Thoughts on Life, Art, Photography, Technology, Teaching and Travel…..

Smartphone Photography vs. Digital SLR

Let me start off this blog post by wishing everyone “out there” a Happy New Year! I’m feeling pretty good about the coming year – I hope you all are as well. It’s going to be a busy one for me, but I’m sensing good things on the horizon.

OK…..So I broke down and bought myself a new Smartphone for Christmas. I finally upgraded from my little orange flip phone to a G2 Google Droid. I had no idea just how much you can do with a G2 Smart Phone, but that is a topic for another blog post.

The past few days I’ve been taking photographs with my smart phone and got to thinking about the differences in my photographic approach to my subject matter with the smart phone vs. my Canon SLR digital. In fact…composing photos with my smart phone is similar to shooting with my Olympus point and shoot, but not exactly the same. For someone with a long history and lots of experience with photography it just doesn’t seem right making photographs with a cell phone.

You look around on any given day and people at the beach or at events and/or attractions are all running around taking photographs with cell phones or little digital point and shoot cameras. It used to be when you went to take a photograph you would have to put the camera up to your eye and look through the viewfinder and compose a picture. That is the traditional method and the way I personally prefer to frame a photograph.

Dead Tree, Ft. Macon NC Cell Phone Photograph

You can’t compose a photograph this way (view finder method) with a cell phone camera. You essentially point the phone at the subject and frame the image on the little phone screen. I find this method more challenging and I always seem to leave a little too much space around my subject when I take photographs with a cell phone or point and shoot that doesn’t have a viewfinder.

There are other issues concerning shooting with a high end SLR digital camera vs.cell phones. You normally think of people taking pictures with cell phones as just making “snap shots”. Sure…you can take snapshots with a high end digital SLR as well, but my question is…”with the right mindset, creative thought process, concern for content and subject framing can you consistently make unique and dynamic photographs that rise above “snap shot” mode with a cell phone?

Sunset Atlantic Beach, NC - Cell Phone Photograph

Even though I much prefer using my Canon SLR when out doing “serious” photography, I’m beginning to believe that it’s NOT all that very important anymore given the technical quality of images made on the new smart phones for example. I mean think about how much better image quality has gotten on cell phones in just the past 3-5 years? I can’t even imagine how we will be making pictures in 10 years.

I’m curious as to what other photographers think about this issue. I mean you wouldn’t show up to shoot a wedding, magazine cover or executive portrait with a cell phone would you? The Digital SLR’s still have so many more creative options (functions) than cell phone cameras. You can decide on how much depth of field you want in a photograph, manually set your f/stop’s and shutter speed, in addition to shooting in Raw mode. I would imagine its just a matter of time before cell phone cameras have these options. I also notice that cell phone images have a slightly different look to them – this may just be me, but cell images seem more like movie stills as a friend of mine observed recently.

Life Guard Stand Atlantic Beach, NC Cell Phone Photo

I’ve been teaching photography for almost 30 years and must admit I would have never imagined that I’d be taking pictures with a cell phone 10 years ago. I didn’t even have a cell phone 10 years ago.

Beach Cottages and Late Afternoon Sky - Cell Phone Photograph

I still love film, 4×5 view cameras, medium format, Holga’s and Diana cameras, but I continue to be blown away by how incredibly fast the photographic industry has changed (evolved) over the past decade, in addition to the evolution of photography itself. It’s come a long way since Daguerre.

With that said, it’s still all about taking good pictures and previsualization. Isn’t it? No matter what the tool we use to do that.

Any thoughts???


8 comments on “Smartphone Photography vs. Digital SLR

  1. Don Hazelwood
    January 1, 2011

    Try the app vintage and retro camera – I use both of those on my HTC EVO Droid phone – they allow you to make some edits to your photo. There is a photoshop app for the Droid as well.

    Another thing I do is I have added the Photobucket app and have every photo automatically uploaded to my Photobucket account to backup my photos.

    Personally, I think there is a use for cell phone camera – they say the best camera is the one you have on you – I don’t know about you, but my phone is with me 24/7. So, I’ve always got a camera – but it won’t ever replace my 35mm or TLR.


  2. mlovergaard
    January 1, 2011

    The other day I was on a tour of Athens when my Canon cam ran out of batteries, but instead of panicking I took out my iPhone 4 and began shooting with it, I was actually very surprised at the quality of the images.

  3. keoughp
    January 1, 2011

    Thanks for the feedback Don! I just set-up a photo bucket account and I agree – great way to automatically back your images up. Agreed! It won’t replace my Cannon SLR’s, BUT if a photographic opportunity arises and you don’t have the big gear just whip out the cell phone. Happy New Year!

  4. Selma Phelps
    January 27, 2011

    As a good student of yours I had to check out your web side. I love your pictures and I would like to show you mine. I was at Goose creek park in Washington, NC and took some awesome shots. I was after a eagles nest and seamed like as if I walked forever. As soon as I was close enough to take pictures I heard a bear roaring and noticed that I forgot my cell phone, to call for help if needed, lol I took my pictures with a canon power shot and they turned out great. Want to upgrade now to an Canon SLR but can not make up my mind if I want to buy the Canon 5D, the Canon 6D ( the new one that came out) or the 7D. I take a lot of wildlife and sport shots and need a fast camera. There you also use Canon I was wondering which camera you would recommend? Thanks for info
    Selma Phelps

  5. dino
    March 29, 2011

    G2…you know there are apps for anything photo picplz, retrocamera, advance camera,shooter,shutter speed,dof calculator…those are a few example applications I use for my phone that functions as a tool for me to organize photographs and calculate video settings for film shoots I go on.

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