One may be tempted to think that expensive dedicated cameras, DSLRs from top brands, like Canon, Hasselblad, Leica, Nikon or Sony must be better than mobile phone cameras in all situations. However, while DSLRs are very impressive, they are in many cases the wrong tool for the job.
When to use a mobile phone instead of a DSLR
The manufacturers of mobile phones often use clever algorithms that are quicker than any human, and these algorithms often produce better results
than you get with other cameras. The result is that you sometimes are likely to get a better result with a mobile phone than a big camera.
With a high end DSLR, you are supposed to know all the parameters to take a good photo, like aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focus point and so on. And you are supposed to master them, to take full advantage of the camera. If you do not master them, your photo may turn out worse than it would with a mobile phone.
Even automatic modes on DSLRs are often less sophisticated than the latest software on a mobile phone. If you set a DSLR to Program mode, it may not apply face recognition, for example.
With a low end DSLR, there are often “guided modes” that can make for example sports photos or children portraits look good. However, you need to know which program mode to use. You may have a child doing sports. Which guided mode should you use, “Children” or “Sports”? The guided modes of low end DSLRs frankly scare me. I have no idea what to choose, and I have no idea what they do. I prefer to use manual mode, where I have full control of all that goes into the photo, even though I know I often make mistakes. And I prefer to use a mobile phone, where I do not even have to think of which mode to take.
Here are examples of situations when a mobile phone can be more useful than a big camera.
When the light is good, a mobile phone is likely to do a good job. Don’t hesitate to use it.
When you need to be discreet, a mobile phone is usually quiet. All DSLRs use a mechanical shutter that gives a sound that may be loud or very loud or very, very loud. In a football match or a street market, that is of no importance. However, whenever you need to be quiet out of respect for others, or because you do not want to be noticed, a mobile phone camera is a better choice. Just make sure you switch off the artificial shutter noise, that many phone cameras apply.
When you need to shoot from a difficult angle, it is often easier to place a mobile phone where you want it. It is often difficult to hold a big camera stretched out on one arm to shoot from high above or low below. With a
mobile phone that is typically easier, especially when using a selfie stick. This is not an absolute rule, of course. Many big cameras have a swivel screen that makes it easier to see around corners than it is with a mobile phone camera. Then there are smart watches that can be used as remote displays for phone cameras, and one can always… Well, there are often solutions if one looks for them.
If you want photos uploaded to the internet, then mobile phone cameras often have a function to immediately upload photos, when they are taken. If you really want to use a big camera, they often also have network solutions as add-ons, but they are rarely as convenient as mobile phones.
When you need to take photos through a narrow grid, like a fence or net, lenses of big cameras are often so big that the photos will contain parts of the grid. With a mobile phone, the lens is often so small that it fits between the bars and wires.
Here the photographer uses a mobile phone to take a photo through a small hole in an iron fence. The lens of a DSLR would have been partially covered by the iron.
When not to use mobile phone
There are situations when you may be given the choice between a high-end camera and a mobile phone, and in some situations, the mobile phone is definitely not the good choice.
- Low Light. In almost all situations with low light, a high-end camera does a better job than a mobile phone. A high-end camera produces pictures with less noise, more details and better
coloursthan a mobile phone can, when there isn’t much light. There is just one snag: you need to tell the high-end camera how to do things properly.
- High contrast scenes. If you have a photo with high contrast, like an indoor photo with a window facing a blue sky, a mobile phone is less likely to do a good job than a high-end camera. With the mobile phone, you may get a completely white window or a completely black interior, while a high-end camera can record so much information that the photo will be acceptable, or at least possible to rescue in post-processing.
- Small distant subjects. Subjects like distant flying birds or
sailin gboatsat the horizon are unlikely to turn out good with a mobile phone. Leave those photos to high magnification lenses, like focal length 200 mm or more on a DSLR.
- Low light and fast movement. One particular low light situation that is sensitive is when there is fast movement. You may sit in an empty indoor sports arena and take a decent picture with your mobile. However, as soon as the players come on, and there is running and balls or pucks moving quickly, the phone may not be good enough.
The reason for this is that the camera needs to slow down the shutter speed to get in more light. The longer the shutter is open, the more light the sensor gets, and the better the photo. However, if the shutter is open for long, any moving subject may move a visible distance between the opening of the shutter and the closure. The sensor does not know where to put the subject, and the result is motion blur.
The software of a clever mobile phone may notice that there is motion in the subject, and if it is able to change the ISO instead of the shutter speed, it may do so.
Exception: when the effect you want is one of fast movement, a mobilephone may not be that bad. This could be when you want to take a photo of a Formula 1 car, for example. If you use too fast shutter speed on an F1 car, it may look like it simply is parked on the track. On the other hand, with a high-end camera, you can force a long shutter speed, something you usually
cannot do with a mobile phone.
Don’t forget the first rule: if you have nothing else than a mobile phone, use a mobile phone. It is better than nothing.