Interesting article from DPReview.
With a deluge of three new cameras released every week, I'd completely lost perspective. Just how far have we come since film? Where would a modern smartphone camera fit into the evolution of digital SLRs? Would it be like DSLRs of five years ago? Ten? Or not on the same page at all? I wanted to get a feel for the pace of progress, to look back and see how far we’ve come, to get a handle on where we’re going.
I’m lucky enough to have a company with lots of cameras, so we decided to find out.
We took two of the latest smartphones, and pitted them against digital SLRs from 2003 to today and, for reference, film.
The phones were the sprightly 8-megapixel iPhone 5S which has the fastest camera on any phone, and the 41-megapixel Nokia Lumia 1020 which is the undisputed heavyweight champion of phone imaging.
They couldn’t be more different. The iPhone 5S worships at the alter of convenience and speed, while the Nokia devotes everything to the best possible image quality. In the 7 seconds you took to read this paragraph, the iPhone could have taken 70 shots. The Nokia? Two. With another coming … wait a moment … almost there … now. Their camera apps are polar opposites too: the Nokia offers you full-time manual control over all the camera settings; the iPhone gives you almost none.
In the other corner, our SLRs contenders were:
- Canon EOS 10D (6 megapixels, 2003)
- Canon EOS 20D (8 megapixels, 2004)
- Canon EOS 30D (8 megapixels, 2006)
- Canon EOS 40D (10 megapixels, 2007)
- Nikon D800 (36 megapixels, 2012 and not yet seriously bettered)
- Nikon FM2 film camera with Fuji Velvia 50 transparency film, and Fuji Superia 1600 print film
Why these cameras? The Canon DSLRs each represent the pinnacle of picture quality available in their day for less than $2,000 without a lens. Each earned DPReview’s coveted Gold Award, and reading back through their glowing reviews, I found myself wanting to buy them … again! I chose DSLRs from this era, as I guessed that the phones would slot neatly among them. I was wrong. We included the Nikon D800 as an upper reference point for the current state of the art for DSLRs, and we added film to anchor it all in an historic perspective, to give us old-timers a place to mentally hang the results.
We tested them all twice, first in glaring subtropical sunlight (EV 15 to photographers), then under the equivalent of romantic candlelight, 6,000 times darker in Queensland Museum (EV 2.7). In bright light outside, I expected a fair fight between the phones and DSLRs. In dim light, I expected the DSLRs to eat the phones for breakfast. DSLRs’ enormous lenses concentrate light onto vast sensors, adding up to a colossal advantage. Low light is what they were born to shoot. In comparison, the phones have minuscule lenses and tiny sensors with teeny-weeny pixels, so only the most fanatical photons can find their way to a pixel. But the phones have an extra 6-10 years of technology on their side. Can technology make up for what they lack in size?The verdict
Gun to head … time to come up with a number. How many years are smartphones behind the best $2,000 DSLRs? Comparing detail resolved, I'll say the iPhone 5S currently sits 8-9 years behind the DLSRs in bright light, while the Nokia trails by less than 6 years — probably nearer to 3. This is even when you allow the DSLRs the luxury of a $1,700 lens, and shooting in raw. In bright light, the Nokia came close to competing with the detail from the best DLSR yet made.
Step into candlelight, and the gap between phones and DSLRs widens and becomes more a matter of taste, pivoting around your preferred tradeoff between speckly noise and smeary noise reduction. From our ad-hoc panel of 15 non-photographers, the iPhone trails the DSLRs by about 10 years, and the Nokia about 8.
Splitting the difference between candlelight and daylight, around 6 years of technology has made up for the massive difference in the size of the lenses and sensors between the best phone and the $2,000 DSLRs.
I was stunned.
This isn’t saying that the Nokia is a better camera than a 2007 Canon EOS 40D. It’s not. Detail makes up just a tiny fraction of the goodness of a camera, and none of what makes it a pleasure to use. The Nokia is much slower, can’t focus on moving targets, can’t easily defocus part of the picture, can’t change the perspective and feel of pictures by zooming or changing lenses, and can’t capture the same range of brightness in one shot that the latest SLRs can. Yet.
The curious thing about this list is that everything on it except one — changing lenses — can be fixed with faster processing. The iPhones, Galaxies and LGs have shown it already. And we know that faster processing is inevitable. The physical design of SLRs gave them a huge headstart over phones for both picture quality and usability, but advances in on-board processing are now quickly eroding that lead.
DSLRs aren’t standing still — they’re improving all the time too. But are they improving fast enough?
Very interesting, and very timely too.
We did a couple of walks this weekend to blow off the Xmas cobwebs this weekend around Tarn Hows in Cumbria and Janet's Foss/Malham Cove in N Yorks.
On both walks I'd taken my trusty Canon G10 which takes very nice pictures indeed. The only problem I have is that it's zoom capability is pitiful and when you are seeing bird life such as Goldlcrest's, Fieldfare's, Green Woodpeckers, Potchards and Herons all at quite close range yet are unable to get a decent shot of them it gets quite frustrating.
Now I see that I can pick up a used Canon EOS30D (without lens) for about £150 I am now going to give serious consideration to 'upgrading' to a camera 2 years it's junior yet far more capable with the appropriate lenses.
As regards phone cameras though, I still view these as a novelty, and picture taker of last resort rather than a serious option, although Shaun's Nokia Lumia has always impressed me with its features and capability each time I see it.
Last edited by Dos_Box; 6th January 2014 at 10:25 AM.
There is always the old argument that "the best camera is the one you have on you" and you do tend to always have your phone subjectively speaking, on location, seeing a HDR image on a 4.7" Nexus 4 does tend to look better than two stopped exposures on a <2" Nikon D70s LCD. Once you get them up on a monitor, though, it's night and day - particularly with a nifty fifty lens on a DSLR, you will never get that image quality on a phone simply because of the optics involved. It's physically impossible to get the DOF and clarity of a DSLR+lens on a smartphone.
Damn sight smaller in my pocket than my Canon Powershot, though.
The HTC One is rated as one of the better camera phones on the market and I still don't like it. I will use it for 'quick snap' stuff, but I rely on my Canon EOS 500D (which I got from a cash converter place for £199 2 years ago, which was amazing at the time) instead, as you can simply get much better shots from it with very little effort.
Its going to be quite some time until I'll be leaving my DSLR at home.
Megapixels are a marketing tool. Well, that's a bit glib, but there are so many other factors people overlook, but they still fixate on the megapixels.
My first proper DSLR was an Olympus E10. The software/firmware was awful, playback was tedious, but it took fantastic photos. It was 'only' a 4M camera, but I recently looked at some of the photos I took and was still impressed with the crispness, clarity and detail. It was a brilliant camera, built like a tank. I'm a Canon user, but I really like Olympus. Actually, I wish I'd kept it as it has a leaf shutter which is virtually silent - ideal for quiet situations (weddings etc).
My current camera is a Canon 20D, pretty ancient by today’s standards, though I do have some nice lenses (28-75 f2.8) and a nice L series 70-200. I thought about upgrading, but haven't bothered as the camera is still good. I shot a wedding last year alongside my friend who used a Nikon D800. We both used RAW and you wouldn't be able to pick out which was which from the final pictures. The main weak spot with the 20D is its terrible predictive auto-focus. It's awful.
On to phone cameras, it's a valid comparison with DSLRs, but it's all about tools for the job. There's nothing more convenient than a pocket camera, especially one that's built in to a phone, and under the right conditions a camera phone is perfectly good. Try syncing three remote flashes for a ultra-wide action strobist shot and you'll be using your DSLR.
As an aside, I used to be a bit of a film buff, doing my own B&W developing and printing. I've got a Meopta Axomat in the attic if anybody wants it. Technically my best film shots were on Delta 100 film developed in Ilford FX-39, but these were difficult to print. The most consistent photos I made were from truely ancient HP5 film in Agfa Rodinal, a 100+ yearr old formulation.
And at that time, I was convinced that digital wouldn't overtake film for a long, long time. I didn't see that coming.
Last edited by jinnantonnixx; 6th January 2014 at 11:03 AM.
its sort of good to see the gap closing as camera phones used to be a joke and now the one one my lumia 925 is actually a decent camera for lets say day to day stuff and work (so need a quick pic of a network cabinet or something) its always in my pocket and in reasonable light levels takes a decent pic though im not sure i would want to print any out at a decent size. I still wouldnt get rid of my dslr (canon 70d) as i can have a lot more control over that i especially love the night mode that takes a few pics and merges them into one so you dont "need" a tripod (granted ive only had it a short while and not really stressed it went to a stargazing live event on friday but typically it was cloudy). As said to some extent you can make up diffeciencies with better processing but a big lense and big sensor all things being equal should give you a better pic and a camera phone is always more compramised than a camera where you can rip off the lense and put something more suitable on
While the optics are important for capturing and resolving the light that makes up an image it is the sensor that translates that light into a digital picture that makes the biggest difference. A DSLR can resolve far more detail due to it's sensor being like a plate glass window compared to the postage stamp sensor in compact and smartphone cameras.
This diagram shows the differences... 330px-Sensor_sizes_overlaid_inside_-_updated.svg.png
The reason I love my now somewhat aged EOS350D is that I can pick it up and take a picture pretty much instantly rather than waiting for the camera to power up wind the lens out and then finally focus and decide whether the flash is needed...
@Dos_Box - you will find that shooting birdlife is pretty expensive. I find myself wishing for more length (quiet at the back!) with a variety of birds (ok, this really should have been rephrased) even with a 400mm lens (Canon's 100-400) which is about £1k's worth. Not to say you can't get good results with small birds, it's just trickier, i've crept up on tiny bee-eaters in africa with my previous long 'un, a cheapie 75-300, and I have a few decent pics of little sunbirds with the 400. Just don't expect miracles, and expect to pay a fair whack. You can get up to 500mm with a sigma for under £1k tho.
I also find carrying the 1-4 a bind: sometimes I will do without a camera at all to save toting the thing, which is not a good plan.
If you go for an older DSLR mind, you can always rent lenses fairly inexpensively, or borrow one from a friend (most decent camera insurance covers lending of lenses - I loaned mine to @rob_f when he went sailing off the south coast!)
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