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Modern smartphones have evolved to a stage where images captured with a communications device rival those created using a dedicated point and shoot camera. It might not be a digital SLR, but your smartphone is punching well above its weight when it comes to photography.

That’s why the lens and sensor combination that spends most of its life in your pocket is probably the best you own.

Don’t believe me? Here are six reasons to leave your old point and shoot at home.

It’s Always on You

Many before me have said it, and some have even used it to sell books: the best camera is the one you have with you. This is true whether you’re using the most expensive Nikon or Canon full-frame SLR Here's How Digital SLR Sensor Crop Affects Your Lenses Here's How Digital SLR Sensor Crop Affects Your Lenses Most of us own cameras with small cropped sensors, which artificially increase focal lengths on full frame lenses. Here's what you need to know. Read More or Nintendo’s nostalgic Game Boy Camera.

The smartphone slots neatly into this equation by virtue of the fact that most of us cannot exist without one. They’re always in our pockets, on the desk in front of us or charging on the nightstand, ready to drip feed us information and – when the opportunity arises – capture that photo you wouldn’t otherwise have taken sans camera.

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Even if you did happen to bring the family SLR and collection of lenses, most SLRs are expensive enough to warrant camera bags. Not everyone lives life with a big fat 5D round their neck looking like Flava Flav. When you need to take a photo in a hurry, reaching into your pocket and activating camera mode pretty much wins every time.

 

Throwing shapes

A photo posted by Tim (@timbrookes) on

This is further evidenced if you’ve turned on the news at all recently. Smartphones are no longer simply used to call emergency services or send concerned messages to loved ones, they’re being used to capture the news. So far this year some of the most remarkable news footage was shot with a smartphone – from the attacks in Paris on Charlie Hebdo’s head office to the worsening Ukraine crisis.

Size & Discretion

Certain types of photography demand certain types of equipment. Street photography is fun and the results can be remarkable, but for many it’s also a source of unease and anxiety when standing on street corners with a chunky DSLR and long lens. Check out Hannibal Renberg’s Instagram feed to see his impressive iPhone street photography, and gather some inspiration.

 

Compared with an SLR, your smartphone is small and innocuous. It might be the perfect stepping stone to shooting street photographs with bigger equipment, and it may enable you to capture moments you wouldn’t have otherwise caught if you’re busy messing with settings 3 Online Camera Simulators For Photography Beginners 3 Online Camera Simulators For Photography Beginners Learning the basics of photography makes sense, because it helps not only in photography but also in understanding the type of camera one eventually buys. Thanks to a few camera simulators available on the web... Read More or changing lenses.

The size of your smartphone is also handy in a tight space, where traditional SLRs simply do not fit. Think taking photographs through fences, small gaps barely larger than your lens surface. You can also cram your camera into dashboards, cupboards and even bushes to get a different perspective.

Finally, covert photography (the art of taking photos and video where you shouldn’t) is also possible using the smartphone. The makeshift pocket camera you see above was used by VICE in a recent documentary and created using a cigarette packet, lighter and sticky tape.

We’re not suggesting you go breaking any laws, but if you need some footage for your investigative journalism piece, this is one way to do it.

There’s an App for That

Our smartphones are brought to life through our choice of software, and if there’s one type of app that many new users look for almost immediately, it’s a better camera app than the one on their device.

Though it’s not yet possible for iPhone users to replace Apple’s default offering, there are some viable options for when the time comes. Camera+ ($2.99) is probably the most user-friendly of bunch, with separate exposure and focus points, scene modes and other aids including a horizon level. ProCam 2 ($2.99) takes things to the next level and includes manual control over everything from shutter speed to exposure compensation, complete with lossless .TIFF image support too.

There are also apps that challenge you, like Hueless ($1.99) which insists on black and white for every shot and “photo 365” projects that encourage you to take a photo every day How To Create a Video Of Your Life One Second A Day [iPhone] How To Create a Video Of Your Life One Second A Day [iPhone] For the last several years, I've committed to completing at least one year-long project that requires only my time and discipline. Such projects include completing a daily creative self-portrait project, keeping a private online jazz... Read More so it can be compiled into a video. There’s even an app called OKDOTHIS which focuses entirely on smartphone photography challenges OKDOTHIS Gives You A Community Of Ideas For Photography Inspiration OKDOTHIS Gives You A Community Of Ideas For Photography Inspiration Photographers have their own version of creative blocks. Instead of waiting for divine intervention, you can try OKDOTHIS on your iPhone. A community of ideas just might help to part the mental shrouds. Read More .

On Android, Google’s plain old camera app Google Camera: The Official Vision for An Android Camera App Google Camera: The Official Vision for An Android Camera App Today I'd like to tell you about a camera app that doesn't do very much -- by design. You should still try it, though, because it comes direct from Google. Read More  is one of your best options, but you may need to download the right camera app depending on your device. If you’re yearning for manual control, Camera FV-5 has been described as a shutterbug’s dream Camera FV-5 Review and Screenshot Tour: A Shutterbug's Android Dream Camera FV-5 Review and Screenshot Tour: A Shutterbug's Android Dream Pick the right camera app, and you end up with what's effectively a complete point-and-shoot camera replacement in your pocket. Read More , offering features like exposure bracketing that are normally only found on digital SLRs.

Only Android 5.0 devices with Google’s Camera 2 and a copy of Camera FV-5 can capture RAW images at present. Apple still hasn’t opened up the required box of tricks developers need in order to get access to all of the information captured by the iPhone’s sensor. This is arguably where mobile photography is heading, so prepare yourself and get the full lowdown on why shooting RAW opens so many doors Budding Photographer? Here's Why You Should Be Shooting Raw Budding Photographer? Here's Why You Should Be Shooting Raw Every dSLR, prosumer and even some high-end compact cameras have the ability to save raw image files. This isn't just a higher quality of image, it's a gift from the photography gods. Read More .

One app that I simply can’t help but mention is FiLMiC Pro for iOS ($7.99), which allows you to shoot incredibly high-quality video at higher bitrates than Apple’s stock camera app allows. There’s also full manual control over settings like exposure, focus and white balance and a dizzying array of other settings – perfect for anyone wanting to get serious about mobile video.

Accessories Abound

Anyone who has a digital SLR habit will tell you, in no uncertain terms, that it’s an absolute money pit. You will throw money at new lenses, filters, batteries, SD cards, tripods, ball heads – the list is virtually endless. This is all part of the fun of course, which is why there’s a growing market of smartphone camera accessories to choose from too.

There’s lots of room to expand your smartphone’s abilities. From simple tripod mounts you can make yourself 3 Cheap & Easy DIY Smartphone Tripod Mounts Made & Tested 3 Cheap & Easy DIY Smartphone Tripod Mounts Made & Tested Unless you are an avid photographer, you'll hardly miss the added features of a proper camera. Too bad your tripod isn't compatible with your smartphone. Or is it? Maybe one day smartphones will come with... Read More  and entire lens systems that attach to the back of your device Super Zoom & Lens Tips for Your Smartphone Super Zoom & Lens Tips for Your Smartphone While our smartphones are equipped with better cameras than ever before, we're still stuck with the same digital zoom technology that's been around for years. That's because there's no fixing digital zoom - it's permanently... Read More  to purpose-built gadgets like the Camalapse Mobile ($40) which allow you to capture 360-degree time-lapse movies. You can even attach an LED light unit, like KLYP from Manfrotto for those especially dark subjects. If you’re interested in hobbyist underwater photography, you’ll find underwater housings for your smartphone to be considerably cheaper than SLR housings, which can cost as much as a brand new SLR body.

For videographers there are mobile-ready dolly systems like the iStabilizer and a host of gadgets designed to help you get the perfect steady shot, like the SteadiCam Smoothee or more advanced SwiftCam M3 which uses a motorised gimbal for ultra-smooth results. And when it comes to sound, the iPhone in particular is compatible with a growing collection of high-quality microphones Better iPhone Audio & Video: Adapters, Microphones And Accessories For Superior Sound [iPhone] Better iPhone Audio & Video: Adapters, Microphones And Accessories For Superior Sound [iPhone] Last week I rounded up a few of the best apps for capturing video and the accessories you might want to consider if you want to get the most out of your iPhone’s video capabilities.... Read More .

These accessories can equip your smartphone to deal with just about any situation, though most of these accessories cost a fraction of what you’d expect to pay for SLR equivalents. You might not quite get SLR-quality results, but you won’t spend anywhere near SLR money.

You’re Always Connected

Our smartphones make us feel connected, particularly in the sense that you never get a moment’s peace; but when it comes to photography the immediacy is a blessing. There are no SD cards to unload, and most smartphones actually begin transferring your images automatically without any input on your part. If your smartphone doesn’t, then installing Dropbox adds this functionality Dropbox - One Of The Must-Have Apps If You Own An iPhone Dropbox - One Of The Must-Have Apps If You Own An iPhone Ever since I went over to the Dark Side earlier this year to get my cookies and buy an iPhone, one app has been completely invaluable to me - Dropbox. In fact, I would go... Read More .

 

Sun-beaten

A photo posted by Tim (@timbrookes) on

If you’re an iPhone user with a Mac, your photos are automatically sorted by event and scanned for recognisable faces before appearing magically within iPhoto and being pushed to your iPad. But who said anything about sharing your photos from a computer?

These days it’s much easier to share your image straight away to your sharing platform of choice, and if you’re photographically inclined that’s likely to be either Flickr (which has free iOS and Android apps) or 500px (again with iOS and Android support). Whatever your network – Tumblr, Instagram, Oggl from Hipstamatic or plain old Imgur and Facebook, sharing your spoils has never been so easy.

Of course, you should be careful not to overshare and saturate your otherwise high-quality collection with mediocre uploads.

It Makes You a Better Photographer

In many ways smartphones take photography back to its roots. You have to learn to make do with what you have, because while there are hundreds of apps and aftermarket accessories available, you’re most likely to be caught snapping pictures on your smartphone on the spur of the moment, rather than doing a pre-planned shoot.

There’s no optical zoom, forcing you to change the composition directly by moving yourself. A dearth of lighting solutions means you’ll have to be more creative when it comes to portraiture, making use of available light from windows. Smartphone photography pushes you out of your comfort zone.

Most smartphone photographers don’t own one of the few Android models (I’m looking at you Nexus 5 and 6) that currently support RAW modes through third-party apps, which means the smartphone photographer can’t readily rely on post-production in order to save a shot. Shooting with your smartphone is about capturing moments you might otherwise miss, to the best of your ability, and using a limited toolset.

You might need to rethink your approach to certain situations, and you’re not always going to get the shot you want – but if you stick to a few basic smartphone photography rules 5 Nuggets of Smartphone Photography Wisdom To Live By 5 Nuggets of Smartphone Photography Wisdom To Live By When it comes to smartphone photography, we try to cover a bit of everything here at MakeUseOf. Sometimes though, among the sea of apps and accessories, social networks and hashtags, the essence photography can get... Read More then you’ll not only impress yourself, you’ll develop as a photographer while doing so.

Tell us about your smartphone photography journey. Tip us off on what makes it so enjoyable.

Image Credit: Game Boy Camera (Roc Herms), Eye (danielb0104)

  1. George Klein
    February 27, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    Tim,
    You know very well, that all cameras take RAW format pictures, but only the SLR's allow saving them, the other cameras have in-camera processing, which will result in a jpeg format, and that what is allowed to be saved.

    I definitely agree with you, that one should try to take the best shot he/she can under the circumstances, and not relying on Photoshop to make all adjustments.

    It happened several times in the past, that I made some adjustments to a photograph, saved it, but a few months later revisiting the same photograph I realized I had to do more, so I continued my work, and re-saved the file. For a jpeg file that would have resulted in a 6% reduction in the quality of the photograph. I use the jpeg format only, when all, absolutely all adjustments are made, and I have to email the photograph to somebody.
    Even if you are just a little bit serious about photography (as I am) shooting in jpeg only is a definite no-no. It is practically impossible to come up with the perfect photograph from any point of view just from properly adjusting the camera settings.
    A bit of adjustment here and there is always required.
    If you are interested you can view my best photographs at http://www.flickr.com/kicsike.
    If you view them please let me know which of them did you like the most.
    In the photo club, where I was a member there was a unanimous opinion about which of the photographs was the best among those published on flickr. Hope you'll have the same opinion.

  2. wayne
    February 26, 2015 at 12:05 am

    A phone is fine if you are not serious about photography. Don't be deluded.

    • George Klein
      February 27, 2015 at 10:12 pm

      "if you are not serious about photography".
      That what was missing from the title of the article.
      The smartphone is definitely not "the best camera you own" for anybody who is just a little bit serious serious about photography".

    • Tim Brookes
      March 2, 2015 at 3:03 am

      So would you tell a talented guitarist that he's not serious about music because he uses a cheap $100 Squier when he should be using a $5000 Gibson?

      I'd rather look at a gallery full of iPhone JPEGs shot by talented photographers than a room full of oversaturated, poorly composed SLR shots by people who consider themselves "serious" photographers.

      Just saying.

  3. George Klein
    February 25, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    And there is one reason, one only to totally disagree with this statement: smartphones don't produce RAW or TIFF , better said uncompressed file formats.
    Jpeg files are garbage, you make an adjustment on the photograph, save it in jpeg you have just lost about 3% of its quality.
    Later you realize you need more adjustments, you adjust, save. Another 3% of quality is gone.
    If you have to re-save a jpeg file more than five times, you better just throw it out, its quality has already degraded at least 15%.
    You can re-save a RAW, TIFF or other uncompressed file a million times without loosing even 0.000000000001 percent of its quality.
    That says it all.

    • Tim Brookes
      February 26, 2015 at 12:21 am

      Regardless of the format, a good photograph is a good photograph. Retouching is nice, but taking a great photograph without thinking about how much Photoshop you can apply later is really what photography is all about.

      Much of the time (SLR evangelists take note) people are too obsessed with kit, formats and retouching that the act of composing, metering and taking a photograph is lost in the midst of some complicated workflow. I know because I've done it myself.

      If you read to the end of the article I did in fact mention RAW and pointed out the only reason we don't have RAW, on the iPhone at least, is down to Apple not allowing developers access to all of the information captured by the camera's sensor. However, Apple knows that the iPhone is the world's most popular camera and that the ability to capture RAW would make a lot of people very happy, so it's probably safe to assume that this will happen at some point – and I for one can't wait.

      Android users can in fact capture RAW images right now, but this is limited to a handful of devices and apps like the one mentioned in the article.

      I'd question the logic of saving a JPEG image over and over in order to make repeated adjustments. You could just as easily head back to your original image and make all the adjustments you like, saving it only once per "final" image for each edit (assuming you're serious about it and using one piece of comprehensive software like Photoshop). Always keep your originals safe!

  4. Chinmay S
    February 25, 2015 at 4:49 am

    According to latest rumors, iPhone 6S will have a DLSR camera.

    • dragonmouth
      February 25, 2015 at 7:49 pm

      And 8K resolution, right?

    • Tim Brookes
      February 26, 2015 at 12:29 am

      Yeah... probably not.

  5. Johnny
    February 24, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    The first reason is probably the most important. Just like with a weapon, the one you have with you when you need it, is the only one that matters.

    • Tim Brookes
      February 26, 2015 at 12:31 am

      That's an interesting analogy but yes – a photograph you snapped because you had a camera available will always be better than the photograph you didn't take.

      Not sure you can extend that one to firearms...

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