DSLRs vs. Smartphone Cameras: How Do They Compare?

Brad Jones 16-08-2017

Nothing beats the convenience of a smartphone camera. Chances are it’s in your pocket already, so it’s easy to whip it out and snap a quick photo whenever the mood strikes you.


That being said, a DSLR offers significantly more functionality. If you want to take your photography to the next level, there’s really no comparison.

The question is, when is the right time to make the upgrade? It’s important to consider the main advantages of a DSLR and weigh them up with your own interest in photography. Hobbyists can get away with using a smartphone camera and still get good results, especially given the abilities of today’s handsets and those phones with more than one camera.

However, there comes a time when the limitations of a smartphone camera become readily apparent. That’s when it’s time to invest in a DSLR The Best DSLR Camera for Your Money in 2017 Although cell phone cameras get better every year, nothing beats a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera. DSLR cameras deliver top-tier photo quality, versatility, and longevity. But what's the best DSLR for your money? Read More .

Picture Quality

If you’re investing in a DSLR, you would hope that its image quality is significantly better than your smartphone. There are a huge amount of variables here, but here is a fairly simplistic comparison between an image shot on an iPhone 5, and a photograph taken with a Canon EOS Rebel T3.

comparison shot iphone 5 vs canon eos rebel t3


The resolution on the unedited photo taken with the DSLR was 5184 x 3456 (of course, there are other options available) while the iPhone output an image at 3264 x 2448. The DSLR captured more of the range of color on the banana, while the smartphone image is more washed out.

Again, it’s worth noting that different smartphones have different capabilities. Since these two devices were both entry-level as of a couple of years ago, they provide a fair comparison of sorts.

comparison shot iphone 5 canon eos rebel t3 resolution

While the DSLR photo is a little out of focus, the dividing line between the blue of the background and the yellow of the banana is quite sharp. Meanwhile, there’s a jagged edge of pixels when the smartphone photo is blown up.


Smartphone cameras have come a long way, but a DSLR is built for the job. Even on default settings, it’ll produce better colors and more detail. However, your freedom to tweak settings and produce photos that meet your exacting demands is a much greater asset.


All kinds of things vie for control over your smartphone’s storage: apps, podcasts, music, and so on. Unless you opted for a high-capacity model, you’re going to run out of space quickly if you try use it as your primary camera, too.

On the other hand, your DSLR is going to specialize in photo and video alone. What’s more, most use SD cards, and they’re cheap and readily available. Shooting at high resolution, especially when it comes to video, takes up a fair amount of space. That said, it’s easy to equip yourself with enough SD cards to cater to your needs.

microsd cards


Storage is a greater consideration for iOS devotees, as many Android devices offer expandable storage, while the iPhone does not. If you own a smaller iPhone and you take a lot of photographs, a DSLR is going to save you a lot of headaches in terms of storage.


Most smartphone camera apps are broadly similar to the auto function on a DSLR: good in most normal situations, at the cost of some close control. If you spend some time getting to know your DSLR, you’ll be able to produce any kind of photograph you want. However, there’s also simpler stuff that you can do with a decent camera that’s much more difficult to achieve on your phone.

DSLRs offer a lot of control over focus, which lends itself to some cool techniques. It’s easy to manipulate depth of field Learn About Depth of Field: 5 Easy Lessons to Improve Your Photos Understanding what depth of field is, how to alter it, and some of the different artistic things you can do with it will all help you progress your photography to the next level. Read More , for example:

comparison shot iphone 5 canon eos rebel t3 depth


Using a DLSR makes it easy to isolate a particular part of the scene. By zooming in and focusing on something close to me, I made the background blurry to direct the viewer’s attention to my subject. Using a standard smartphone focus just doesn’t offer the same capacity: the background blurred a little, but it’s nowhere near as effective.

The only limits on your freedom to compose your shots and capture different tones and colors with a DSLR are your imagination and your surroundings. When you start introducing specialized lenses into the mix, it’s a real blank canvas.


Here is the kicker for most people. You probably already have a smartphone. A DSLR requires a certain amount of financial investment.

If this is your first time buying a professional-grade camera, you’re probably not going to want to spent thousands of dollars. $400-$500 will likely be enough to get you an entry-level DSLR from a good brand like Nikon or Canon, perhaps even with a lens or two. Since this is a serious piece of kit, it’s wise to get a protective bag or case to prevent any accidents. You’ll also want to factor in a couple of high-capacity SD cards into your budget.

All in all, $500 is the minimum you’ll need to spend to begin with, unless you look into buying a used camera. There are definite advantages to having a DSLR in terms of general image quality, the convenience of having a dedicated device, and its flexibility. However, you’ll need to decide whether those benefits are worth the money.

Another similarly priced photography gadget that has come of age is the 360-degree camera. If you’re interested in buying one, here are the best 360-degree cameras The 6 Best 360-Degree Cameras of 2019 With a 360-degree camera, you can shoot things that simply aren't possible otherwise. Which 360-degree camera is right for you? Read More we recommend.

The Main Question

Do you feel like your smartphone camera is restricting you? Until you do, don’t feel forced to make the upgrade. A DSLR is fun and useful, but it’s not the only way to engage in photography as a hobby. In fact, there are some very talented photographers using only their iPhone cameras to take pictures, and with every upgrade smartphone cameras are getting lots of new features.

It’s all about what you want to do and the best tools to do it. And a good mirrorless camera The Best Mirrorless Camera for Your Budget in 2019 Here's our curated list based on expert opinion for the best budget and high-end mirrorless cameras of 2019. Read More or simply a point and shoot camera The 9 Best Point and Shoot Cameras for All Budgets If you're looking for a high-quality and easy-to-use camera, which is the right one for you? Let's take a look at the best point and shoot cameras for all budgets. Read More might well be the happy medium for you.

If you’re looking for a smartphone with an exceptional camera, check out the Google Pixel’s camera features 5 Google Pixel Camera Software Features You Should Be Using Google Pixel phones include a collection of impressive camera features. But how do they work? Read More .

Related topics: DSLR, Photography, Smartphone Photography.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. arjun singh
    March 26, 2020 at 6:54 am

    gud information I thought to buy camera witch one is batter for normal photography

  2. Felipe
    August 31, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    My case is the opposite: I own a 12 years old DSLR camera (Canon EOS 300D) and I am thinking in substituting it by one of those new smartphones with advanced cameras (Huawei P20 Pro, Samsung S9+, Xiaomi Mi 8, Pocophone F1, ...). I am happy with the performance of my Canon EOS 300D, this is enough for my needs. Would those new smartphones perform as well as my old DSLR camera? (especially in terms of bokeh, zoom, images in movement, low light, ...).
    Thank you in advance.

  3. sony cameras johannesburg
    August 21, 2018 at 2:48 pm

    The camera is forecast to shoot 64-megapixel photographs and will most likely allow you to take photos now and focus them later. To begin with, you have to prepare the camera using Internet Explorer. Besides its streamlined designs and simplicity of use, pocket cameras are also considered very inexpensive. If you are looking forward to buy an HD pocket camera but are torn about selecting which one is the right for you, you need to first make a list of your preferences. The most important thing about the camera is that the users are expected to care for some battery related problems. On the flip side, its camera has came in for some substantial criticism, and has come to be the middle of ridicule. Mirrorless cameras like the Olympus PEN series utilizing the Micro Four Thirds sensor format possess the broadest collection of mirrorless cameras because they've been around the longest and are available from several businesses. If your camera does not have WiFi, you should find a remote portrait that works with your camera. Most cameras can capture high excellent video provided that there's great lighting. In any event, most modern cameras can handle a small quantity of camera shake to make a sharper picture, but can't compensate for bigger movements.

  4. Rachel
    February 15, 2018 at 10:39 am

    I recently bought a DSLR Canon to begin with but I don't see how the pictures at the moment are any better than my smart phone. :/ Unsure if I've wasted my money or not. Hmmm

  5. Daniel
    August 29, 2017 at 3:44 pm

    They don´t compare, since DSLRs are WAAAYYY better than phones

  6. Phil N
    August 22, 2017 at 3:03 am

    I recently spent 10 days in Japan and mostly used my s7 edge for pictures, mainly because my DSLR was too cumbersome to take out of my bag at a moments notice. When my phone's SD card started getting full I simply connected a flash drive with a USB-OTG cable and transferred all the pictures over. I had cloud storage with Google Photos but still wanted to be safe.

  7. likefunbutnot
    August 17, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    My DSLR is on and ready to shoot in one second. There's no fumbling with apps (unless I want to use my phone as a remote shutter control, which my camera will let me do). It also auto focuses a lot faster, so I can take more spur of the moment photos.

    My DSLR has wide angle, telephoto and macro lenses. Yes, I have to carry those around if I want to use them, but chances are pretty good that if that's in the cards, I probably have the right lens for the job.

    My DSLR shoots images in RAW.

    My DSLR's burst mode can take 10 pictures in the time it takes my phone to shoot three.

    My DSLR's battery is enough to let me shoot many hundreds of pictures. My phone will be dead long before that. I'm actually lucky in that I won't buy a phone with a sealed battery, so I can actually replace mine and go back to work, but that's not going to be an option for most people.

    I just have an entry level DSLR and a bunch of manual lenses I got from my father's old camera kit, but I'm about 100x better as a photographer with a real camera than with a smartphone.

    • Phil N
      August 22, 2017 at 3:04 am

      Fumbling with apps? It's one app which has one button to shoot.