Are Modern Day Cellphones Just as Good as a Camera?

Recently someone told me that they didn’t need a “camera” because they had everything they needed in their Apple iPhone.

Thus started my searching for an honest comparison. I found several that took a serious look at optics and picture quality – and the general consensus seemed to be that digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras were better than phones still. The Digital Photography Review had an article in 2014 by Dean Holland that compared film and DSLRs and smartphones – worth reading. TechCrunch had an article where a photographer reviewed the iPhone 5S camera back in mid-2013.

However, I got to thinking – is picture quality the only thing? Then I started considering what a DSLR (not point-and-shoot!) offers that a phone does not. Even the point-and-shoot have options that the phones do not.

What are these benefits? There are quite a few:

  • Off-camera flash with hot shoes. This allows for superior flash equipment, and advanced techniques like bounced flash, fill flash, and reflectors. The built-in flash on most cameras is still much better than the LED flash used on smartphones. With a hot shoe and off-camera flash you can put the flash where you want it – and can use umbrellas for portraiture and other things.
  • Tripod mounts. The smartphone tripods are poor substitutes for the real thing, and dont provide the flexibility that a normal camera tripod does.
  • Bokeh and depth of field. These are professional techniques and are commonly used – but impossible with a smartphone (or point-and-shoot, unfortunately). These require an actual zoom or telephoto lens and complete control over f-stop and aperture.
  • Filters. You could add some effects afterwards, but it is always a digital compromise – and a poor approximation. Filters offer a much broader range of effects and capabilities, and some that can’t be reproduced by digital effects may include polarizers, cross screen and star diffractors, and diffusion filters.
  • Ergonomics. A smartphone wasn’t designed to be held and controlled between your hands the way a good camera is – and getting a shot can be more difficult, especially in challenging situations.
  • Time exposures. The smartphone has no capability of creating these long shots without the ability to hold the shutter open and without a proper tripod mount.
  • Backlit or contre-jour shots. A backlit shot is a picture with light in the background, shining directly towards the camera. A contre-jour photograph takes backlighting one step further and creates silhouettes and other effects. These shots would be overcompensated and the contre-jour effect would be ruined by an automated smartphone shot.
  • Afocal photography. This is a fancy phrase for using a camera with another imaging device to take a shot – such as using a camera with a telescope to get a shot. How would a smartphone would take a shot like this?

There are situations where a smartphone can take a fantastic shot – and may even be more appropriate. A traditional maxim in photography is that the best camera is the one you have on you – TechRadar devoted an entire article on this in late 2011.

A smartphone also has the benefit of being ubiquitous and of little note – making it great for spontaneous shots. It has the benefit of being invisible, allowing shots an obvious camera could not get.

Thus a smartphone is probably a good addition to a photojournalist’s toolbox – and on that score, it’s not the Apple iPhone but the Nokia Lumia that has the lead in photography. In late 2013, Laptop Magazine had a review comparing the Lumia to the iPhone; PCMag did a similar review.




I love this shot – the smile on his face is real – he’s having a ball. The pool edge makes a nice line and a sort of frame across the shot. Despite the overhead view, it is very real and personal.

This shot is also what I like to call an “environmental portrait” – a portrait of a person in situ doing what they love.


I also love this shot – the view is very unconventional, and makes him larger than life, like a super hero. He seems ready to fly. The sky is a nice contrasting color to him, and there are no distracting background. Your eyes are drawn to him.

Camera: HP Photosmart 935

Photograph, Photograph, Photograph

The only way to improve your picture taking is to take picture after picture after picture.

Firstly, you need to take photographs and often. I find it beneficial to find a focus – a theme – and to take as many of those sorts of pictures as you can. For example, if you want to practice natural light portraits, then there is your theme. Other themes could be landscapes, photojournalism, events, architecture, night time, and more.

Secondly, and often missed by amateurs: don’t shoot your subject just once. Shoot your subject a dozen times. Then you will cull the best photograph or photographs from the shots you took. You may find some have flaws you didn’t see before, or you may have several “good” shots with one fantastic shot.

Don’t limit yourself. If using film, shoot an entire roll on an event – or more. If using digital, get the biggest memory card you can get and shoot as much as necessary.

Lastly – once you are done get comments on your photographs. Photo clubs are good for this, as is Flickr Groups for photographers.

A photo a day makes a good project as well – and you can post it to Flickr as well.

Remember – have fun! 

Photographs in Second Life

Photographs can be taken in online venues such as Second Life, but you are dealing with a view that is completely sharp – much in the way that a point-and-shoot camera operates. Any depth of field has to be added artificially either in the virtual environment or in post-processing with programs like Photoshop or the GIMP.

Composition and view are still the same, as is the importance of the background. I do however find myself not using the rule of thirds as much, however.

I may post some of my Second Life shots here, and see what folks think of them.

Photos as Expression

When you take a photograph, what does it say? What does the photograph say about you and about what you saw and felt as you took it?

Every photograph has an expression of the photographer… the key is, does the photograph say what we want it to say? Or does it say something else?

As photographers, we speak with color and shadow. Our voices fill the eyes and stir the soul. So let’s take to our medium and express ourselves loudly and with force.


There are times we reinvent ourselves – where who we are is so altered that our goals and desires can shift in a moment’s time. I have had the pleasure of one of these moments… memorable and good, painful and beautiful, lovely and joyous… and my Snap! has clicked once again. Stay tuned!