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.
Understanding Sensor Size
Before we compare the sensor size of full-frame cameras with that of smartphones, it's essential to understand what sensor size means. The sensor is the part of the camera that captures the light and turns it into an image. Sensor size refers to the physical size of the sensor, usually measured in millimeters. The larger the sensor size, the more light it can capture, which results in higher image quality.
Full-Frame Camera Sensor Size
Full-frame cameras have sensors that are equivalent in size to the 35mm film. The sensor size of a full-frame camera is typically 36mm x 24mm. The larger sensor size allows full-frame cameras to capture more light, resulting in better image quality, especially in low-light conditions. Full-frame cameras also provide better depth of field, which makes the subject stand out from the background.
Smartphone Camera Sensor Size
Smartphone cameras, on the other hand, have much smaller sensors compared to full-frame cameras. The sensor size of a typical smartphone camera is around 1/3.6 inches or 6mm x 4mm. The small sensor size limits the amount of light that can be captured, which affects image quality, especially in low-light conditions. Smartphone cameras also have a limited depth of field, which makes it difficult to achieve the bokeh effect that is popular in portrait photography.
Optical Zoom VS. Digital Zoom
When it comes to smartphone cameras and other digital cameras, two terms that often come up are "optical zoom" and "digital zoom." While both of these terms refer to the process of zooming in on an image, there are some key differences between the two. In this article, we'll explain what optical zoom and digital zoom are, how they differ, and which one is better for photography.
Optical zoom refers to the physical movement of the camera lens to zoom in on an image. When you use optical zoom, the lens actually moves closer to the subject you're photographing, which results in a higher quality image. The reason for this is that the lens is able to capture more detail and more light, which leads to a sharper, clearer image.
One of the biggest advantages of optical zoom is that it doesn't compromise the quality of the image. The zooming process is done using the lens, which means that the camera is capturing more detail without sacrificing any of the image quality. This is why many professional photographers prefer to use cameras with optical zoom lenses.
Digital zoom, on the other hand, is a process that enlarges the image electronically. When you use digital zoom, the camera simply enlarges the pixels in the image to make it appear as though you're zooming in. The result is a lower quality image that is often blurry or pixelated.
One advantage of digital zoom is that it's typically less expensive than optical zoom. Many smartphone cameras, for example, have digital zoom capabilities built in. Additionally, because digital zoom is done electronically, it doesn't require any physical movement of the lens, which means that the camera can be smaller and lighter.
However, the biggest disadvantage of digital zoom is the reduction in image quality. When the camera enlarges the pixels in the image, it results in a lower quality image that is often blurry or pixelated. This is especially true when you're zooming in on a subject from a distance.
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 from a 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.
When it comes to image quality, full-frame cameras have a clear advantage over smartphone cameras. The larger sensor size allows full-frame cameras to capture more light, resulting in better dynamic range, color accuracy, and low-light performance. Full-frame cameras also provide better depth of field, which makes the subject stand out from the background.
Smartphone cameras, on the other hand, produce images that are good enough for social media and casual photography. The small sensor size limits the amount of light that can be captured, resulting in lower image quality, especially in low-light conditions.
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.
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.