Smartphones vs digital cameras – January 2014

Usage patterns


Oh no, Mr Monster, why are you so mean, how can you say that the conclusion of such comparisons is usually not in par with reality? Well, the answer is pretty simple – such comparisons usually have misleading “final thoughts” because so far people only compared smartphones vs digital cameras looking at image samples, while some very important aspects were left out.

The first thing that nobody usually takes into consideration when it comes to such comparisons is the quality standard… Most photographers want to have the best possible quality at 50×70 cm @ 300 dpi, which is the standard poster size. You need maximum quality for that and that is the case where you can actually notice maximum quality. The problem is that the monitors we use on our desks rarely have more then 100 ppi. 1920×1200 @ 24″ or 2560×1600 @ 30″ means that the big monitors we have on our desk are usually capable of 94-100 ppi. That’s the same for my expensive 30″ Dell monitor, the same for the very pricy EIZO monitors that are used to check image quality before printing and so on.

Well…it’s pretty hard to tell the difference at 100 ppi when the camera has much more capabilities then that… And this is where we notice the second issue, which is the way in which you use your camera. What does that mean? Quite a lot I would say, because this is one of the reasons your are reading this today…

The persons that take photos fall under a few distinct categories – professionals (those who make their living from photography), and amateurs (people who don’t earn money by taking photos). Fortunately, this is not the type of categories we are interested in today, because we will address both in an equal manner. No, we are looking for a different type of categorizing people that take photos, and more usage patterns.

The first type of user we are interested in today is the type of users that just captures a moment. Be it a holiday, a special moment in the life of those close to us or funny things we stumble upon on a daily basis, this is the most frequent type of photographer out there. You might be laughing but the most used camera on Flickr is… the iPhone. And if a similar statistic would be available for Facebook, I can assure you that most of the pictures are taken with a mobile phone. Because it is pretty difficult to take a selfie using a DSLR…

This type of user needs something light, portable, that is always available, and the logical choice is a smartphone with a good camera… and we can find plenty of those around. This type of users does not need advanced settings (even though there are plenty of smartphones that have that) and he doesn’t need great image quality because he will upload the photo to Facebook anyway… He does need a fair amount of pixels (resolution) because this is the way you compensate the lack of optical zoom. Who wants a strong optical zoom will go for a compact… or for a weird Samsung phone/camera model like the Zoom series.

Another type of photographer is the guy taking pictures for his workplace, without being a photographer. We are talking about people in the insurance business, forensic investigators or even people like me, that take pictures for news and reviews. Most of these guys will eventually use a DSLR.

The third category we are discussing is the enthusiast photographers. For them the smartphone is not enough, and not because the resolution or the quality aren’t good enough but because the lack of control options compared to a DSLR. Like the type of lens, f-stop, the possibility of using an external flash and so on. For them, a smartphone, a compact camera or a bridge will never be enough. They will have to choose between DSLR and mirorrless cameras and they might also see the pictures on something more then a PC monitor (print, for instance).

The last category of photographers are, obviously, the professionals. And even in this case we see different people with different needs. A photo-journalist will need a fast DSLR with a lens as fast as possible, in order to capture exactly the moment he needs. Regardless if he needs to shoot a boxing match, a protest or a lion attacking a gazelle, this type of photographer will always need a very good image quality, fast focusing speed, special lenses, etc. However, there is another type of professional photographer out there…The guys that make the covers for the fashion magazines, the guys that photograph Playboy bunnies, and so on. These guys need medium format cameras, like Hasselblad and Mamiya, coupled with a digital back like Phase One, for instance.

And last, but not least, we have the landscape, product and architecture photographers, the guys that use large format cameras, which allows them to change the perspective and depth of field. They don’t need speed, because their subject is still and it doesn’t go anywhere. They do need a perfect image quality and tuning options that we don’t even find on medium cameras or DSLR. We are talking about cameras like Sinar or Arca Swiss, with digital backs like Phase One or Leaf. For the last two types of photographers, the PC monitor is not the main target of their work. You find their work printed in magazines, on bus stations or on 7x10m building banners.


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