Smartphone vs. DSLR ………….. A Capabilities Match-up

A study comparing smartphones with DSLRs concluded that a good current-day smartphone compares favorably with under $2000 DSLRs (sans lenses) of six years ago – and predicted that the 6-year gap will be smaller in the future. For my gear, Nikon D70 then D300 then D800E, that result says my iPhone 6 Plus is a match for all except the D800E. Let’s take a closer look. Slide show at end.

The comparisons were done using:

  • A film camera (as a baseline of sorts)
  • Canon EOS models 10D (2003), 20D (2004), 30D (2006) & 40D (2007)
  • iPhone 5s & Nokia Lumia 1020
  • Nikon D800E (2012, as a sample best-of-breed DSLR)

Right at the start, the author correctly stated that he was looking at apples and oranges when it came to Smartphones and DSLRs. To level the playing field he had to “dumb-down” [my words] the DSLRs as follows:

  • The chief reason to dumb-down is the lens issue I mentioned yesterday, i.e.
    • Smartphones have a fixed aperture, fixed focal length lens (an apple)
    • DSLRs have any lens you choose to use (an orange)
  • For the tests performed, the DSLRs were used at a fixed focal length matching the smartphones’ lens (~29mm), i.e. they were forced to be “apples”.
    • Also, DSLR apertures were adjusted as the study states:
    • “…we chose tests where the depth in focus wasn’t relevant, creating a bias in favor of the DSLRs, as we allowed them the indulgence of picking their optimal aperture, rather than forcing them to use a realistic one….” [my underline emphasis]

While I’ll accept the author’s conclusion that my iPhone 6 Plus is comparable to my Nikon D70 or D300, that conclusion applies only under certain conditions!

  • Those conditions (a fixed “wide-ish” focal length of ~29mm combined with apertures that give a wide depth-of-field) are in direct conflict with my requirements as described in my previous post, i.e., variable focal lengths and a very thin DOF. See the 1st slide show for sharp focus throughout and the 2nd for thin-DOF examples.
  • I’m certain that the study’s conditions completely satisfy the needs of some.
    • If you’re one of them (everything in sharp focus using a fairly wide-angle fixed (prime) lens then you & a smartphone should get along fine.
    • The study confirmed the conditions under which I can use my iPhone and make the image that I want (and when I can’t).
    • Pretty much as I had expected.

Here are two sets of images (click any image for a full screen slide show)

A good smartphone should be able to make these three

BUT – these require a DSLR as they’re all about the DOF (the lens)

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3 thoughts on “Smartphone vs. DSLR ………….. A Capabilities Match-up

  1. Your logical evaluation and illustrations make me feel more at ease with my DSLR’s in spite of all of my friends rushing to Apple’s latest smart phone.
    I’m sure that Canon and Nikon will find a way to preserve all of the great technology in their premium cameras and present us with a real camera that can make phone calls. A significant weight reduction would be another plus in their arsenal.

    • My contention is that all digital cameras (whatever the form factor – phone, P&S, DSLR) are nothing at their heart but computers with a lens as an input device (along with switches, dials, etc.). First & foremost they are COMPUTERS (that can process light)!

      That said, it’s software that dictates what any digital camera can & can’t do when it comes to image capture. My earliest Nikon (D70 from ~ 10 years ago) couldn’t do lots of things my D800E can do “in-camera” such as HDR, multiple exposures, image overlay, etc. The basis of these added features wasn’t the bigger and better sensor in the D800E; it was a bigger, better computer and SMOP (Simple-matter-of-programming) that created the “apps” to do HDR, etc.

      Given that, logically there’s no reason that a DSLR couldn’t do much of what a smartphone can do – and vice versa – via SMOP. However, the laws are physics related to optics & light are immutable and, to do what I want, that means bigger lenses at a minimum. Maybe someone will be figure out how to reduce weight & volume (reverse the laws of physics?) but not in the time our creaking-bones have left. 😦

      Seeing someone holding their D810 to their ear while on a call would be a sight. Like Maxwell Smart (remember him) and his shoe phone. 😉

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