The Pros and Cons of Smartphones and DSLRs

One place where the advent of the smartphone has been the most disruptive is the photography industry. Only a few years ago it was laughable to think of a phone’s photo ending up on the front page of a newspaper or magazine. But this has become increasingly common.

Smartphones have been extremely disruptive in terms of what cameras are taking most photographs today. In fact, the top two spots for the number of pictures taken on Flickr are from smartphones. Traditional cameras show up in the third and fourth slots from Canon and Nikon.

While these cameras are good for some things, there are some areas where they just can’t compete. The following points are just a few of the pros and cons of smartphone and DSLR photography:

Size Matters

One place where smartphones always wins is in the size department. Professional DSLRs are large, bulky, and heavy, and even with the recent trend toward smaller and lighter mirrorless cameras, they dwarf even some of the largest phones, including the iPhone 6s Plus, on the market.

This size differential gives smartphones the advantage of being inconspicuous at an event since it is just one smartphone out of many in the crowd. Depending on what is going on, this can be a major advantage if security or demonstrators want to keep “professional” photographers away from a gathering or other event.

What about Bokeh?

Bokeh, or the out-of-focus areas, in a picture will always be won by the device with a larger sensor. This is just part of the physics of photography. Larger image sensors are able to create a more shallow depth of field, which helps separate the main subject from the background. Bokeh can be added in post-processing, but it is often done poorly and can ruin an image.

Bokeh is also affected by the focal length of the lens. Most smartphones have a lens with the focal length equivalent of 28 to 35mm. This is great for capturing a scene, but it makes it more difficult to get good separation between the subject and background unless you get fairly close.


Settings controls is another area where the DSLR is not going to be beat. Even the lowest-end DSLR gives a much higher degree of control than a smartphone.

The average smartphone camera app gives control to settings like the white balance and the flash whereas DSLRs allow control over most of the settings, such as shutter speed, ISO, aperture and shooting in a RAW format. Some smartphone apps do allow for this sort of control (such as the great Manual iPhone app), but the same quality isn’t always there.

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