Is Owning a Digital Camera Actually Worth It? Here’s How Your Smartphone Measures Up

As the saying goes, “the best camera is the one you have with you.” And in today’s modern world, it’s safe to say you probably have a great camera on you at all times: your smartphone.

Whether you use an iPhone, Samsung Galaxy or Google Pixel, there’s no doubt your smartphone is an amazing piece of technology. But if cell phone cameras are so great, why would it be worth it to own a digital camera?

Great question! Before writing this post, I was aware of the limitations of taking photos on your smartphone—for that reason, digital cameras have always been a worthy investment, in my opinion. But, to be perfectly transparent, I didn’t have many solid reasons to back up these claims. I’m no tech expert, so this journal entry turned into a little research project for me.

Ultimately, being aware of your smartphone’s limitations will help you understand the best time to use it, or when it’s time to whip out your digital camera. To do this, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of your mobile phone.

Please Note: Although there are plenty of amazing phones with great cameras out there, I decided to look at iPhones, specifically.

Let’s Talk Quality

Resolution

Are you able to print your iPhone photos? Most of the time, you’re probably sharing pictures online, like on Instagram or Facebook. But what if you’re on a trip and snap a photo of a beautiful landscape? Or if you capture the most perfect smile from your little one? Wouldn’t you want to print these out for everyone to see?

Here’s what I found out: the newer the iPhone, the larger the megapixels (aka, tiny dots of color and information that make up the photograph). Ergo, the more megapixels, the higher the resolution—meaning, the larger you can print a photo and have it looking crisp (woo-hoo!). Here’s a chart to help you out. In a nutshell, iPhones 6s and higher have a 12-megapixel camera and can print a picture of best quality, sized around 14.29” x 9.49”. For comparison, entry-level DSLR or mirrorless cameras have image quality ranging from 16 megapixels to 24.2 megapixels.

Needless to say, I was super impressed by this. True, you may not be able to print a mural, but you can definitely print iPhone photos to frame and display in your home.

Sensor Size

Because of the size constraints, iPhone sensors are smaller than the sensors in DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. This means they can’t collect as much light. So, in low-light situations (e.g. dark room, or at night), iPhones won’t perform as well. That being said, phones have come a long way to improve low-light shots, but it works best for subjects that aren’t moving (and let’s face it, getting my kids to hold still is a struggle).

Lens

Additionally, iPhone camera lenses are smaller than digital cameras and less complex. Translation? They don’t let in as much light, making it more difficult to shoot in low light. Bottom line: take a photo at night with your iPhone, and you’ll find more noise in the image than you would with a digital camera.

Let’s Talk Functionality 

Lighting Control

iPhones will automatically scan an entire scene to decide how to light an image. To avoid this, you can “tap” your subject to try and control how you light the image. In addition, you can always edit images afterwards to make them lighter or darker. All that being said, this is still limited, compared to your options for controlling the light with a DSLR or mirrorless camera in manual mode. I find that iPhone photos result in images that are darker than I’d like. It’s easy to edit images to brighten them, but that’s just one extra step. There are many more options for being creative and using different types of light when shooting with a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Not to mention, you can also control how warm or cool your image is.

Settings Control

iPhones give you limited control over your settings. For example, settings like aperture (how blurred your background is) and shutter speed (avoiding blurriness from movement) impact how an image looks. A DSLR or mirrorless camera gives you complete control over these settings. So, the question is, how much control do you want over your images?

Portrait mode is an amazing feature (in fact, I upgraded my iPhone when this first came out). It provides that beautiful blurred background in images, somewhat mimicking a DSLR or mirrorless camera. However, in order to use this feature, you must be within a specific distance range from your subject. Unfortunately, this can limit composition options. Not to mention, portrait mode also won’t work as well in low light.

Lens Options

iPhones have a fixed lens, which means you can’t change it. This limits what image looks you can achieve. But good news—they now sell lenses you can clip on to your smartphone!

Let’s Talk Convenience

Size

It’s obvious that iPhones are more convenient to carry around than large cameras. As far as convenience goes, a camera phone just can’t be beat. However, I do try and find ways to make my inconvenient “big” camera more convenient. For example, I pick and choose when I want to take pictures. If I’m on vacation, I might bring my camera around with me one day, versus the entire week. This way, I don’t feel the pressure to constantly be clicking away. Additionally, I use a fitted case so it’s easy to throw in any bag or backpack.

Sharing Online

It goes without saying that sharing photos on social media is quicker and more convenient on a smartphone. However, many digital cameras are equipped with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities that simplify the process for getting pictures from camera to social media.

Here’s What I Recommend: iPhone vs. DSLR/Mirrorless Cameras

iPhones are a great option for:

  • Convenience
  • Well-lit, even-light scenes
  • Non-moving subjects in low-light scenes
  • Blurred backgrounds of simple compositions

DSLR or Mirrorless cameras are better for:

  • Low light
  • Providing more creative control for composition
  • Providing more control over lighting

The moral of the story? If you plan to shoot in auto, then your iPhone works great! However, if you’re interested in learning to shoot in manual mode, you’ll be amazed by the opportunities a digital camera provides to create images you’re proud of. The creative control with a DSLR/mirrorless is unmatched (currently) by an iPhone. Plus, shooting in manual mode will help you become more intentional and meaningful with your photos.

In addition, if you’re shooting with good, even light, iPhones will produce great images. But if you don’t have enough light and are experiencing moving subjects (kids, anyone?), then learning to use a DSLR or mirrorless camera will produce better results.

Lastly, if you’re willing to be slightly inconvenienced by the size of the camera, and you’re inspired to learn how to use a digital camera to its fullest potential, you’ll find that it’s incredibly rewarding and totally worth it (but, of course I’m going to tell you that, because I absolutely love the art of photography 😉).

If you’re interested in purchasing a digital camera, check out this post for How to Choose an Entry Level Digital Camera. Otherwise, get clickin’ with whatever camera you have! Remember: the best camera is the one you have with you.

P.S. Join me for my next Get Clickin Course to learn how to shoot manual mode!