Smartphone vs DSLR vs Film Images

Let me start off by saying this may sound like a HIT JOB on smartphone camera photography…it is not (well not totally). No matter how bad it sounds during this commentary, I am not slamming smartphone photography, in fact smartphone photography has both improved the average persons photography skills (mostly composition) and enhanced their creativeness.

Also…just for the record, I shoot probably 90% of my present day images using my iPhone. So there’s that to ponder as you read on.

Like most of you, I have taken pictures ever since those old Kodak Instamatic days and EVERY small camera after that generation…and even using cameras that used the instant film. I didn’t start using a 35mm camera until about 1995 and my first digital camera was in 1997. The first digital camera I bought was an Olympus digital camera and it was LESS THAN 1 megapixel (NOTE: Most smartphone cameras today are at least 12 megapixels or higher), but it took pretty decent pictures and got me started in amateur photography (as opposed to just taking snapshots). I was pretty terrible in the beginning and have tried to improve each year. Eventually I bought some professional equipment including a Canon 1D Mark III which was close to $5000 for body alone…the lens was another $1700. I still have that same equipment … even though it is more than 12 years old.

My point is that (at least for the purposes of this article) there are 3 levels of photographic formats I’ll discuss briefly.

First and foremost…FILM photography. It is still the GOLD standard, even today. I was never that accomplished with FILM PHOTOGRAPHY and CAMERAS, but I do know good photographs when I see them. To this day I have yet to see even the best digital SLR image look as good as medium or large format film image. It is the best format out there…period.

Next there is digital photography. The first digital cameras were pretty lame and quality sucked badly. However, very quickly technology began improving the sensors and soon enough there were some quality cameras with quality images…almost as good as film. And actually, in some respects digital is better than 35mm…but there’s something about a FILM IMAGE vs a DIGITAL IMAGE that just seems like the film image is still better.

Then in 2007 the very first iPhone was released. Undoubtedly, it revolutionized photography for the every day person and photographers alike. The first few generations of smartphones (both iPhones and Androids) took images that were decent to look at …maybe the same quality as those old Kodak 110 Pocket Instamatic cartridge film cameras…in other words muddy images.  But each generation of smartphone released SINCE that first one in 2007 has improved exponentially in image quality. However, that image quality is subpar compared to DSLR and film images.

OK…so the image quality is subpar compared to DSLR images, what do I mean? An unedited image from the current smartphones actually look pretty good compared to DSLR and film images, but that’s only for unedited images taken in good lighting. Once you start to edit a smartphone image…it falls apart pretty quick, especially using desktop photo editing software. A smartphone image just cannot take the same kind of image manipulation that the DSLR and film images can tolerate.  Changes of lighting, sharpening and shadow/highlight edits look bad on a computer (although they do look better on the phone?).

Now I’m ready to contradict everything you just read about how subpar the smartphone images are compared to the DSLR and film. Remember I said I shoot about 90% of my images on my iPhone? I wasn’t lying. These smartphones do take good images…especially if you compare them to the old Polaroids, Instamatics and even the 35mm cheap cameras in the hands of people that didn’t know how to use a 35mm camera (remember waiting on that 12 exposure roll with half of them blurry, dark or someone’s head cutoff?).

But here’s why I shoot most of my images with my iPhone now and why MOST normal people take some AWESOME shots of images using just their smartphone. The smartphone is EXACTLY what it says in the name…it’s a SMARTPHONE with a VERY SMART CAMERA, a camera that makes sure that YOU and I have a hard time making mistakes with…it focuses quickly, it corrects the lighting optimally and takes sharp images. Most of them now even have anti-shake, so basically the camera is almost foolproof which makes smartphone so convenient to use.

What I enjoy about my iPhone the most is that I have it with me at all times, meaning I have a camera with me at all times. It really is a POINT and SHOOT camera (but can be used manually too), and my favorite thing is that it highlight a persons creativity with both the taking of the image and also with the apps used to edit the images with after they have been taken.

Who knows…since we have our smartphones with us at all times, maybe someone will finally get that shot of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

Happy Shooting.


2 thoughts on “Smartphone vs DSLR vs Film Images

  1. Yep. It’s in my pocket. Instantly available. Even before that a lot of times I carried a little Coolpix with a fast shutter rather than carry my (big) Canon SLR. (FYI I could not get logged in from my phone… guess I need guidance…)


    • I don’t know why the phone wouldn’t work to view the article, or to log in… I’ll check on that.

      Yes…I also had a small point and shoot (I still have it, but never use it anymore). Thanks for reading.


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