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Will a phone ever be anywhere as good as a DSLR?

See this picture (15MB jpeg).

The main pic is from a Pentax K3 (£1100, just got it) and a 17-70 SDM lens. 24MP, top jpeg quality setting (not RAW – I could never see any difference unless doing fancy manipulation).

Then the same pic was taken with the Nokia 808 (£350 new, grey import so no warranty). That’s a Symbian phone, recently superseded by the 1020 WP phone (I hate the WP user interface but that’s irrelevant; the camera is similar). 40MP camera, image downsampled in the camera app (Camera Pro) to 12MP.

The two magnified insets are annotated.

Obviously the difference is visible, in more ways than one, and there is no comparison when it comes to flexibility and the sheer ability to get a photo in nontrivial conditions. But when you look at the relatively crappy images coming from all the other phones on the market, I would say that a lot of people are not going to buy a standalone camera if their main task is landscapes and other stuff that doesn’t move (or they can repeat a shot).

For airborne work I still have the DSLR but it stays in the plane.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom


Very much interested in photography. These two pictures may look similar in detail/resolution at very very first glance, but this is about it. The smartphone picture is totally smeard in detail, out of focus and has not much dynamic range. Just look at the weeds that grow over the fence to see what I mean. And this was taken under ideal daylight conditions. Now try something similar in low light conditions (either due to poor lighting or fast shutter speeds required in order to avoid motion blur in airborne pictures).
Like everywhere else, size matters here as well. Size of the sensor, size of the AD-converters (in terms of bits resolved, not interpolated or guesstimated) and aperture size of the lens. If smartphones were such good cameras, then professional photographers wouldn’t haul lenses the size of dustbins around that cost more than the cars they drive…

And regarding RAW: Give it a try! The raw files are like the negatives (or slides) of chemical film. They contain all the information that was collected when the image was captured and not only the small subset that fits the .jpg format. You will get sufficiently better pictures even if you process your raw files in batch mode using the standard settings of your conversion software (e.g. Lightroom, Adobe Camera Raw, SilkyPix, Sigma Photo Pro, …) compared to your out-of-camera jpegs. Simply because your camera needs to to this conversion using very limited processing capability versus your desktop computer that can apply thousands of computations to each pixel if necessary.
Especially with air to ground photos from high-altitude, working from the raw data is about the only way to get rid of the blue cast and the dullness without losing detail and information.

EDDS - Stuttgart

It really is easy, come to think of it. For phone calls, use a phone. For photography, use a camera.
Or does your camera give good quality communications?

EBZH Kiewit, Belgium

I think it’s easier to fit a good camera with a decent communication module than to fit a good phone with a decent lens.

Hungriger Wolf (EDHF), Germany

Yes, but how many people ever use a piece of an image from a 24MP (or even the 12MP) camera at 1:1?

Sure you might if you are severely cropping, and this is another area where a DSLR can score (it can have a zoom lens) but the detail in those weeds on the fence will never be visible unless massively zooming-in.

Last Edited by Peter at 28 Jan 15:35
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Hi Peter,

of course that’s pretty good for a phone camera, but that’s about it, you know.

I am just in process of buying a new Nikon D4 after having worked with a D2X and a D300 for a couple of years now – and you would not not believe how big the difference is – when you know what to look for. I have done a coffeetable photo book (“Above Munich”) with the older two cameras and was very pleased with the results (after 3 months of editing photos …) … but the FX cameras deliver so much better image quality, hard to believe.

The most important thing has to know about digital cameras is that MEGAPIXEL COUNT is not a good measure for image quality. Megapixels are ONLY stressed by Marketing Departments and in advertisement so much because any layman will (sort of.) “understand”: "more pixels, more detail, sharper image.

This is not so. It’s not even true for “resolution”. I can show you examples where LOWER resolution cameras had more detail and looked much sharper (and could be printed larger than cameras with a higher pixel count. MEGAPIXELS are a big trap, and until today most people will think that Megapixels define resolution, sharpness, image quality. Nothing could be farther from the truth. What’s much more important than the MP is the image processing software, the quality, size and how far pixels are apart from each other… and many other factors.

Yesterday I tested a Nikon D4 in the darrk. 12500 ISO and I did pictures with 1/8000s on the street in the rain after sunset. You would not beleive what’s possible today. The results looked like ISO 200 on many DSLRs or ISO 400 with the Nikon D300 (and THAT is a very good camera!)…

The D4, by the way, is “only” 16 MP !

Yes, but how many people ever use a piece of an image from a 24MP (or even the 12MP) camera at 1:1?

I do. Because I mainly use fast prime lenses (I prefer aperture, or largest f-stop, over zoom range) with as low ISO setting as possible to reduce noise. Therefore I need to crop most of my images, at least those taken from aboard an aircraft where you can’t get as close to your subject as you would like.

EDDS - Stuttgart

;-) Nikon D2X, 24-85 mm lens.

Alexis, when did I authorize you to post a picture of my plane? A very nice shot though!

Last Edited by achimha at 28 Jan 16:13

During a very rainy airshow at Farnborough a couple of years ago. The mobile phone would not even have known what to focus on and tried to save the image by flashing a tiny LED they call “flash”.

Last Edited by what_next at 28 Jan 16:18
EDDS - Stuttgart
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