So, you’re looking at a Smartphone vs Mirrorless Camera vs DSLR (otherwise known as a digital single-lens reflex camera). We get it – it’s a tough choice, and as smartphone photography continues to grow as a discipline it’s getting even tougher.
On one hand, a smartphone camera – even with an additional lens and handheld – is inexpensive and let’s be honest – you probably have one anyway.
On the other hand, experts argue that smartphones – no matter how good their cameras become – just will never be able to compete.
But, a DSLR camera alone is guaranteed to be expensive, and for what? While some professional photographers could talk for ages on the topic of why the DSLR is worth the money, we here at Photos with Phones have to tell you to plug your ears.
The gap is closing, and it’s closing fast. Today, it’s the most unclear it’s ever been as to what the best camera for professional photography is.
We’re going to give it to you straight here so that you can shut those pesky know-it-alls down when they try to argue this point with you in the future.
Here we go – who reigns supreme in Smartphone versus Mirrorless versus DSLR Cameras?
Smartphone vs Mirrorless Camera vs DSLR – Pros, Cons, & Info to Know
|Type of Camera||Pros||Cons|
|DSLR||So many settings means so much control||On the way out as a result of mirrorless cameras anyway|
|Super durable||Larger & heavier than the competition|
|They've been around forever (so have the people who produce and service DSLRs)|
|Mirrorless||New design & tech allows for amazingly effective and crisp auto-focus||No viewfinder means using the LCD screen when shooting|
|Large sensor size||Expensive|
|4K shooting capability usually standard||Poor battery life|
|Less bulky||Start-up lag|
|Phone||Easy to shoot and share quickly||Doesn't have the ergonomic feel of traditional camera
|You always have it with you anyway||The friggin' stigma|
|Larger & heavier than the competition||Not very forward thinking|
|Comparatively smaller than DSLR||All accessories are harder to get for the time being|
|Less expensive||Not as good at night photography|
Before we get into the arguments for and against each style of camera we have to take some time to point something else.
Any professional photographer worth their salt is using serious gear, right? To help them with their craft, they have a full toolbelt of high-grade lenses and a tripod that could keep their rig still in a hurricane.
Why should you treat your phone photography differently?
This question is actually what inspired us to create the Mobile Creator’s Series – where we sit down with the industry’s best and discuss gear, tips and tricks, and the age-old question – smartphone vs mirrorless camera vs DSLR.
There are certainly differences between phone, DSLR, and mirrorless, and we’ll discuss them at length below, but you need the correct phone photography gear for the comparison to be fair.
Before moving on, however, it’s imperative to comprehend the similarities and differences between mirrorless and DSLR cameras (it’ll help you to understand when we crown a winner later). The video does a great job of explaining enough without delving too deeply into the technological specifics.
Mirrorless cameras appeared in the photography world about a decade ago. While for awhile they remained relatively unknown – used only by the fad chasers – today they’re starting to dominate the industry.
Well, the live view – which is the preview not reflected off a mirror – is used to create an electronic viewfinder image. Which, as you can probably guess, gets rid of the need for the mirror and sensor all together.
So, the whole concept of mirrorless just gets rid of a few camera parts – theoretically making the machine less expensive. At the same time, it will take a few years until we know whether the price is really all that different.
The jump in technology, however, hasn’t been all good. The methods of autofocus used in DSLR’s for decades no longer works with mirrorless cameras. New technologies have to be developed, and – as of yet – the jury is still out as to how they compete.
As far as other issues go, users also cite a lack of comparative battery life and a bulky ergonomic design with mirrorless cameras.
Even still, there are other pros to consider before moving away from potentially purchasing a mirrorless camera.
At the same time, the hefty price tag attached to these bad boys makes them a no-go for many a photographer.
In layman’s terms, when you hit the button light travels through the lens (not lense), then to a mirror that alternates to send the image to either the viewfinder or the image sensor depending on the camera’s design.
The SLR – the predecessor to the DSLR – was invented during a time before digital sensors, so the design was a major breakthrough in photography. Historians and photographers alike argue over when in fact this invention was, but the most basic of SLR cameras were probably being used in a limited capacity around the turn of the 20th century.
In the case of SLR cameras, the whole process outlined above was mechanized and the film was used to capture the image as opposed to it being stored on a file. The use of SLRs occurred all the way up until the mid-1990s!
I definitely have memories as a kid of my grandmother shooting with film.
At this point in time, twenty-plus years into the digitalization of the SLR though, many argue that even the DSLR has become outdated.
That debate, however, is for another time and place and probably on a different website…
Like mirrorless cameras, DSLRs typically have interchangeable lenses and allow for both auto and manual focus. The prism or mirror that made DSLR’s popular allows for an accurate shot preview that compares to that in a mirrorless.
Haven’t you ever wondered why when you look through a DSLR it’s almost always focused?
DSLR fanatics argue that their babies are of an optimal size, possess a competitive optical viewfinder, and a superior battery life
As a result, they are still the most common kind of camera in the game.
What makes DSLR & Mirrorless different from your phone?
So, where is your phone on the spectrum between DSLR and mirrorless?
Interestingly enough, your phone lies somewhere in the middle. It utilizes the same shutter idea used in DSLRs – that is that when you hit the ‘take photo’ button the aperture lets the light into the sensor, exposure is done, and then the photo is moved to an ISP to become a JPEG file – but with some modifications.
The phone also moves closer to the DSLR and mirrorless side when accompanied by a Moment lens or two! Seriously, you wouldn’t shoot with a Sony or Nikon without a full accompaniment of gear.
Why treat your phone photography any differently?
Your phone doesn’t have shutters or mirrors like a DSLR and might not be creating massive raw data files like a mirrorless camera (this doesn’t mean you can’t shoot in RAW!) but it can still compete.
It’s worth noting that smartphones are starting to use RAW data files and store photos as JPEGS. Both of which aid in the control of the editing process and make your phone more like DSLR and mirrorless cameras.
However, there are certain things that phone cameras aren’t able to do yet. Here are some interesting comparisons from TechRadar on the topic, though they do cede that phones will likely eventually be able to replicate the results.
3 Tips to close to the gap between your phone and a mirrorless or DSLR –
- Give your phone cameras time! – Seriously, phone photography didn’t take off as a discipline until the last two years. Think of how much of a head start even mirrorless cameras have. With that in mind, phone cameras are actually pretty legit at this point, right? If you don’t believe us, then check out our post on the best phones for night photography. Phones have been known for years as lacking the capability to shoot in low light, but the newest offerings solve this problem for good. Give the producers and designers of the cameras time, and they’ll solve the problems.
- GEAR. You need it and it’s much more cost-effective -Why treat your phone photography any differently? Seriously, it’s almost too easy to take great photos on your phone if you’re utilizing the right gear. If you pair your phone’s camera with a few pieces of 2020’s best gear for phone photography, then you’re pretty much at DSLR and mirrorless quality. Oh, and you’re there for 1/3 the price!
- Shoot a lot (and edit even more!) – If we’ve learned anything from our Mobile Creator’s Series interviews, it’s that experimentation – when shooting and editing – is imperative to success. Seriously, every participant mentioned it. So, the next time you go and shoot keep this in mind. When someone goes to shoot with a DSLR or mirrorless they take the time to make sure their settings are correct, the lighting is optimal, and the shot is perfect. For the love of God, do the same with your phone photography!
Crowning The Winner: Smartphone vs Mirrorless Camera vs DSLR
So, what is the best camera for professional photography?
DSLR is the winner – for now.
The industry preference just beats out the mirrorless camera in terms of performance. The latter will likely pass the former in popularity over the coming year or two. Smartphone cameras lag slightly behind (but in a tortoise and the hare sort of way).
At this point, you may be saying, “PWP, aren’t you concerned about your viability as a business?”
We appreciate your concern, but we aren’t worried.
To explain, as technology continues to evolve so will all camera tech. While this probably means that DSLR and mirrorless cameras will continue to be superior, it also certainly means that smartphone cameras will improve to where their competitors are today.
The DSLR and mirrorless companies are resting on their laurels, just like the hare. Phone photography is pushing limits and improving leaps and bounds every day – just like the tortoise.
Essentially, your phone camera is good enough now for professional photography. And, it will only get better over time.
So, it’s been established that today’s smartphones don’t have the best camera for professional photography. But it’s also been proven that these cameras are improving and improving fast and that by pairing your smartphone with some gear you can get DSLR or mirrorless level results.
So, what does a loss for phone photography mean? Well, not much in our opinion, and here’s why.
When someone shoots with their DSLR or mirrorless they’ve got lenses, a tripod, filters, and a host of other gear if they take their photography seriously.
Why would you treat your phone photography any differently?
At the same time, there will always be people that look down on smartphone cameras. Just as there are people today that look down on mirrorless cameras.
They’re photography purists, and no matter how legitimate smartphone photography becomes they’ll never take it seriously as a discipline. They’ll never consider your smartphone to have the best camera for professional photography.
It’s just the nature of the beast.
It is worth noting, however, that as camera technology improves our expectations of said technology will increase. By this, we mean, in a few years your phone will perform up to par with today’s DSLR and mirrorless cameras.
It is unlikely that your phone’s camera will ever outcompete the DSLR or mirrorless offering of the day. On the other hand, it will certainly be good enough for you to take high-quality photos, edit them, and more easily share them with the world around you.
We here at Photos with Phones think this is better anyway.
That is, after all, the main goal of photography. In this way, phone photography will always be superior.