren't supposed to be looked at in tiny cropped squares.Shooting film still gives you outstanding results and it is cheaper than digital as a film camera will last you forever and you will not need to upgrade.Apart from seeing your images immediately and clicking away, there is no real advantage to digital.Lastly, a well kept negative will survive all of us,but a hard drive which works for 20 years is still to be invented. So I will keep shooting film and use my smartphone when I want to snap away. Digital looks like plastic anyway and it is not worth spending a fortune every year to upgrade your DSLR.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
vv50

a film camera may last you forever, but photographic film stock is inevitably being discontinued, and photographic prints fade especially in high humidity. do you also listen to vinyl records instead of cds because digital audio sounds like plastic?

0 upvotes
gilo

To be quite honest, yes, I prefer the sound of vinyl, despite all its imperfections. But I don't care as much as far as differences in sound are concerned. I can put up also with the compressed sound of an ipod. But when it comes to images I can't help it: I always prefer the look of film. And, true, film types will be cut down in numbers, but are unlikely to disappear altogether for another 30 years. By then I will be 85, if I am still alive, so who cares. And by the way, everything fades in high humidity: hard drives and digital prints are no exception. So I don't see any improvement with digital compared to film in that respect either.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Michael Berg

I think what vv50 meant was that your original jpegs/raws are not going to fade - unlike film negatives. In 1000 years they will be bit-for-bit identical to the millisecond after you took them. Storage is not important since you can make digital copies with zero cost.

Also, hasn't it occurred to you that your grandkids might also think they were important? I think it is a pretty egotistical view to take that photos are only important as long as YOU are alive.

Comment edited 25 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
osu9400

To be fair, the Nokia 1020 can take bursts of photos too but you lose the superb quality . Specifically, apps like Blink and the Nokia pro camera are for this bursting.

0 upvotes
brdeveloper

To me the best performer in daylight was the Velvia one. I prefer preserving textures as nearly-random film noise isn't really annoying. This test shows two things: smartphone cameras are not that bad and film is still alive (for practicity you'd better using a D800 though).

I'm still waiting a better camera phone than Nokia 808. Lumia 1020 looks overprocessed and oversharpened.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
6 upvotes
plasnu

True. Compare to film, all digital files look the same to me. Foliage looks downright ugly on digital, due to bayer's nature.

0 upvotes
delpic

Interesting, but with all the technology & software it really comes down to the laws of physics & the far larger sensors & massively superior optics of DSLR's are always far superior than manipulated images from small sensor cellphones.
I would argue conversely that even a 10 year old good high point & shoot camera can still produce better quality than today's phones. DSLR's, even the lowest cost are in a totally different league.
The main & possible only advantage of the phone camera is as it has always been that it is the camera you are more likely to have with you.
The reason some non photographers can't tell the difference is they are looking at such small images & maybe don't even care about quality at all.

0 upvotes
Dean Holland

Hi Delphic, I like your idea of testing old compacts too. Where would you place the Nokia among the cameras that we tested here on image quality? I was surprised to see how competitive it was. Can't wait to see if raw solves its limitations for dynamic range and processing.

0 upvotes
bigley Ling

Have you seen the quality of the Nokia 808 and 1020. You will be amazed at what can be achieved from a mobile phone if there is good illumination.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bigley/11925152795/sizes/o/

Just look at the detail in that boot and tell me a 10 year old high end point and shoot camera match the sheer resolution of this phone.

Below is a link to a full res oversampled 8mp shot. Look how clean the image becomes at 8MP, and see the amazing Bayer free detail.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bigley/9435208558/sizes/o/

0 upvotes
vlad0

The 808 can hang with a lot of older higher end P&S.. even with some newer ones as well. I've seen it stand it's ground against an RX100.. in certain conditions.

0 upvotes
Willi Kampmann

I think the results are very interesting, but they aren't putting enough focus on the severe shortcomings of the phones, especially the low-light shots.

I've got an iPhone 4S and frankly, I hate the 1/15s shutter setting -- without an optical image stabilization I often get blurry results even when there are no moving objects. Compare that to my E-M5's IBIS which basically lets me shoot blur-free at 1/15s while jumping on one foot. To me this is one of the most impressive technical advances in cameras in the past decade! The Nokia 1020 has OIS but I doubt its efficacy because of its simpler nature. The Nokia 1020's low-light shot also shows another shortcoming: the poor dynamic range. The shadows are completely black!

Of course those shortcomings are just temporary. The iPhone 5S already captures near-instant HDR images thanks to its fast A7 processor; automatic pixel averaging through burst shots is the logical next step. Imagine the large Lumia sensor combined with the A7's speed!

0 upvotes
Willi Kampmann

And as much as this is a comparison of the advances in DSLRs in the past 10 years, I think it's at least as much a comparison of the advances in JPEG engines(!) and processing power in the past 10 years. DXO recently said that improvements in RAW development have been twice as significant as improvements in sensor tech; I agree and I think the comparison between JPEG and RAW in some of the DSLRs in this test shows that, too.

So processing power is a main contributor to image quality. Modern smartphones have a huge advantage here. But I think this would be equally beneficial for enthusiast cameras: Sony already implements some sort of this in some Cybershot and NEX cameras, doing automatic in-body pixel averaging to reduce noise in high-ISO shots (Twilight mode), and offering automatic HDR as well, obviously. But the processor lacks the power needed for optimal results. I believe fast processors will become much more important in enthusiast cameras in the near future as well.

1 upvote
Dean Holland

Great summary. I suppose what we're saying is that it's not "phones v. SLRs" but "processing power v. hardware". Over a long enough timeframe, processing power will win over hardware. I couldn't agree more about the 1/15th sec on most phones. What goes on at the parties at Apple and Nokia that they find 1/15th sec to be fine? Motorola must have livelier parties, as they try to hold a more reasonable 1/30th sec (the iPhone 5s makes a timid stab at this too). I haven't tested Nokia's OIS side by side against a modern in-body camera, but it works OK with both feet on the ground. With Photoshop's motion-blur sharpening, wonder how long it will be before digital image stabilization will be able to do it just as well... another processor v. hardware battle.

0 upvotes
bigley Ling

There is no doubt the IBIS in olympus E-M5 or E-M1 will be superior to a mobile phone even if it has image stabilization of some kind. But just look at the size of the 1020 for instance vs the EM-5.

As for dynamic range, smaller sensors are indeed plagued with poorer signal to noise and reduced dynamic range. But if you use DNG RAW output provided in the 1020 or 1520 you will be pleasantly surprised how much shadow detail you can recover.

I own the older Nokia 808, which only does JPG, and I deliberately underexpose landscape scenes in order to preserve highlights, and as for shadows appearing black, shadow recovery seems to work extremely well with this particular phone.

0 upvotes
wansai

when you consider that mobile phones are the replacement for point and shoots, of course they are serious tools. even a point and shoot is a serious tool.

. certainly you arent going to tripod in the middle of a hectic event. here, you'd take a dslr with its bigger sensor and glass & shoot at a more acceptable 1/60 or 1/80 which means you'd have to crank that iso.

for general shooting these phones are fine for the task. they cover a particular shooting range. for ranges outside those parameters, it is just not the right tool.

i liken it to my screwdrivers. i have a fold out swiss army screwdriver. it does an amazing job when i need it and is highly convenient but there are times you WILL need a longer handle, bigger grip and head etc.. if i dont need the reach or the leverage of the bigger tool, i can use the all in one swiss army kit. then there are times i need an even smaller head for which i have tools to cover those needs.

1 upvote
KAllen

I shoot with Canon 1Ds II, III and X, I also have MF film cameras. I prefer the look of my MF cameras loaded with Portra film.
Viewing images on screen for detail the Canons have it. Looking at prints I'd take the film any day for over all beauty.
Besides I have more fun with ac Rolleiflex than I do the Canons and all the gizmos that go with them.
I can't make a living with film but if I only shot for fun, I would happily stick with film, MF and LF.

1 upvote
vv50

then you agree that smartphones can be considered tools for serious photography.

0 upvotes
Dean Holland

I like your criteria for comparing them. I think the words you use like "beauty", "prefer", "like" and "fun" are key ones for enjoying photography. I find I get caught up too easily in "better" and "worse" comparisons instead, which may be appropriate for photography as work, but I like your criteria better!

1 upvote
Xpress_Shutter

Something doesn't look right with the low light shot from the Lumia 1020.

It has a f.2.2 lens unit. The author has increased the exposure by .66 EV and it was still darker than all f.2.8 cameras at the same shutter speed and ISO setting.

Is Nokia faking the EXIF data?

I've noticed it too at the comparison between the previous 41 Mpixel model, the 808, and the Lumia here at connect site:

http://connect.dpreview.com/post/8720896323/pureview-compared-nokia-808-lumia1020-studio-test-scene.

The Lumia was set to ISO 800 whereas the 808 was set to ISO 640. The 808 has a f2.4 unit and its shot was brighter than Lumia's.

More people seem to have noticed it too:

http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/52826932

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
Dean Holland

Yes - I think the Nokia is being slightly optimistic about its ISO. Have a look at the long discussion of factors in this in Mitsyfog's comments below.

0 upvotes
sblecher6sj7

Three of us performed a side by side test with a NikonD800, a Canon 60d and a Mamiya 645 Pro. The Mamiya was loaded with Kodak Portra color negative film. The pictures were taken with the cameras on a tripod and the focal lengths were chosen to give the same field coverage. The focal lenth of the Nikon Test shots was !.6 times the Canon and the Mamiya focal length was 1.6 times the Nikon. Then the Mamiya negatives were scanned with a Nikon Coolscan 8000 scanner. The Nikon D800 was best performer, and handily outperformed the Mamiya , and Canon 60D also was better than the Mamiya by a smaller margin. Both digital cameras were both much less noisy than the scanned negative. Since the image from the Mamiya doesn't require as much enlargement,it's still capable of making a big print, but not as good as the Nikon D800. The Mamiya can produce a bigger print than my old Canon 30D. Too bad the test written up in DP Review didn't include any DSLR's between the 40D and The D800.

0 upvotes
Dean Holland

Thanks for sharing this. Did you publish it somewhere? I'd love to see the pictures too. I wish I'd included 50D - 70D too. When I started, I was trying to find a D30 and D60 (pre-10D), as I thought the phones would be more likely at that vintage. I didn't expect either to get close to the 40D. I learned a lot from doing this!

1 upvote
brdeveloper

I think film will never compete with DSLRs in the "gross noise count". Film will always look noisy for the new generation of photographers. On the other hand, film noise is something you can live with while digital noise is monotonous and therefore more disturbing as that pattern take your attention.

On the other hand, the Velvia textures on the metal cable at bottom of the test picture or that gray building at mid right shows that film still is a good option for texture maniacs like me.

Maybe a raw picture from D800 can be better processed, but considering only this review, I still prefer the film one at daylight.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
1 upvote
b craw

Well done, Dean. DSLRs and smartphones embody the structural and philosophical extremes in a divide that, all too often, results in strange-faced territorialism. I remember a time (and cringe to imagine just how long ago it was) that photographers would look at each others' collections of many cameras and formats and acknowledge relative delights and potentials. Sadly what presents now is advocacy for this or that - dry, flat exclusivity.

A good many conceptually-bent photographers find new potentials in in-phone cameras all the time. It wasn't even 15 years ago that a friend of mine produced a project in which he photographed persons in the supermarket secretly, then quickly rushed out to a van outside to print their image integrated into an ad that was then put into cart ad space, that cart/ad taken back into the store to be potentially confronted , then quickly rushed out to a van outside to print their image integrated into an ad that was then put into cart ad space, that cart/ad taken back into the store to be potentially acknowledged by the subject. Per his suspicion about places where we "sleep", no one every did (0/27). I just give this as an example. He used a compact point and shoot camera hidden in a book - would have today used a smartphone (although that hollowed-out book housing was a nice bit of sculpture). Point is: different objectives demand different application(s) of technology.

What you do here, locating a point of equilibrium between the performance of today's smartphone to yesteryear's DSLR, is actually very informative and curiously good fun; kind of like doing math while playing racket sports.

2 upvotes
b craw

Oops, a bit of a Lynchian presentation of circumstance in the above illustration (including cut and paste error). I am on a smartphone and haven't a means to correct it. Smartphones!!!

0 upvotes
Dean Holland

This is brilliant - a much clearer conclusion than mine in fewer words! By putting the cameras on a continuum, not a hierarchy, you show how they all have worthy characteristics. None is better than any other, just more or less appropriate for a given application. I'd extend the scale a bit, and put large format at one end, smartphones at the other, and DSLRs somewhere around the middle. It's essentially a sensor size scale. At the ends are the specialist tools which excel at few things. The DSLRs are the jack-of-all-trades generalists in the middle. The progress that I should have been writing about is how technology is starting to usurp the scale itself.
Love your thinking. If I ever play you at tennis, remind me to set you a particularly thorny maths problem first.

2 upvotes
Alan2014

When digital cameras first appeared, film shooters used to rubbish them and even today DSLR's are considered to be inferior to medium / large format. I guess smartphones face the same challenges versus DSLR's. However, they represent the future due to their small form factor, ease of use and sharing. Also because smartphones integrate so many other features such as wifi, GPS, etc. that are clunky bolt-ons for DSLR's. For prosumer use, the direction is clear. DSLR's and their larger sized cousins will be relegated to increasingly specialized niches such as architecture sort of like the space occupied by large format , film today

2 upvotes
vv50

"When digital cameras first appeared, film shooters used to rubbish them... I guess smartphones face the same challenges versus DSLR's (sic)"
- that's not entirely accurate. regular 35mm film really was superior to the earliest digital cameras, but there are p&s sensors now that have surpassed them. typical consumers don't get SLR or MF cameras, whether it is film before or digital today. even though everyone nowadays gets smartphones, not every smartphone is going to be designed for photography, so there's no "relegation of DSLRs and larger-sized cousins" to specialized niches going on, the market for "prosumers" will never be occupied by smartphones.

0 upvotes
sblecher6sj7

What you say is true, but the full frame SLR has totally eliminated the market for medium format film cameras. I have a lot of money tied up in my Mamiya Pro outfit, and it now has no earthly use. I bought it before digital SLR's were available.

0 upvotes
vv50

that's just a specific example of digital cameras eliminating film cameras.

0 upvotes
wansai

perhaps, if all you shoot is wide angle f18 shots at or near base iso. certainly there are things that could be shot like this. then, there are things that cant.

i dont think weddings or events are nich. they qre very common photographic areas of coverage. i certainly would not ever shoot a wedding with a smartphone form factor with fixed wide angle, at f18 equivilent. not to mention the handling. not to mention your lighting options. not to mention depth of field control. not to mention low light performance at shutter speeds you need to capture movement.

what mobile phones are is a easy to use good enough camera for general shooting. i'd argue that most ppl who buy cameras dont actually need them or even make full use of them. it is these groups that smartphones are best suited for. for those who actually need the camera, like a wedding photog, that is the absolute best tool no matter if the smartphone outperforms it in absolute IQ. it cannot & will never replace dslr cameras.

0 upvotes
Dean Holland

@wansai, I agree 100% based on how things are now, but I think that DSLRs as a design only have a handful of decades left in them, at most. Within 45 years, devices will have about 1,000,000,000 times the processing power if Moore's law still holds. By then, I guess it will seem archaic to use big expensive lumps of glass to bend photons around, all just to work out which direction they came from. Technology will be able to do it cheaper, smaller, and better. Whatever replaces DSLRs might not look like a phone, but technology has to make the DSLR design obsolete sooner or later.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
vlad0

Similar comp which includes the 808

http://www.members.westnet.com.au/vaneede/cameras/cameras.htm

1 upvote
Chrismcg

"can’t change the perspective and feel of pictures by zooming or changing lenses"

You can only change perspective by moving your camera position - changing lenses only crops or sees more of the same perspective view.

0 upvotes
Dean Holland

Hi Chrismcg, that's true for the perspective of each part of the scene itself, but the lens still chooses the total amount of perspective you're able to capture in the image. If I only owned a wide lens, I couldn't avoid huge depth and perspective in every picture without cropping, no matter how far back I moved. That's the perspective challenge that I feel that smartphones face.

0 upvotes
Liviu Namolovan

Smartphones vs DSLRs?! Come on! Get real!!!! What about the joy of using a real camera?! To acknowledge that tech. has come a long way is one thing but to compare the results from a state of the art machinery as DSLRs are right now with some so-so IQ from smartphones is totally unnappropriate; it's like a statement of acceptance of uneducated/rudimentary opinions vs the opinion of knowleadgeble and educated people. There are some that may like 1 mp facebook photos; it is all they ever need. Those unfortunated uneducated people don't know what a printed image is like and what is that all about but they have a lot of nerve to bash the DSLRs' output. This topic is about the preferences of people enjoying a vacation. It is not about photography or photographers. I'm wondering if people that have nothing in common with photography are entitled to an opinion, actually. Quality is hard to find, so numbers are low. Unfortuated uneducated people are plenty; their opinions matter to marketeers.

0 upvotes
vlad0

The Nokia N8 replaced my D400 in 2010.. for the most part.

My 808 made me sell it.

Its all relative and user dependent.

2 upvotes
Dean Holland

I accept that you don't think that we should compare them, and I agree 100% about the joy of using a well-crafted camera. I learned so much from doing this comparison, and hoped that others would too. What's your view of the actual results? Where would you place the Nokia among the other cameras?

4 upvotes
vv50

"...to compare the results from a state of the art machinery as DSLRs are right now with some so-so IQ from smartphones is totally unnappropriate;"

- for someone who belittles the uneducated, you don't seem to realize it's inappropriate to spell the word as 'unnappropriate'

6 upvotes
Rob

Really enjoyed the article. I wish the comparison wasn't just between smartphones and DSLR's though, because it's such an unfair and illogical comparison in just about every way (however illuminating it was). Comparing compact cameras to smartphones would have been much more appropriate, because they have more similar sensor and body sizes, as well as similar price range, lack interchangeable lenses, etc. Also, people who shoot with compact cameras are more likely to also shoot with smartphones, while there are far more DSLR shooters who would not bother with smartphone shooting.

With that said, I'm one of those people who over the last few years, has started to take more photos with the smartphone in non-demanding situations, and the DSLR only comes out when I'm doing planned "serious" photo sessions. Even when traveling, unless I'm on a photo-trip or going somewhere exotic, I don't even bring the DSLR anymore as it's just too cumbersome and gets in the way of enjoying a vacation.

0 upvotes
Dean Holland

I agree completely about the comparison with compacts - much more sensible and comparable in every way. I didn't do it, because DXOMark have made a stab at that one already (see the details in the comment from George Hsia below). Plus, I was just curious!

1 upvote
vlad0

This article should've been written in 2012 when the Nokia 808 PureView came out and the D800.

You would've been even more impressed than you are today.

4 upvotes
Michael Uschold

An excellent article. Two thoughts. First, please do some tests of the add-on lenses for smartphones, there may be some good quality lenses out there that can close the gap further between smartphones and DSLRs.

Second, I am glad to see film in the test. It can serve as a stable baseline against which to compare modern cameras. I recently made an 11x16 print from a Canon S45 4 megapixel camera that came out in 2002! I was startled to see that the quality was excellent. How many people need to print larger than that? A poor or average image quality rating from a modern camera need not deter a buyer, if they know it exceeds the quality of the best film ever (e.g. Velvia 50).

Of course, marketers don't want to hear this, they want to sell more and better stuff even if the quality improvement will never be directly experienced by the photographer.

Comment edited 6 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Dean Holland

Didn't think of using add-on lenses! Good point. Anecdotally, I've found that the fisheye and close-up lenses are pretty good. They take a toll on sharpness, but they're fun. I haven't found any half-decent telephoto lenses at all yet. Does anyone know a good one?

2 upvotes
Pete Holzmann

Hmmm... while there is a lot that can be done with technology, there are some limits built into the fabric of the universe, ie physics.

Light has a certain wavelength. Eventually, you get to the point where cramming more megapixels into a tiny space does no good because each pixel in a sensor is just too small and you get diffraction blurring. And that's where we are with phone-based sensors. Even the Nokia has pixels that are barely bigger than one micron -- this is what limits the useful aperture of phone cameras.

There's nothing that can be done about this physical/physics limit, other than using physically larger sensors.

What do you think? I wonder if perhaps future challenges will be less about technology and more about usability?

0 upvotes
Dean Holland

I think yours is the key question. I'd love to hear from an imaging engineer who knows the challenges. I don't see diffraction as an insurmountable limit. For example, from my primitive understanding, it's the challenge that radio telescopes have, where the detectors can be small compared to the 30m wavelength. It's solved with "interferometric arrays", like LOFAR in Europe where software creates images from interference patterns. I've got no idea if it can work in a phone with visible wavelengths - just that the problem is solvable in theory with enough processing power... no idea if it could be engineered! But with so much money to the team that cracks the decent zoomable phone camera, I'm optimistic that it'll be cracked.

1 upvote
vv50

"each pixel in a sensor is just too small and you get diffraction blurring" -or, one can read nokia's pureview white papers to learn how they mated the optics to offset diffraction

1 upvote
wansai

i think we have come to a stage in tech where IQ is overall good enough that even camera makers are putting more resource into other areas such as size, build, usability, handling etc.

there are likely workarounds for physics limited problems but even with that resolved the question would be about handling and operation and flexibility and coverage of shooting parameters.

certainly someone who shoots wide angle primes with a fixed setting would benefit but outside that parameter, it really doesnt matter how much better the IQ gets because the range your shooting falls outside the phone cameras.

0 upvotes
matty_boy

more of this kind of stuff please. After the very disappointing 5s review (the last time i came here). I vowed i would never come back to read some of the trivia posted as reporting but came here thanks to a link someone put on a favourite site of mine. Excellent article. well written and really interesting, actually feels like some real work was put into this article rather than just someone sat in their pyjamas hammering out another staid article about nothing much. great work

5 upvotes
Ron

Quite engrossing from the testing through the comments. My eyes are nearly bleeding having read all in one sitting, but I'm happy that I consumed it all. In recent years I've enjoyed two point and shoot, two DSLRs and a compact bridge as my latest.
I plan to add an iPhone 5S within the next week; primarily as a phone, but now with great expectations for good quality spontaneous photos. Many thanks, Dean, for your important insights. You have contributed much to help with my decision. Kudos to DPReview for using your expertise.

4 upvotes
George Hsia

Do the same thing but with the Canon G series or any other quality p&s that has a few years you can compare against. That will be a much more interesting comparison.

0 upvotes
Dean Holland

DXOMark have done this already. They put the Nokia 808 (pretty similar to the 1020) ahead of the G9 but behind the S100. Have a look under their headline "Smartphones beat 5 year old DSCs".

2 upvotes
vlad0

In my experience the 808 is closer to the RX100 than the S100 ..

1 upvote
deep7

Fascinating read! I've frequently been surprised at how usable the photos from my iPhone are, much more so than I expected before I got it. In fact, though I am one of those sad puppies who never goes anywhere without a camera, I often am quite happy to just have the iPhone with me as that camera. Unthinkable a few short years ago!

My bottom line is this: is the image good enough for a nice A4 print? Well, yup...

4 upvotes
tjdean01

For artistic shots, nothing compares to a serious interchangeable lens camera. "Famous sites" require and "enthusiast compact" with smaller sensor to get everything in focus and a sharp lens. For memorable shots at a party, any camera will work, but it's nice to know that a phone with a flash with get you useable results. I personally have all types.

I appreciate the comparison and understand its purpose of yearly progress in quality. In the future, however, I'd like to see more variables. So, we had the 5s and the Nokia ($600 phones) and the D800e ($3000 with lens). It would be valuable, shoppers, I'd think, to compare these phones vs the $100 compact cameras, that way people can decide if they want an expensive phone or a cheap phone + dedicated camera. Or, the photos taken with the $3000 D800e can be replicated by a modern Micro Four Thirds camera for $500 including lens. Just an idea for the future!

1 upvote
Dean Holland

Hi tjdean01, thanks for your input. I've published half of that comparison already. Have a look at the iPhone 5 review on our website, which included a $100 compact, a $500 compact, and Nikon D3 too. I actually included the $100 compact in this test, but didn't include the photos, as it didn't add anything new - it was beaten by everything unless you need the zoom.

1 upvote
brycesteiner

Hello Dean,

I enjoyed the article a lot. I especially like the part that compared the premium DSLRs over the years. The D800 looks nice but I'm not sure it's worth above and beyond the older ones when I see those I wonder if I've wasted money on the newer cameras. As far as the phones they do a good job for their purpose too but I really don't have a smart phone. I guess the new iPod will do for me.
I also found interesting the film.
The higher ISO film isn't very good, but the low ISO is fantastic. I was also surprised that the film noise isn't all that great, not like what we've been hearing in the forums. The details in the 1600 ISO isn't that great either.
The cameras of yesteryear can still take great pictures even without spending more money. If you're doing weddings they still work.
Again, thank you for showing me all these pictures and comparing them. It's been one of the most helpful reviews I've ever seen.

2 upvotes
cmvsm

One point that is not hammered enough is the portability of a smart phone. This is why all of the money is being dumped into this sector. This is the same trend as to why DSLR's continue to get smaller, and the serious introduction of the 4/3rds because of size. The bulk of consumers and enthusiasts alike are getting tired of all of the bulky equipment that needs to be lugged around in order to take a shot. I've always been a Nikon DSLR fan, and have my share of investment in decent glass. That said, I'm always on the lookout for a bridge cam with a great lens, larger sensor, and the ability to catch action, in order to replace everything that I have. The Sony RX10 that was just release is very close, but not close enough for me to make a switch. I can however tell that it won't be long before a couple more revisions are released and I make the switch as well.

1 upvote
JABB66

Hello

I'm not a DSLR fundamentalist (in fact I have not ever owned one) and while I admit a phone can take good photos in good light, this comparison favors smartphones too much :
how many photos are taken in the real world with smartphones on a tripod?
And what about zoom?
Any decent compact are much better in low light even if is simply because they have a real flash, and most smartphone users use frequently the zoom, and even a travel zoom camera with small sensor is a lot better at telephoto.

Sadly, most of the people using smartphones aren't the kind of people that visits this Web site and don't understand the big limitations of the camera phones, and didn't realize it until the occasion of a photo arrives and because of the adverse circumstances the resulting image is totally ruined.

0 upvotes
Dean Holland

Hi Jabb66. With me shooting, the tripod actually favoured the DSLRs, as I get a better hit rate at 1/15th sec with the virtual shutter on the phones than the clicky shutter button on the EOS 10D and 20D. That may be just me - I'm more stable with a professional camera. The Nokia has a real flash - not very powerful, but proper xenon like a compact. But none of the phones has a meaningful zoom. I was most surprised by how competitive the phones were in low light. Do you agree with about 8 years behind for the Nokia? I'd put it further behind myself, but that's what our panel made it.

1 upvote
wansai

@Dean, i'd agree with your overall conclusion. it looks about right for absolute image quality.

0 upvotes
MarshallG

Dean, I think this review is really missing the practical, real-world differences between smartphone cameras and DSLR's. I respect the work you did and the similarities you found, except that you proved that if you compare two 10MP sensors in controlled, nearly identical circumstances, you can get very close results.

But in most real-world situations, my iPhone photos are not as good as my DSLR photos. Focus is always a little soft. Photos taken indoors look really bad. Dynamic range is really bad -- so snapshots taken in sunny outdoors look washed out. And I'm not trying to be picky. Yes, the iPhone is a much better snapshot camera than the Kodak Instamatic, but I think it is not a competitor to the DSLR.

0 upvotes
Dean Holland

Thanks MarshallG. I agree that an iPhone is no match for a contemporary DLSR. But these results suggest that if we swapped your iPhone for an EOS 10D, you'd find a similar disappointments in pictures from the 10D compared to your other DLSR. If your other DSLR is a 10D then my argument fall down completely! The 10D had loads of practical flaws too by contemporary standards - hesitant AF, slow shooting, glacial startup, no easy wide-angles (this was pre-EFS), no raw+jpeg, tiny dim screen etc. I'll be keen to know if you see the iPhone problems that you mention in the original files linked in the article - especially the soft focus. I've not seen it in properly working iPhones - but I have seen it in a few iPhones that were replaced.

0 upvotes
MarshallG

I don't know if this is how I can reply to you Dean, but...

With an EOS 10 I can control depth of field and produce a beautiful portrait. I can use a telephoto and fast shutter speed to capture a great sports photo. I can use fill flash, bounce flash, multi flash... forget all that -- I can use an actual flash instead of an LED. I can view a histogram of my photo and re-take my photo with the correct exposure.

If I think of my ten best photos of the last year, I could not have taken any of them with a smartphone, but I could have taken most with an EOS 10 with decent results. I bet that there is a really talented guy out there who will understand his smartphone really well, and he'll take photos that are better than mine BUT I can't do that.

I'm happy to see smartphone cams get better, but the things that I associate with my photography -- shutter/aperture/ISO/DoF/focus point aren't available in a smartphone, and I think it's more than software.

0 upvotes
Dean Holland

I appreciate any replies! Yup, many of these are limitations of the phones at the moment. If you're a sports/portrait/wildlife multi-flash location photographer, I find that current phones are an exercise in frustration to shoot with.
I think of a phone as a different type of brush to paint with, good for different TYPES of pictures. If you enjoy working to their current strengths (e.g. street shooting, landscapes, social interations), I find them now very effective tools - much like prime lens compacts.
To be pedantic, the Nokia offers full instant control over shutter, ISO and focus point, and has a minuscule but proper flash. And depth of field control is awkwardly and kludgily simulated by Nokia's focus-stacking app. But with faster processing, will this be how we all do apertures in a few years?

0 upvotes
technic

Although I appreciate the article, I mostly agree with MarshallG. This test is just like the DXO numbers: they look solid and objective, but they are sometimes very far removed from real life results. There was an article last year comparing pictures from some of the top smartphones including the 808 with premium compacts and a mirrorless camera. The phones often had quite serious artifacts like lens flare and strange reflection and all kinds of other issues (e.g. with color or dynamic range) that often resulted in a picture that most serious photographers would discard compared to a quality compact shot (let alone a current DSLR). The smartphones only do well in relatively ideal conditions, which is not representative of current use of photography - except for those who only use smartphones.

And another point: don't expect smartphone image quality to improve at the same rate in the next years, improvement will become more gradual just like with DSLRs in the last years.

0 upvotes
MarshallG

Definitely, most people I know use only their cell phone as their camera. And I bought my wife the iPhone 5s instead of 5c only because of the better camera, which she uses a lot. And I use mine a lot. BUT... the best photos I've taken could not have been made with a smartphone at all.

For example, on baseball's Opening Day of 2014, I'm going to shoot from my seat with a 200mm lens or longer, and there's absolutely no way that a mobile phone can match the photos I'll get. I'll freeze the expression on a batter's face as his bat connects with a ball; the cell phone will take a photo of the crowd and playing field. No comparison.

I met two celebrities last year: Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead, and the actor Sir Ian MacKellen. When I met Phil, my wife took a photo with my iPhone. It looks horrible; it's barely a photo. When we met Ian MacKellen, I had my Canon, and even though it was pitch black outside, the camera focused and exposed the photo perfectly.

0 upvotes
Juandante

Extremely biased review. First of all, those images don't show the quality of the color reproduction, and dynamic range. This review is based only on the image details, and a bit of noise. Since when a good camera is only those two last points ? It is a pure joke, also, that the tester upscaled a low ~5 mpx picture to 20 mpx. While this tiny sensor Nokia is from 41 mpx to 20 mpx. It is logical that it will win ! You want to stretch an image to make it ugly and zoom all the defects (Canon 10D) and reduce an image to hide all its defects (Nokia)... It is 10x more intelligent to upscale ALL pictures to 50 mpx... Or lower all to 2 mpx ! I have an APSC camera of 2011 and 2007, and a Iphone 5s. And my Iphone will NEVER match my 2 DSLRs ! Maybe for a 2003 camera, but if it is fullframe, for the color and noise, I doubt ! Please make a new review, not biased, and showing all the global image quality as you know how to do it very well DPReview !

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
Dean Holland

Hi Juandante, thanks for sharing your view. I thought exactly the same as you about upres/downres, and your approach is exactly what I tried first. Did you have a look at the page with all the technical notes that explained why we changed away from that method? We've put the full-res original pictures up, and I'd love someone to check them through and add in their thoughts about dynamic range and colour depth. It looks like we've reached the same conclusion that the iPhone 5S doesn't match a 2007 DSLR. Where would you place the images from the iPhone and Nokia among these DSLRs?

1 upvote
Juandante

The dynamic range and color reproduction... And the details are worst : just zoom to 100% and compare to the 10D, and observe the paint like quality of the Nokia for big details. The 10D have a clair quality. The small details are worste.

The only thing the Nokia has better is the contrast and the punchiness of the colors. But can we say it is the quality of the sensor ?

The iPhone has indeed better dynamic range than the 10D.

Now the real question is which camera I would take for pictures ?

My answer we can not compare an old technology to a recent one. We can't. It is like comparing a vintage racing car and a 2014 ferrari.

If you want landscape pictures, there is no reason to buy an old camera. You buy a DSLR of today with a phone of today.

And the other problem, the Nokia is mixing old quality with new one. I want more small details on my 10D ? I come closer or change lense ! I want more dynamic for Nokia ? I can't do ANYTHING. Nokias is not (yet) the quality of an old DSLR.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Dean Holland

Hi Juandante, thanks for following-up and checking the pictures. I agree that the Nokia is really limited for dynamic range in jpegs - it's almost as limited as the transparency film. So I'm keen to see how it does with raw when it's released in a few days. When you compared the Nokia and the 10D at 100%, did you make the pictures the same size first? Otherwise, you're looking at a 6x greater enlargement for the Nokia, so it shows the ugly painterly noise reduction. To my eye, the Nokia captures massively more detail than the 10D in EV15 - I'd put it closer to the D800.
I agree that it's weird to compare old to new, but the purpose is to get a sense of how far we've come and how fast we're moving, not to choose which to buy.

1 upvote
MattLangley

Great article... It's definitely becoming more and more diminishing returns. Though most things tend that way with technology. Just think that we have quad core processors in our phones now. Not all that long ago quad core was amazing in a desktop. Technology progresses fast until it doesn't.

With that said I do think you framed the context well, though possibly could have focused a bit more on the framing. Smartphones can compete pretty decently with DSLRs in the conditions smartphones work at all, though as you mention there are *many* situations in which the smartphones can't work and will probably be much harder to solve (such as swappable lenses giving you different zoom lengths, or visual aspects like depth of field etc).

With that said, we're finding more and more that what smartphones are working increasingly better at are those situations we want pictures the most often.

It definitely seems this is creating a firmer line between hobbyist photography and personal.

1 upvote
Dean Holland

Thanks! I'd like to hear more about the firmer line between hobbyist and personal photography. Can you expand on this a bit? I'm curious, because I'd arrived at the opposite conclusion that it's blurring those lines!

0 upvotes
chipmaster

I'm a big DLSR man with D4 and D600, but this past vacation almost all the pictures were from iPhone5s. The key, they are always with you ( purse, pocket, jacket ), they take decent enough pictures to capture that moment. How many of our DSLR pictures do we frame or blow up or do more than share with friends on instagram/facebook/snapchat. That is the larger problem for the camera manufactures. DO THEY REALIZE THEY ARE IN THE IMAGING BUSINESS? Their business has been absorbed by the smartphone,

4 upvotes
Bogart99

Of course nobody is going to want to lug around a full-on professional D4 to just "capture the moment" to post on instagram.
This doesn't mean DSLRs are flawed or obsolete. Some people need their extra capability.
There are a thousand cameras out there, from phone cameras, to professional DSLRs, so there is a camera for everybody. Each person just needs to choose the right camera for their own needs.

1 upvote
mzillch

The big difference to me is the phone's lack of tripod socket without resorting to some bulky kludge. My PnS has a Manfrotto under-carriage pop-out tripod permanently affixed to it, MP1-C01. They are wonderful for folks like me who hate carrying bulk. It even fits in the existing skin tight camera case I use!

0 upvotes
jpj001

Good eye-opening article - it's given me plenty to think about.

I guess that if you're going to photograph distant wildlife or fast moving cars/planes etc. then a DSLR is still going to be the best tool for the job for some time to come. For everything else there's more and more choice including CSCs.

It's been said before that the best camera is the one you have with you and I've taken countless snaps with an iPhone 4. When I look back at the year's photos it's not always obvious which camera each shot was taken with.

Let's put this into context: some of the greatest 35mm photographers were using the medium at a time when film emulsions were dismal. The better camera phones are capable of better IQ than Capa and Cartier-Bresson had in their day (For a long time 35mm was dismissed as a 'miniature' format). I wonder what they'd have made of an iPhone?

Thanks, I'll treat my phone with a little more respect now and stop wishing that I'd had a 'proper' camera in future.

1 upvote
MarshallG

If I was Capa or Cartier-Bresson, I probably would get better photos with a smartphone than I'm getting now with my Canon 7D.

But I'm not that good a photographer.

0 upvotes
Jose A. Pacheco

Since I got my iPhone 5S which is always in my pocket, I found more difficult to take out my DSLR and even my Canon G1 X for street photography. On Christmas Day I went to Kangaroo Point to shoot the sunset in time lapse with the G1 X and the iPhone, it was a great surprised how good the results where with the phone and without doing a lot of post-processing.

But shooting at sports or wildlife is another story. I had a lot of fun with my 7D and the big lens at the PGA in Gold Coast.

In this days, I'm not anymore concerned if I see a good opportunity to make a beautiful photo, just grab the iPhone and shoot and HDR and time lapses are a piece of cake because most of the time I carry a Gorilla Pod with iPhone bracket as well.

3 upvotes
Dean Holland

Yup - I look at it the same way. It's only on the most predictable, controllable commercial shoots that I've always got the perfect camera and lens with me and ready. The rest of the time, it's a fluid compromise of time, weight, and group energy. As long as I know the limitations of the device - what it CAN'T do well - I enjoy the speed-chess game of trying to make great images with what I have.

0 upvotes
munro harrap

All the DSLRs here have AA filters so the Velvia has more detail and more acuity than anything else. Visibly- which comes to my next bother.
The screens we use cannot display the detail in files now. An HD screen does allow you to check details at 100%, BUT it is only 100% at TWO MEGAPIXEL resolution.

When you move to an iMac the first thing you think you notice is it makes your snaps sharper, but this is an illusion.

We do not have screens that can display these resolutions accurately yet, but the Retina is about the nearest.

Digital's problem is how it responds to different light levels, and the older the sensor is, and the more pixels it has with a stupidly too high black point setting (set your Lightroom blacks to -100 and see your photograph using medium contrast), the more the shadows are clogged with black specs.

To see how far we have come since film, be fair, use a large format film camera, obviously, and a Foveon sensor.

Please!!

2 upvotes
Dean Holland

I see where you're coming from, and the comparison you suggest could be a better way to see what the technologies are ultimately capable of. But that just wasn't a question that I was interested in tackling. I wanted to compare landmark devices that we're all familiar with, so we can get a 'feel' for progress and look back and see what the view's like from 2014. That's the question that I was busting to answer!

0 upvotes
Camera5

I think most readers understand the aim of the article, which I thoroughly enjoyed. There is also a take-away for buyers of MFT or APS-C systems. How long before they catch up with full-frame....or full frame catches up with the high end of medium format...and so on. Morals of the story? Buy good lenses - the sensors will just keep getting better and better. And, a great smart phone in your pocket is no good if you don't use it to take great pictures. Concentrate on the the photography, not the camera, remember it's an art form.

Comment edited 47 seconds after posting
7 upvotes
technic

Display technology is changing quickly at the moment, within a few years many photographers will be using 4K (or even 8K) screens, with 8 MP resolution and much better contrast and color range (with OLED). By that time most of these smartphone pictures will look pretty disappointing, just like images from early digicams and analog TV channels ...

0 upvotes
Nojay

My desktop display is a 3.5Mpixel Dell (2560x1440 resolution) with a very fine colour gamut thanks to an IPS panel and LED backlighting. Affordable 8Mpixel displays (3840x2160, so-called "4k") are already on the market and there is a future roadmap for 8k displays running to over 30Mpixels.

It's not just the camera sensors and optics that have been improving by leaps and bounds over the past ten years.

0 upvotes
La5Rocks

This is a great comparison! I'm trying to figure out how to replace my aging 40D, and these tests point out how that's not so clear-cut a choice anymore. I really want a smaller system (not just camera), because it's such a drag hauling a big camera and big (great!) lenses around that I do it less and less. Yet, there are often moments of "I could have gotten a much better image with my 40D", but didn't have it. Here' s hoping for new lens technology to be gamechangers for the phones!

Another big consideration for me is video. I'm finding that my Nokia 920 produces very acceptable videos, and the OIS is invaluable. Do you think you'd be up to rounding a "years behind" comparison for video, too? That would be very interesting to see.

BTW, kudos for a nice string of comments; very few DSLR vs Phone rants.

2 upvotes
Dean Holland

It's fun having the new choices, but makes the decision harder! I'm not the person for a "years behind" for video, but DXOMark have some interesting thoughts on it on their website.
I'm enjoying the comments... thanks for joining in!

0 upvotes
SansPeurVJ

With recent advances in smartphone cameras, I've been waiting for just such an article. So, thanks for taking the time to do this! Yet, at present, I would still prefer to carry a dedicated camera as well as my smartphone. That is, until smartphone camera technology suffices to take care of all eventualities! Thus, recently, en route to a New Year's Eve dinner I saw some great street scenes. There wasn't a whole lot of light. Well, hello, I uncovered my dedicated camera and squeezed off a bunch savoring the delayed gratification of turning my raws into sweet jpgs. I then sat at dinner and saw this photoworthy scene at our table of a beautiful bottle of wine lit by candlelight. Now if I were to pull out my camera and do my thing my companion would not at all be amused. On the other hand, my kids are dying to see a pic of the scene on Instagram. So, voila, I slide out my smartphone and in the guise of checking for urgent messages take a pic. So both "kinds" of cameras have their uses!

1 upvote
fredphotog

Well, I can agree with one thing for sure:
'and I remember the original Velvia from 1990 being like crack cocaine to landscape photographers. '

2 upvotes
graybalanced

The funny thing about that, is you can probably easily find a serious landscape photographer who will criticize the smartphone generation's tendency to slap a filter on a picture to give it a "look" instead of processing it themselves.

Yet this is nothing new. It is a little like back in the film days when people chose which film to use. Because we didn't have enough control over the color process from shot to print, we chose film as the primary rendering interpretation of the scene.

In the digital era you can't use film formulations as a crutch. You can use raw develop presets which are the next closest thing. It's almost a more pure form of photography than when your vision is intermediated by a specific film or paper.

I might be called a heretic for saying this, but back in the film days, choosing your film like Velvia was that era's version of picking your Instagram filter or Nik preset. You had to use it to get your "look."

2 upvotes
wansai

well, not really. in film days, we talk about the process to end ptoduct. we're developing our own pictures and making choices on the paper used the same as if we were to print from digital, we'd need to make paper choice. sure the choice has a specific profile to it but filters ala instagram are quite different. these are prepackaged and designed to imitate various film looks and film techniques.

it' faux because it's generally a set preset. one person's effect is near exactly the same as another's provided they use the same one. now, a properly dodged and burned digital image in photoshop and processed by the photog, that's art.

like, designers will laugh at you if you use PS's built in lense flare filter. it's fake looking & easy to use but a proper designer would manually draw it out himself in PS so it looks more natural & appropriate.

i have no isues with filters but ppl do need to realise it's a huge crutch.

0 upvotes
AbrasiveReducer

I see a way which these phones have more in common with film than with digital cameras. With film, there was always a cost associated with taking a photo. It wasn't necessarily huge but at some point there would be processing and buying more film.

Digital cameras broke that cycle. Take as many pictures as you like. Good, bad, what's the difference. Unless the user wanted prints, the cost per photo was zero.

With phones, unlimited photos are free and people happily pay $700+ a year for the phone so you now have a camera that comes with a subscription.

3 upvotes
vv50

that's false logic - the subscription is for phone service. if you stop paying that doesn't prevent its camera from being able to take photos. it's no different from any other digital camera, where people upgrade to better devices when it fits their needs.

1 upvote
technic

the smartphone camera IS different from a normal quality compact (e.g. an $200 Canon powershot): it has a MUCH higher price - despite lacking at least 90% of the features/controls - if you do the right calculation. Most phones with a quality camera cost $ 500-1000 or so without a contract.

0 upvotes
vv50

the price difference of a phone versus a camera is not the issue in question. it's the silly notion that the usage of phone cameras is similar to film cameras due to the non-zero cost of replacing film being compared to the recurring phone bill.

0 upvotes
dave_bass5

Can't see the point of this really.
Why not compare what modern tech can do?
Show people how well (or not) a modern DSLR stacks up against a modern smartphone.
No one buys those old DSLRS anyway, so what relevance does it have.?
Slow news day by the looks of it.

1 upvote
vv50

"Why not compare what modern tech can do?" - did you miss the nikon D800?

"No one buys those old DSLRS anyway, so what relevance does it have" - do people suddenly stop using their DSLRs when there are new ones?

Comment edited 10 minutes after posting
7 upvotes
ManuelVilardeMacedo

I'm lost for words...

3 upvotes
Total comments: 209
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