DSLRs vs. Smartphone Cameras: How Do They Compare?
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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 4 Ways to Wirelessly Control a DSLR Camera With a Phone or PC 4 Ways to Wirelessly Control a DSLR Camera With a Phone or PC In the last few years, it’s become a lot easier to control your camera from afar. Previously, it required cables, computers, and a lot of hassle, but wireless is now an option. Read More . 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.

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 What's the Best DSLR for Your Money in 2017 What's the Best DSLR 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 How to Correct Common Color Problems in Photoshop How to Correct Common Color Problems in Photoshop Having to fix color problems is one of the most common edits you'll need to do in photography. Digital images just don't look good straight out of a camera. Read More .

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 iPhone Storage Full? How to Create Free Space on iOS iPhone Storage Full? How to Create Free Space on iOS The best way to maximize your available iPhone storage space is to buy the biggest device you can afford. Too late for that? Here's how to create free space on your iOS device. Read More : 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 (save for cloud storage Better Than iCloud? 6 Superior Cloud Services for Apple Users Better Than iCloud? 6 Superior Cloud Services for Apple Users In some ways, the things that make Apple such a great hardware and software company make it bad at the cloud. Read More ). 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 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 6 Things to Consider When Buying Your First DSLR Camera 6 Things to Consider When Buying Your First DSLR Camera With so many options out there, how do you choose the right DSLR for you? Every camera has so many specs and features that it's hard to tell them apart. Read More 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 Why You Should Never Buy a New DSLR Camera (And Always Buy a Used One) Why You Should Never Buy a New DSLR Camera (And Always Buy a Used One) Here's why DSLR camera bodies and camera lenses should always be bought used -- especially if you're a newbie shopping for your first entry-level DSLR or a hobbyist replacing your first model. Read More . 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.

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.

It’s all about what you want to do and the best tools to do it.

Have you got more questions about making the upgrade from a smartphone camera to a DSLR? Do you want to share your own experiences with other users? Join the conversation in the comments section below.

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

    They donĀ“t compare, since DSLRs are WAAAYYY better than phones

  2. 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.

  3. 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.