iPhone vs DSLR Photos: Can You Really Take Pro Photos with Your Phone?

One of the worst feelings to experience as a photographer is stumbling upon an amazing photo opportunity, but you don’t have your camera on you. Professional photographers and ambitious photo hobbyists alike might squander these moments because they forget that they (almost) always have a camera on hand — their phones!

Many of us wrongly assume that photos taken on a professional grade camera automatically look better than ones snapped on your iPhone. But, with the rapid advancements in smartphone camera technology, the results can be surprising. To see how an iPhone stacks up to a mirrorless camera, I compared the two in some real photo shoots.

When looking at the two cameras side-by-side, there are a few specifications to consider. First, let’s look at the sensors of smartphones vs mirrorless cameras. I used an iPhone 7 for this shoot which has a 12 megapixel sensor, compared to my EOS R that boasts an impressive 30.3 megapixel CMOS sensor. Objectively speaking, the EOS R sensor can collect more than double the amount of information. For lenses I was using around the same focal length. On the iPhone 7 there is a 28mm wide lens with a f/1.8 aperture, and on the EOS R I was using a Canon L series 16-35mm with a f/2.8 aperture.

Between the image sensors and the lenses used, you’re obviously going to get a sharper, bigger file from the mirrorless camera. But, these factors don’t mean the image from one source will automatically be better than the other.

This isn’t the only mirrorless camera we’ve done! Check out our film vs digital video to see how mirrorless compares to old school photography.

I want to conduct a little experiment. Below, I’ve attached two similar photos side by side, one taken on my iPhone 7, and the other on my Canon EOSR. Before you scroll down to the next section of this article, try to guess which one is which. I’ll wait!

Locked your guesses in?

All of the A photos were taken on my iPhone, and Bs on my mirrorless camera. There’s no way of me knowing if you got them right or not, but I did conduct this experiment with my brother and he guessed 1/3 correctly. It’s important to note that he is by no means a photographer, and his rule of thumb is the sharper the photo, the higher the quality.

I, as an *artiste* and photographer, can appreciate the beauty created by Canon glass (or any lens for that matter), with the shallow depth of field and soft color profile. However, the phenomenon of a sharp image perceived as higher quality seems to be quite a common opinion. That means it’s relatively easy to take a “professional-looking” photo using basic tools, like an iPhone.

For photographers, it’s easy to get carried away by the professionally shot photos we see online — the ones we’re constantly comparing our own work to. Though expensive gear can add a certain quality to your shots, sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back and use the tools that you’ve got, instead of letting gear get in the way of capturing beautiful photos. With practice and dedication to the tools you have, you might even find that you don’t really need that gear upgrade after all.

1. Expose the Photo In-Camera

Flip your phone upside-down to get a lower angle!

One of the advantages of shooting photos on a DSLR or mirrorless camera is the ability to shoot RAW photos. When you shoot in RAW, the camera captures a flat profile with a lot of information about the image, so that when you go to edit it in post, you can manipulate the photo with a lot more flexibility. In comparison, your smartphone takes photos in JPGs, which doesn’t capture nearly as much information. When you’re taking photos on your smartphone, it’s important to try and expose your images as best as possible in camera so that you need the least amount of edits afterwards, to keep it looking natural.

One trick for iPhone users is to click on the screen to focus on an object. There should be a little slider on the right side of the focus square that pops up. If you click and drag on that slider up and down, you’ll adjust the exposure of the image. This way, if you adjust your exposure before taking the photo, you’ll have a much better base image to work with!

This app is called “Afterlight” – highly recommended for quick photo editing.
2. Reduce the Sharpness in Post

I’m not a huge fan of the overly sharpened look, so I like to go into some editing software and reduce that down so it’s not as pronounced when I finalize the photo and post it on Instagram. Obviously, this is a matter of taste. You may love how detailed and sharp they appear, so keep it if you want. However, if you’re trying to not make it as apparent that your photo was taken on a phone, reducing the sharpness is an easy fix.

3. Play to Your Smartphone’s Strengths

Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of your smartphone’s photos can help you play to its strengths and avoid highlighting negatives as much as possible.

For example, most smartphone cameras create this digital blur effect when you focus on an object in the foreground to recreate depth of field, similar to a camera lens. Using this technique, you can capture really beautiful images that emulate the real thing!
A simple image with a professional touch. Symmetry is literally your best friend. There’s something about a well composed photo that, no matter what it’s shot on, looks professional. On most smartphone camera apps, you have the option to use the built-in rule of thirds grid to help you compose your photos properly. Use it to your advantage!

This may sound a little harsh but, aside from the quality of your smartphone, it’s not the camera’s fault if you’re taking mediocre photos.

I’m a firm believer in outgrowing your gear. Once you get to the point where you feel like there’s no possible way you can take the photos that you want to take with your smartphone anymore, and you’re serious about photography, it may be time to upgrade. For the most part, it’s so awesome to have a compact little camera on us at all times. Go out and use it to your advantage!

Learn more about smartphone photography and videography here:

Newsworthy Articles

Explore More