Can phone camera photo quality is same as those from bigger cameras?


With nearly everyone on the planet now shooting with phone cameras and standalone camera sales falling gradually, there is question everyone is asking whether proper camera takes better photos!

 

The, short answer(s)

In bright daylight and in outdoor, a good phone camera takes nearly as good photos as more expensive proper camera (with some caveats).

In low light (e.g. night) and some challenging situations (e.g. sports, wildlife etc.), a proper camera takes much better photos than phone cameras.

IQ

Now lets us delve into the details.

Phone cameras have tiny sensors. Sensors are analogous to films in flim cameras (if you can still remember them) which actually receive the light and capture the images. Thumb rule is that, bigger the sensor, better the light gathering capability and better the image quality. However, besides sensors, the lenses play a big role too. A better lens gathers better light without any distortion which makes images sharper. A larger lens with larger opening (known as aperture in photographic terms) will gather more light which would result in better photo – especially at low light.

 

Different cameras have different sensor sizes. This is shown in following table.

Sensor type Sensor area (sq. mm.)
Full frame/ 35-mm equivalent

High end DSLR/mirrorless cameras

Nikon FX, Canon D, Sony A7

860
APS-C (Advanced Photo System – Crop)
Most entry level DSLR cameras like Nikon DX, Canon EF, Fujifilm X, Sony A6
368
Micro Four Third (MFT or M43)

Panasonic Lumix, Olympus PEN/OM-D

225
1 inch

Sony RX, Panasonic FZ etc.

116
appx 1/2.5 inch
Many compact and phone cameras
incl. Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy etc.
25

Note: Often same manufacturers have cameras with different sensor sizes. So, always check the spec sheet before buying a camera.

 

As you can gather, a phone camera typically has sensor size (area) which is 10-15 times smaller than sensors in typical DSLR (APS-C) cameras! Thus, a phone camera will gather that much less light compared to an APS-C sensor size camera.

 

Now, considering larger cameras have bigger lenses, field of view i.e. how much you can capture in your frame, is also larger. With a phone camera you may find struggling to fit all of your friends in a group photo but with a proper camera and wide angle lens, you can easily push your friends back (optically – no physically) to get the shot. Phone cameras are useless for wild life (unless it is stuffed animal). Larger cameras with telephone lens can bring animals closer (optically) to you for the great shots. This is indicated by the crop factor in above table.

 

For normal travel photos, phone cameras are find in 80-90% of the cases. People usually visit famous landmarks in daylight where phone cameras do good enough jobs.

 

If you view your photos in iPad size screen, you may not see the difference between phone camera and proper camera photo quality. But if you view in large screen HD TV screen (e.g. 50 inch and above) you are likely to see the difference. Phone camera photos are likely to demonstrate visible grains.

 

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