HDSLR Cameras VS Phone Cameras – What is the big deal?

Photography How To: Camera VS Phone – What Should You Use?

Last year we went on a vacation and brought along our Canon Eos Rebel DSLR. I was happily snapping away during a particularly spectacular sunset when I overheard someone behind me telling her friend, “Why do people want to bring those big hulking cameras on a vacation?” She was implying that I was a dinosaur for using a “real” camera instead of their cell phone camera, like everyone else around me.

That gave me a lot to stew about. I guess I’m still stewing.

I seriously got  into filmmaking and photography over 40 years ago, so I am pretty sure I have a little deeper perspective on the subject than she does, and I’ve spent some time thinking about this issue.

I’ll tell you why I think there is a time and place for a “real camera” and a cell phone camera.

Shortly after that vacation experience I uploaded my photos to my Facebook page and received all kinds of praise and positive comments about my sunset photos. I’m really enjoying using my Canon and posting photos to Facebook, Trip Advisor and various blogs and websites, and I always get great feedback on my photos.

To me, there’s just no comparison between the quality of a snapshot taken on a cell phone and a photo from an 18 megapixel dedicated camera with a high quality lens, coupled with the knowledge of how to creatively use exposure, depth of field and composition to create a professional image.

I also use the photos I take in my videos so I want the highest quality I can get.

Now I recognize the convenience of a the cell phone camera. I use mine all the time. So I get that.

But that lady apparently didn’t appreciate that there are tradeoffs when you take your photos on a device also shoots videos, plays games, checks email, surfs the web, sends and receives texts, is a GPS and, oh yes… is a phone. There’s a reason you don’t see professional photographers shooting weddings, ads, magazine covers, wildlife photos, sports, news, etc. with a cell phone.

In my opinion, I wouldn’t dream of taking a trip or hard earned vacation WITHOUT my HDSLR.

Here’s a quick comparison of the pros and cons of using a dedicated camera and a smartphone or pocket camera:

Pros Of Using An HDSLR Camera

Besides the fact that you can shoot beautiful, film-like video footage, there’s a lot to like about these types of cameras.

High Definition Single Lens Reflex (HDSLR) cameras are incredibly low priced for what you get. People are shooting feature movies with $2,000 HDSLR cameras that look like they were shot on Panavision film cameras costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This is partly because of the large image sensors these cameras have. Some have sensors equal to 35mm film, the same as professional movie cameras. Whether used to shoot still images or videos, these large sensors create very high resolution images with a wide dynamic range and lots of data that can be creatively manipulated in post production.

These large sensors also mean they are better in low light. Most come with a powerful built in flash. I use fill flash almost all the time, even when shooting outdoors. You can also add accessories to them such as an accessory flash.

HDSLRs offer control over shutter speed, aperture and film speed, the essential components photographers have been using creatively to create stunning images since the dawn of photography. You can choose from a wide range of high quality lenses for any situation. Most of these cameras are mini-computers with very sophisticated processing options that far eclipse what you can do with a cell phone.

All of the above points were referring to digital SLR cameras. I have friends who still love to shoot film and slides. I’ve shot tens of thousands of photos and slides myself. I love the look of film. Kodak stopped making my beloved Kodachrome and most photographers are going digital, but whether film or digital, a dedicated camera offers more creative control, hands-down.

Cons Of HDSLR Cameras

As I’ve shared, I use the camera on my iPhone A LOT. I especially like to use it when I don’t want to carry around a large camera. It is convenient, while an HDSLR is bulky and conspicuous. Carry a few lenses with you and you’ll need a gadget bag, lens cleaning brush, extra batteries, etc. That can be a pain.

You can’t upload your images directly to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram directly from it. All it does is take a photo or video. Because the photos are so large, you probably have to resize them before sharing on the internet, and you’ll need a computer to do that.

Worst of all, you can’t make a phone call or send a text from it.

Pros of Smart Phones & Pocket Cameras

See a UFO or Sasquatch? Use your cellphone, by all means.

Most everyone carries their cell phones with them, so you always have a camera handy. Because of this you may be able to capture that once-in-a-lifetime photo that you can’t get any other way. Definitely an advantage.

Also, you can email and upload your photos and videos and share them immediately. There’s a great deal of power and convenience in that, no argument.

Cons of Smart Phones & Pocket Cameras

As I’ve mentioned, they generally lack the creative control over depth of field and motion that you get with shutter speed and aperture, and the smaller sensors are less sensitive in low light. They also don’t have the onboard image processing power that the HDSLRs offer. Most do not have a flash or only have a weak flash, at best.

My suggestion if you’re serious about taking outstanding photos and getting those once-in-a-lifetime shots is to invest and carry both!

Recommended Resources

EOS Rebel T5 DSLR Camera with 18-55mm and 75-300mm Lenses Bundle – retails for $499 at B&H.

<EOS 7D Mark II DSLR Camera with 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 STM Lens – At $1,849 (with lens), this is a powerful, professional camera. It is one of the more popular cameras among filmmakers. If your budget can justify it, this is the one I’d get.

(As you can see, I’m a Canon fan. Nothing against any other brand, I’ve just worked with Canon equipment most of my career.)

The Glif iPhone Tripod Stand – At $10, a must-have, in my opinion, if you want to do serious video and photography with your iPhone.

So, I’m curious.

Any other “dinosaurs” out there who carry around an HDSLR?


You Should Use Photos in Your Videos – Here’s Why

Photos can’t be overlooked in producing your videos! Here’s why:

Sometimes that is all you have to work with.

Your video can be made up entirely of images – without you ever getting your video camera out and shooting a frame!

Ken Burns’ incredibly powerful film series, “The Civil War” is one that immediately comes to my mind. It was done so well and draws you in so completely that it doesn’t seem like it was composed almost entirely of still photographs. Can you think of others?

Sometimes you can’t get video footage of what you need.

Since it was impossible for Ken Burn’s to get footage from an era before the technology was invented, he had to make a choice. While he could have shot his series with re-enactors or through interviews with historians or a combination, he chose something entirely different that I feel actually worked so much better! Also shooting with re-enactors and lining up interviews, expense was probably a consideration.

There are many times you may need a video from a location that is too expensive to get to, or impossible to shoot, like Mars for example, where you can use a photo instead.

The key to using still images compellingly is to give them some motion otherwise it’s about exciting as watching your great uncle Charley’s slide show of his mushroom harvesting trip to the Catskills last summer.

A panning technique was used in the Civil War series. Along with haunting music, sound effects, i.e, the sounds of battle and wonderful dialog, that effect worked really well.

With Photoshop (or other similar programs), you can save images in different layers and animate each of those layers in your editing software. I see this a lot on the History channel. They’ll take an old painting, select out a person, animate it so that it gets larger in the screen while a separate person in the painting gets smaller.

Sometimes these effects can be done with photographs and it totally looks like a video. I did this once with a train track photo. The photo was taken looking over the tracks as they converged in the far distance. I converted it to black and white, then over the course of 10 seconds or so, I slowly enlarged the image. When I was done, it looked just like someone had shot film from the front of a train in the 1940’s.

When we shot our documentary, Patrick Smith’s Florida: A Sense of Place, on my dad, we relied on extensive use of historical photographs throughout the production, ala Ken Burn’s style. This film went on to win a Telly and a couple of film awards. I knew that just showing him on camera, a “talking head” if you will, would not be as powerful without the photos.

Prepare your photos before you import into your editing software.

Your photos don’t have to be more than 72 DPI but they should be a fairly large dimension  if you are going to pan around inside them. I usually have one dimension at is 2,000 pixels and that gives me plenty of room to pan and scan. Save as a PSD with all the layers if you plan on animating each layer separately.

Any photo you use should be in RGB color space, preferably a JPG or PNG. PNG’s carry alpha channels so if you want to maintain transparent areas in your photos, save them as a PNG.

If you’re using Final Cut Pro or Premiere to edit, images saved in CMYK and as TIFFs DO NOT WORK. Yes, you may be able to import TIFFS, but it will mess a lot of things up. Other editing systems may work the same way so to be on the safe side, always convert your images to JPGs or PNG. Nine times out of ten, when I’ve imported a photo and my editing system went crazy, it was because the photo was in CMYK mode.

You can turn your photos to video without having editing software.

There are some really cool programs available that allow you to turn your photos to video. One we use is Animoto. You can use it for free but the length of your video is limited to 30 seconds. For only $30/year you can upgrade and make longer ones. You can also incorporate videos with your photos in Animoto. Another option is Photodex’ ProShow product.

Use your video to make still frames.

What if you want to use photos but don’t have them? Use your video footage. You can pull still frames from your videos and use them as still photos. Sometimes it’s a good way to fix a shooting error (yes, those things happen even to the most professional.) but other reasons  include using it for a graphic, title, emphasis, or doing special effects.

In what ways do you like to turn photos to video? Please share below.