In a previous post I looked at the increasing power and image quality coming from mobile phone cameras. In this post I want to give a worked example showing a direct comparison between the a mobile phone camera and a DSLR.
I have two photos of the beautiful Glen Etive in the Highlands of Scotland. One taken on a mobile phone camera and the other on a DSLR. Here is a brief rundown of the specs of the cameras used.
Mobile: Huawei P20 Pro using the inbuilt camera app. The camera was set on photo mode at 10mp with AI turned on.
DSLR: Pentax K3 in AP mode at 24mp with a Sigma 17-50 2.8 EX HSM lens.
In more basic terms, it is a mid – high end camera phone against a mid range DSLR with a mid range lens.
Mobile Phone Image – No PP
The mobile was in fully automatic mode with the AI setting turned on which automatically adapts the image to suit the shooting conditions and subject matter.
The first thing to notice is the image is very good quality. It has a nice dynamic range although the foreground vegetation lacks contrast a bit, and the highlights in the sky are too dark, and the sky generally lacks contrast.
The colour temperature leans to the warm side which mutes the blues in the sky and gives it a pleasant unified colour scheme.
For a 10mp image it is also very sharp, at least at this scale.
Below is a 100% detail. The fine detail isn’t great and it appears oversharp but overall it’s not bad.
So overall it is a really good result from the phone camera. It has taken a sharp image with adequate contrast and dynamic range, and adjusted the colours to a pleasant warm hue. More than good enough to upload immediately.
DSLR Image – No PP
The camera was in Aperture Priority mode with the aperture at F/8 and exposure comp at – 1/3 (my usual setting to help minimise blow outs in the sky). Because of this, the image is underexposed and looks too dark. However there is still a decent amount of contrast in the image and the vegetation at the front has more contrast than the mobile camera image.
The colours are cooler and less unified meaning the yellows of the grass clash slightly too much the blues around it.
It is however very sharp and at 100% there is greater fine detail without appearing oversharp.
I think most people would agree that the mobile phone image looks better. It is better exposed and has a more pleasing colour scheme, although it lacks sharpness and detail. However, for sticking up immediately on a site such as Instagram (which uses low res images) the mobile image would be the clear winner.
However, most people can’t help but tinker with their photos and do a bit of PP to enhance it. So I have run both the images through Lightroom to produce images which look visually similar.
Mobile Image – After PP
The contrast has been enhanced although it was a struggle expanding the dynamic range and keep an even contrast across the image, resulting in the sky still lacking contrast and the foreground having perhaps a bit too much in comparison. The colours have been largely unaltered as they were quite good to start with. No further sharpening was added as it was already oversharp.
The end result is not a huge departure from the original but the enhanced contrast helps the image pop a bit more.
DSLR Image – After PP
More PP was needed on the DSLR image. It had to be lightened and the contrast tweaked a bit. The image was more responsive to change than the mobile image and contrast and luminosity changes worked well producing a pleasing result. The colours had to be warmed up to mirror the colours of the mobile image. No further sharpening was necessary.
Although the end result is quite different from the original, the final result is better IMO. The dynamic range and contrast is more natural looking, as are the colours. And the greater sharpness and detail now stands out more.
The DSLR image was easier to work on and responded better to alterations, especially to contrast changes as it had more balanaced contrast to start with. Although it required more work, the end result was worth it producing a more natural looking image which still has sufficient visual impact for the viewer.
Here are a few more examples. None of these images have undergone any PP.
Mobile Phone on the left, DSLR on the right.
The same as above is true for most of these images. The mobile phone camera produces good balanced images. It tends to supress the highlights too much which can leave some of the images looking a bit flat. It can also tend to make the contrast too heavy in certain areas of the photos. It does however, handle colour exceptionally well, producing a pleasing palette in most images. Again however, these images lack fine detail on close inspection.
The DSLR images have a better dynamic range. Contrast is more even across the whole image but often a bit lacking. However, in post processing, the balanced contrast will respond better to alteration. Color is cooler and more natural in these images but this isn’t always what people want to see. The colour will probably need altered to provide a more unified colour scheme. The fine detail and sharpness is better in the DSLR images.
Mobile Phone v DSLR
Before I finish this up, just a quick disclaimer. There are many different mobile phones out there and many different DSLRs and lenses. There are umpteem settings on each which can alter the output photo. Thus, this small test is not meant to be representative of every mobile phone vs every DSLR and the results are only very broad generalizations based on my narrow test.
Ok now to the conclusion, which is better from my little test? The answer really depends on what you want to do with the images.
The images straight from the mobile have more visual impact and are more pleasing initially. Thus, if you want to just snap without thinking and put the images onto lo-res image hosting sites such as Instagram or Facebook, the mobile phone camera is your best bet.
However, if you want to put some time into post-processing your images, the DSLR images will respond better to change and produce a better final result. In addition, the increased sharpness and detail means you can upload to hi-res image hosting sites such as Flickr and also print them out at a large scale.
So, if you are serious about photography and are willing to put the time and effort in, the DSLR is by far the best bet. But don’t take anything away from the phone camera, as the results are amazing considering it’s size and the fact it is just a peripheral device on a mobile phone.
Thanks for Reading,