Smartphones vs. Cameras: Part 1

There is a saying among photographers: “The best camera is the one you have with you”.

The case for smartphones as your only camera

In this two-part post, I’m going to be taking two opposing positions.  In part one, I’m going to be making the case that your smartphone may be the only camera you need.

The photo above was taken with my LG G5 smartphone, and was featured in the LG booth of OPTIC 2017 event sponsored by B&H Photo.  All editing was done in smartphone apps.

Reason 1 : Availability

There is a saying among photographers: “The best camera is the one you have with you”. In other words, having any camera with you when a shot presents itself is preferable to having no camera.  Years ago, this meant “Remember to grab your camera when you leave the house”.

In the age of the smartphone, this is now a no-brainer.   Nearly all of us have a camera with us 24/7.  And with time, more and more photos come from smart phones.  This is a good thing for getting people interested in photography, and for the supply of quality images.

Because of its functionality and slim form factor, this is now the camera we always have with us.  That’s a big deal.

Reason 2 : Sharing

Most people want to share their photos in some way.  For the vast majority of us, this means social media and email.

Shooting with a camera, for the most part, means that there are extra steps to get our photos where we want them to go.  We have to plug the camera in to our computer or eject a storage card, upload pictures to a hard drive, and then share them to Facebook, Instagram, or any of the other multitude of social media sites in your electronic universe.

In your smartphone, immediately after taking the picture, and assuming you have a data connection, you can click a couple buttons and the image is immediately posted.

Cameras just can’t connect to the outside world like your phone, unless you lug along some other gear or purchase an expensive Wi-fi adapter.

Reason 3 : Convenience

A camera won’t be used if it intimidates the person behind the lens.  Smartphone cameras are the ultimate point-and-shoots.  You just can’t beat the ease of seeing what you’re going to capture in that big, high resolution screen, and capturing the exact image with the press of a single button.  There are point-and-shoot camera this easy to use, but they frequently don’t have the same high quality screen.

The combination of rich preview and ease of use makes your phone a clear winner.

Reason 4: Simple, Free Editing

More sophisticated phone photographers realize that the image that comes out of the camera can usually be improved with a few editing tweaks.  The great news for those who want to touch up their shots is that the apps on your camera are either free or cheap, and can apply many great effects in a few steps.

Desktop image editors are fantastic, but let’s face it – they have a steep learning curve, and most (but not all) cost a fair amount of money to purchase.

There are a number of great apps for editing photos on your phone.  Some of my favorites are Snapseed ( Android and IOS), Photoshop Express (Android and IOS).  If you’re an Instagram user, you can edit your photos before posting them.

Conclusion: Stay Tuned

The usage of smartphones as cameras has carved out an impressive usability case for folks who want to make and share images with a minimum of fuss and expense (except of course, for the phone!).  Portraits, landscapes, and street photography are accommodated very well with just your camera and a minimum of equipment.

It’s clear why the smartphone market has cannibalized the lower end of the digital camera market, for the above reasons.

In Part Two, I’ll make the case for where you’ll run into dead ends with your phone and why you might want to buy a bridge or interchangeable lens camera system.

Focus on Focus: Part 2

Where do I set the focus to achieve this depth of field, including the foreground?


This shot is from the north shore of Fidalgo Island, looking toward Cypress Island at low tide. It’s the kind of shot you could take casually with your phone, and while I like how it turned out, the process of making the shot was more important to me than the results.

Like my post last week, achieving proper focus was one of the key exercises I had in mind. But first, a side note.

Many of us shoot landscapes in “landscape mode” (the image is wider than it is high). This choice is usually made because we want to show a wide expanse of horizon and features. I took this shot in portrait mode. Why? Landscape shots done in portrait mode tend to emphasize depth in a composition, and instead of having your eyes travel across the image, I want your eyes to travel from the foreground to the background, showing the distance from the debris in the front, through the tidal flats, the channel beyond, and finally to Cypress Island and the dramatic sky beyond.

Now on to the main subject: Focus. The composition is in clear focus from the foreground to the background – we call this a large “depth of field”. I shot it with a 28mm lens, a wide angle lens, (but not ultra-wide).

Where do I set the focus to achieve this depth of field, including the foreground? The subject of hyperfocal distance comes into play here. I actually set my focus (using back button focus) somewhere just past the debris in the foreground. Hyperfocal distance on my 28mm lens gave me the depth of field to include the island and sky in acceptable focus, giving me the clear depth of field I wanted throughout the composition.

I am going to reprocess this image, because some edits to the sky introduced what looks like noise. This is due to using too much clarity in Adobe Lightroom. However, my goals in this exercise were largely achieved. Get the composition and focus right, get exposure close, and you’re good to go!

Focus on Focus

…the reason focus is important is it’s one of the few things you can’t fix with an editor…

One of the key things that gets pounded into my head as a photographer, and deserves to be at the forefront of any composition, is the necessity of achieving proper focus.  This is harder than it sounds, and focus can often be off when you look closely at a picture you otherwise think is well composed.

And the reason focus is important is it’s one of the few things you can’t fix with an editor.

Part (but not all) of the problem is in the fact that modern cameras (and phones) are trying to think for you.  Much of the time, these devices do the right thing – but certainly not always.  The upshot is that once you acquire confidence to operate your camera properly, you will want to be in charge of this key process.

One of the techniques to achieve focus is documented in part here.  Back-button focus (for DSLRs) simply means that pressing the shutter button halfway down and holding it is not always the best way to dynamically focus.  Being in control of when your camera tries to autofocus and when to leave it locked in on your subject is the key benefit with this technique.  Check out this great article by James Brandon.