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You may have guessed from my use of the phrase real camera in the title that this article may contain some bias. Everything I write does to some degree, that’s normal. Hopefully, though my experience is helpful to you when you come to think about upgrading.
I want to present some of the pros and cons of upgrading to a real camera from a photographer’s perspective. This article is for you if enjoy using your phone to take photos but feel limited by it. It is also for you if you have a real camera to help answer questions from phone photographers who ask why you use a camera.
My intention here is to share information from my perspective. I am a long-time professional photographer and photography teacher. But I have also recently started taking phone photography more seriously.
Almost all cameras are bigger than a mobile phone. Phones have the advantage of portability, but this is about the only advantage size has. Let me explain.
A good camera lens is essential to being able to make good clear photos. If the lens is small and low-quality, you are not going to get the best results.
Lenses on phones are tiny and most often made of plastic or sapphire crystal. Lenses for real cameras are larger and most often made of multiple glass elements.
Light is essential for creating a photograph. Light must first pass through lens, which bends it and focuses it so an image can be captured by the sensor. If there is any distortion in the lens the image quality will be compromised. Good quality larger lenses are more capable of producing sharper, more accurate images.
The range of lenses for cameras is enormous. Even small compact cameras have the capacity to zoom from wide-angle to telephoto optically. When the lens does the work of manipulating the light and sending it to the sensor, the quality is far better. On a phone when you zoom in, the image is just enlarged digitally and the quality suffers dramatically.
Sensor size is the other main factor in the image quality difference between phones and cameras. By sensor size, I do not mean the megapixel count. Often phones can now have more megapixels than cameras. The actual physical dimensions of the sensor are what make the biggest difference.
A phone sensor is tiny and measures approximately 4.8 x 3.6 mm. There’s no room in a camera to put a larger sensor further away from the lens. Sensor size in cameras varies a lot, but suffice to say they are a lot larger than the ones in phones. Compact cameras have the smallest sensors in cameras which measure approximately 6.2 x 4.6 mm. Currently, the largest sensors in mirrorless and DSLR cameras are 36 x 24 mm (full frame).
Some phones boast huge megapixel counts, similar or larger than some cameras. I would prefer fewer megapixels on a sensor with a larger physical dimension. Squeezing more pixels into a tiny sensor may seem impressive, but it’s not in reality.
If you have the same number of megapixels on a sensor which is physically larger you will have technically higher quality images. To learn more about sensor size and why it’s important, please read this article.
Cameras are generally easier to have creative control over the outcome of the photograph. Phones are designed to be easy to use to get a quick snapshot. This is how most people use them. There are many good apps available to enable more manual control of the camera settings on your phone. Some are easier to use than others.
Entry-level cameras are not often any easier to control manually than phone cameras. Higher-end cameras of any type are more user-friendly for photographers who want a higher degree of control.
On cheaper cameras, it’s often necessary to dig into the camera’s menu system to adjust things like exposure and white balance. Higher-end cameras have more external controls so they are easier and quicker to set manually.
One of the most significant differences between a phone camera and a real one has nothing to do with the technology. When most people pull out their phone to take a photo it’s for a quick snapshot. The picture may be posted to social media and quickly forgotten about.
Using a real camera requires more focused and creative intention. You are more likely to take time and think creatively when you are taking photos with a camera. This increases the likelihood of producing better photos. For me, taking the time to concentrate on photography is more important than the hardware I use to make the image.
Processing and sharing photos from your phone is much easier than from a real camera. Phones are built for connectivity. The internal image manipulation, either native or in any number of apps, is impressive.
The biggest drawback when post-processing images on your phone, is that they are prone to lose quality. Often this is difficult to detect until the image is viewed on a monitor or you want to have it printed. It is very easy to over sharpen or saturate a photo using an app. It might look good on the screen on your phone, but not printed or on a larger monitor.
With a real camera there’s a certain amount you can tweak an image and share it, but it is not nearly as extensive as it is on a phone. Some cameras have built-in wifi and there are also memory cards with wifi available.
This is true. You cannot take a photo if your camera is in a bag in the cupboard at home. But you don’t often forget your phone. This makes it a very good camera, because it is right there with you.
Learning to use your phone to do more than taking snapshots will improve the quality of all your photos. Spending money on a real camera that you don’t learn to use properly and leave at home is not going to make you a better photographer.
The biggest downside to phone cameras is the lower quality images they produce. Most of the time this is not relevant as most photos are shared and viewed on mobile devises these days.
The things that will keep you from relying too much on your phone for taking pictures are:
These things do not stop me taking photos with my phone. Currently, I am using it more than ever, but I need to understand my phone camera better so I can teach people to take better photos with theirs. I am particularly interested in experimenting with the panorama mode.
I believe there are still many years left when real cameras will hold their own against phone cameras. How quickly the technology evolves will determine just how long.
If you are a phone photographer I hope this article will tempt you to pick up a real camera. When you learn to use it you will discover the real joy of photography. If you already use a real camera I hope this information will help you better answer questions when people ask why you don’t just use your phone.