DSLR vs phone camera (Should I buy a Camera?)

I say this a lot but “nobody told me a phone wasn’t a camera” until I started learning more about photography and hanging out with others who carried bags full of equipment and large tripods.

Lets just assume DSLR means a Full frame or bigger camera, even though my first camera was a Mirrorless most people say DSLR but just mean full frame cameara,

Its safe to say that I eventually have become that person with bags of camera gear and now work creating photos and videos for brands i usually always grab the camera, which is using the right tool for the right job.

That said, I have been lucky to work with mobile companies and love when the goals is to create images that are all shot with the phones.

So the question is why did I buy a camera?

If I was to point out something extremely obvious its that if you always had a bag full frame camera, mirrorless or DSLR then you will have probably never bothered to spend time focusing on your mobile phone and its camera, learning both what it can excel at but also where it falls down.

So the most important thing to remember is that they are both cameras and have a lot in common and so maybe the real question to be asked is what are the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Features in common:

  • Digital Sensor
  • Lens elements
  • Control interface, iso , shutter
  • Taking RAW photos
  • Viewfinder/Screen
  • Storage

The most important thing they have in common is they take photos.

If you want to do work or learn as a photographer you need to take photos, there is no way around the cycle of education in this regard. So if you start learning on a phone and switch to a camera or you go the other way, the knowledge you have will transfer across so no time is wasted on either.

Here are some major points I usually discuss when it comes to understanding mobile photography and why I don’t take my phone on most jobs for clients.

Can a phone be used as a professional camera?

If you can create everything you need on the phone it can obviously be used as a professional camera, it won’t be the resolution that stops you there maybe other limiting factors for now. That said there are online creators who have only their phone and can be considered professionals.

Here is how i see the limiting factor for using a phone as a professional camera when it comes to shooting for “other” people

  • Client perception:
    • You will need to ensure the client is ok with this first.
  • The size and quality of the RAW files/Photos
    • Even though this is increasing year by year and the demand for higher resolution is still focused a lot on web content, the ability to create images that can be cropped, edited after the shoot is a fundamental part of the workflow.
    • Currently the smaller sensors cant compete with the larger ones when it comes to dynamic range and low light, but again this might be overcome in the future. I have already seen examples of technology designed to overcome thisT
    • The quality of the photo for a creator isn’t just how sharp it is, its how well the images perform once subjected to post processing.
  • Shooting Speed and Control
    • You need the ability to control all the settings on the camera rapidly and most large cameras have those dials you can quickly manipulate, doing this via a phone screen is currently a limitation that can prevent working at a professional speed.
    • This can be overcome by planning and the style/speed of what is being captured but not all photos are you alone at a beach they can be groups of people all waiting for you to work so speed and confidence is critical.
  • Lenses and Optics
    • This is a huge factor and a major factor when composing shots, while the phones are making leaps ahead with optical zoom the ability to control focus, depth of field and exposure all work together in photography composition, this is an area that can close but currently when you are shooting for a client you may want to limit the compromise of what you can and cant take photos of.

Cameras competing with phones!?

There are a few areas where we are seeing mobile phone technology being taken up into full size cameras, the ability to simulate long exposures is just one example of this, the focus stacking and other “software” tricks that used to be done on the computer are now often being included on phones as “apps” and then sometimes adopted into full size camears.

Size is an important factor but this also can be a pro and a con , The desire to have a camera without compromise that is small as possible is something that is usually desirable. But the ability to use and hold a device can become an issue as they get tot he size of a phone.


The real test of any camera is “am i limited in my ability to compose a shot” that is really the number one thing to think about if working or as a hobbyist, on the extreme end you might say, if i want a top down shot of a beach then i need a camera that can fly or access to a helicopter. On the less extreme end you might say I need a macro lens or a telephoto lens to compose the shots I need with specific shallow depth of field.

Its this factor that is usually the determining reason a professional photographer might leave the phone off the consideration list and an area phones are also making huge advancements in.


So really we all benefit from the technology increasing in all areas, with large camera companies trying to stay ahead of phones and the phones trying to improve, but they are not different, just different form factor of camera with limitations and advantages.

Its an exciting area to be interested in and staying constantly abreast and experimenting with all the latest camera technology should be part of every photographers goals to ensure they can consider those advancements in how they work but also in what they compose and create.

My advice is spend as much time with any one device/lens/camera as possible to learn its strength and weaknesses and also to give you time to experiment its this focus that will reveal new skills and strength and you might be surprised!

I made a youtube video that asks the question: “If i have a phone should i buy a camera”:

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