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Doesn't My Phone Take a Good Enough Picture?

Smartphone Photography - iPhoneography - Is Your Camera Phone Powerful Enough - Photo Redesign

The cameras in many smartphones are quite powerful, and are strides ahead of where they were when they started.  Since they're so powerful, aren't they good enough for taking photos now?  What's the point of a traditional camera? The answer to that question really depends what you intend to do with your photos.  

We've all seen the iPhoneography hype, with plenty of photographers, both veterans and newcomers, challenging themselves to shoot using nothing but an iPhone, and without computer post-processing.  While it's certainly possible to take some great photos with your smartphone, there are a few things to be aware of before deciding if it's suitable for your project.  

Two of the main downsides are the amount of megapixels, and the size of the sensor, both are directly related to each other.  A smaller sensor generally means smaller pixels, and less surface area to absorb light.  For this reason, in most circumstances, smartphones are not ideal for low light shooting.  

Due to the smaller sensor size, the megapixels are not only smaller, but the amount of megapixels is often less than their DSLR or even point and shoot counterparts.  As we know, megapixels aren't the only piece of the puzzle, but it's important to be aware of the part they play.  Fewer megapixels means you won't be able to enlarge your photos are much when printing, and need to be careful when cropping in, during post processing.  

We wanted to put this to the test.  We tested a shot of a bridge at night with a top of the line smartphone, the Galaxy S8, and high end entry level mirrorless camera, the Sony a7 II. The shots were taken minutes apart, but the photos are wildly different.  You be the judge.  

Alexandra Bridge from Nepean Point, Ottawa - Taken with a Galaxy S8 - Smartphone Photography - Photo Redesign

Alexandra Bridge from Nepean Point, Ottawa - Taken with a Sony a7 II - Smartphone vs. Camera - Photo Redesign

It's clear the a7 wins out here, and with good reason.  There are so many additional factors at play; but one of the biggest being the S8's sensor.  The S8's sensor is 1/3.6", while the a7's sensor is full frame.  Check out this Camera Sensor Size Chart to compare the difference between the two.  The A7's full frame sensor is shown in the top left of the chart, while the S8's sensor is only slightly larger than the dark blue image in the chart's bottom right.  

How much light a camera is able to absorb is directly related to the size of the sensor, and the size of the pixels on that sensor.  Bigger sensors are able to capture more light, and their increased size means the pixels on the sensor itself are bigger.  Larger pixels are able to represent the light they're capturing more accurately.  In terms of sensors, bigger is often better.  

Determining whether your smartphone alone will be suitable for you, all flows back to knowing what you intend to do with your photos.  What do you want to take photos of?  If it's just day to day, a few family photos, or your expensive lunch, a smartphone should handle just fine.  If you plan to go on any adventures, shooting landscapes, animals, or sporting events; an camera system with interchangeable lenses will soon become your best friend.  Keep in mind, we're not knocking shooting with a smartphone by any means.  Smartphones can be tricky, and realistically don't work in every situation; but if you're just aiming to up your Instagram game, smartphones will likely treat you well.  

If you're shooting anything in nature, sports, or sometimes even people, a lens with some zoom capability is going to go a long way.  Smartphones zoom in digitally, while zoom lenses use an optical zoom method.  It's important to note the difference between the two.  Optical zoom is changing the magnification by adjusting the distance of the glass within the lens, much like a telescope or binoculars.  Digital zoom on the other hand, keeps the lens, if there is one, in the exact same position, and uses the camera's internal processor to zoom in on the digital image you're currently seeing on the screen or in the viewfinder.  When your camera digitally zooms in on something far away, the camera can't actually see the detail on the subject when it's so far out.  The pixels that would make up that detail don't exist because the camera is not powerful enough to see them.  To compensate the camera uses an algorithm to analyse all the pixels that surround the pixel the camera is unsure about.  It then uses the data from the surrounding pixels, and does its best to create a pixel in the likeness of what it's internal processor believes the it would look like had the pixel been there.  

Digital zoom has a few use cases, but is almost always recommended against.  Since the camera doesn't actually know what that portion of the image is intended to look like, the image is often misrepresented.  If you need to enlarge or zoom in on an image, it's best to use software like Adobe Photoshop and zoom in after the fact.  The reasoning is that Adobe Photoshop and your desktop or laptop computer's processor is considerably more powerful than the software and processor built into your smartphone.   

If you're shooting from a smartphone Adobe Photoshop might not be something you have at your fingertips; there are plenty of free or reasonably priced alternatives, like GIMP or Canva.  That being said, even if you're only shooting with your smartphone, Adobe Photoshop, or more importantly (and less costly), Adobe Lightroom can be a major asset in taking your photography to the next level.  You won't be able to process a photo with as much precision as if it were a RAW file, but the extra layer of post processing can go a long way.  

Although, as we've seen, it's more than possible to take a stunning photo using nothing but your smartphone, depending on the situation, a DSLR can be an indispensable tool.  Smartphone cameras have come a long way, but in most cases, there's nothing compared to the control and versatility offered with a DSLR.  If your smartphone is all you have on you, there's nothing stopping you from taking a great photo.  While each option has an appropriate time and place, a smartphone in no way replaces the full function and control offered with a legit camera.  If you've been enjoying your photography on a smartphone, we definitely suggest trying out some of your techniques using a DSLR, you won't be disappointed.  

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