SMARTPHONE OR FULL FRAME CAMERA
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.
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.
OPTICAL ZOOM VS. DIGITAL ZOOM
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.
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.
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.
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.