This wasn't a question a few years ago. Smartphones didn’t exist, and a camera was the only way to take photos. Today, however, everyone has a smartphone and more we take more pictures than ever before. So is a DSLR or mirrorless camera better than a smartphone camera? It depends on the purpose, but from a technical standpoint, a full frame camera has many advantages over a smartphone.

In fact, almost all photographers use the camera on their phone more than their full frame camera. The final image on the full frame camera requires good compositions. It’s easier to walk around with a phone taking photos than a full frame camera and tripod. This prevents us from pulling out the tripod too early. Tripods have a tendency to grow roots and once they’re set up, they don’t move.

5 reasons a camera is better than a smartphone for photography
Camera or smartphone? Which is better for photography


When talking about camera sensors, I hear many people say how many megapixels their smartphone camera has. They don’t understand sensor size versus megapixels. A smartphone camera with 16 megapixels isn’t in the same realm as a full frame camera with the same megapixels. So what size are phone camera sensors? The average phone camera sensor is around 7 mm x 5 mm. Now place 16 megapixels on a sensor that small. The pixels are so small, they can’t collect much light.

How big is the sensor on a full frame camera? Four to five times the size of a phone camera sensor at 35 mm x 24 mm. Staying with 16 megapixels, each pixel is much larger on the full frame than the phone, so more light enters sensor. Not only is the larger sensor better for photography, the files size allow for better photo editing and printing.

5 reasons a camera is better than a smart phone
Sensor sizes between cameras and smartphones


Is digital zoom better than optical zoom? The short answer is NO. Digital zoom works by taking the center of the image and cropping out everything else. This results in lost pixels and lower resolution image. The image may only use 6 megapixels out of the 16 available. The phones processor then upscales the pixels and interpolates the information to create a larger image. The upscaled image will be pixelated and of poor quality.

How does optical zoom work? Optical zoom magnifies the image to fill the sensor by changing the focal length. No interpolation and uses all the pixels on the sensor. The image quality is based on the number of megapixels on the sensors. For instance, I use a Sony G Master 100-400 zoom lens. I get the same image quality at 100 mm as I do 400 mm. If this was digital zoom on a 16 megapixel phone sensor, they would use only around 4 megapixels the rest is “created” by the phone’s processor. The image won’t be usable. In short, optical zoom is always better than digital for high quality photos.

why a camera is better than a smart phone
Difference between optical and digital zoom


For printing your photos, sensor size and megapixels matters. A high quality fine art print is 300 ppi. PPI is pixels per inch. Reducing the ppi, the quality drops but you can print a larger photo. What size can you print pictures from your phone? A good phone photo at 300 ppi with a 16 megapixel sensor, you may get a 16” x 11” print. If you want a large print, going to 200 ppi or 150 ppi may be the only option. At 150 ppi, you will see the pixels and the print is low quality. If your phone can shoot RAW images, then do that. They will need some editing but the file size will be larger. Many phones don’t have this option. I use a full frame Sony A7rii (yes, I know it’s outdated) at 42.4 megapixels. I can print a 48” x 72” photo at 300 ppi.


Have you ever tried taking an action photo with your phone. I have and it wasn’t good. The shutter delay is the biggest problem with smartphone cameras. With a full frame camera, I can hold the back button focus on the subject, set the camera to continuous shutter, and fire off as many shots as I want. The phone camera has to find focus before it takes the photo. By then, the subject will be out of the frame. Can you take action shots with a smartphone? Some higher end phones have a “burst” mode and shoot 10 frames a second. The problem is getting the focus on the subject you want. This also goes back to the previous section. I can use optical zoom to get the action shot of the subject and remove the distracting background. Digital zoom does not do this well. You may still get the 10 frames per second, but the quality is poor. If you want to use your phone for action shots, you may have to download a new camera app. I don't shoot action so I have no idea what app would work the best.

Advantages of a full frame camera over a smartphone.

The months of May and June the Redwoods National and State Parks have blooming Rhododendrons mixed in with the trees. The redwood trees are among the tallest in the world reaching heights of 200 to 240 feet. The Redwood trees are mostly found in Northern California like Damnation Creek, Jedediah Smith, and Lady Bird Johnson Groves. Limited edition of 100 prints available.


What does Bokeh mean in photography? Bokeh is the way the lens renders out of focus light. What create bokeh? We create bokeh using a wide aperture to render a busy background into soft, out of focus color and pattern. The best lenses for the bokeh effect are telephoto zoom lenses like a 70-200 mm or a 100-400 mm. The longer the focal length, the shallower the depth of field, the better the bokeh. A wide-angle lens doesn’t create bokeh, instead, background looks out of focus. A software app is the only way to accomplish this with a phone. No software app can compete with capturing the bokeh in camera with the proper lens.

full frame camera is better than a smart phone for photos.

Morning dew on springtime flowers. Walking around the campus of the University of Washington looking for flowers and macro photography opportunities, I saw this small grouping of flowers. The color palette of the flowers and grass caught my attention. The University of Washington is known for the Cherry Blossoms in the spring. Thousands of people show up to see the blossoms every year so those are hard to photograph. Limited Edition of 100 prints available.


I have outlined 5 reasons why a full frame camera is better than a smartphone for photos. But before you run out and buy a new camera, think about what goes into making a great image. The years of learning new editing skills, patience waiting for sunrise or sunset, and the money spent just to start new hobby. Photography isn't for everyone. Many people are happy using their phones to capture the scene in front of them. It's all about what you enjoy doing. I like spending hours behind a computer editing images or chasing the best light but it isn't for everyone. If you would rather use your phone, you can check out the amazing fine art galleries on my website to purchase a new print for your home gallery.

If you want to learn more about nature landscape photography, check out my blog. For more information about photo editing, checkout my 1 hour post processing sessions.

full frame camera or smartphone?

Sunset of the Space Needle and Mount Rainier from Kerry park in Seattle. Two of the most Iconic structures in Washington State. The Space Needle and Mount Rainier in one shot. This is one of the best reason to photograph sunrise and sunset from Kerry Park. This is the reason you should keep going back to the same location many times. I think this was the 15th time I was there to shoot sunset and finally had the light work in my favor. Limited edition of 50 prints available.

Infrared photo of a tulip that looks like it belongs on Pandora from the movie Avatar.

This infrared photograph of a tulip looks like it belongs on Pandora from the movie Avatar. Tulips come to life in April around the pacific Northwest. North of Seattle is the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival that runs for the month of April. The 590 nm supercolor infrared filter from Life Pixel Infrared is the most vibrant filter offered when it comes to color infrared photography. Limited edition of 50 prints available.