New smartphones come out every year, and it seems like the cameras included within the devices are one of the most important upgrades. Sure you have CPU upgrades and better internals to give better performance, but whether it’s optical image stabilization, slow-mo, or better low-light detection–smartphone cameras are becoming more and more popular. Often times the smartphone that has the best camera is given the most credit as the best smartphone.

With each new smartphone that comes out, people brag about how good the cameras are. But at the end of the day, are these flashy new smartphone cameras as good as other forms of cameras on the market today–DSLR, expensive compact, and cheap compact cameras?

Before I actually started to get into taking some good pictures, I had always believed that smartphone cameras had caught up in most areas. Some of the pictures I took looked GREAT on my phone’s screen, and pretty good on my monitor’s screen too.

However, I was going on some trips and getting a new animal, so I decided that I wanted to step up my game. I hadn’t owned a REAL camera since I was younger when I first started getting into photography.  

iPhone 6S sample shot:

Are Smartphone Cameras as Good as Real Cameras?

Are Smartphone Cameras as Good as Real Cameras?

Some websites claim that smartphone cameras are just as good, while others are obviously just trying to sell expensive cameras through affiliate programs. One reason it’s hard to compare smartphone cameras against other cameras is that there a lot of phone cameras with variations of quality as well as other types of cameras that perform differently.

For the purpose of this article, I’ll be using an iPhone 6S as the marker for a phone camera, not to mean that I have a preference for the device since I do think that the Samsung Galaxy S7 produces similar pictures of the same quality.

DSLR VS iPhone?

What’s the difference between an $800-900 DSLR camera and similarly priced iPhone?

Well, the main difference comparing DSLR and iPhone is that DSLR cameras have a broad range of customizable lenses and settings, better color detection, low light shots, less glare in sunny shots, and the ability to zoom.

With a DLSR camera, you can buy specialized lenses to get certain kinds of shoots making beautiful macro shots that give great depth of field for up close product shots or even face shots with a 50mm macro lens, or wide angle shots with something like a fish-lens.

One other key area that you’ll notice between the two cameras in comparison is that DSLR’s are great at focusing where you want them to, and their colors are more vibrant and real than you’ll find in an iPhone camera. Flash is often very noticeable and can ruin photos in something like an iPhone where a flash from a DLSR camera can look quite good.

DSLR sample shot:

Are Smartphone Cameras as Good as Real Cameras?

Camera recommendation:

Nikon D3300 

Expensive Compact Camera vs. iPhone?

An expensive compact camera wins against the iPhone for similar reasons as the DSLR–just less of them. With an expensive compact camera, you get key features like a bigger image sensor that gives your MUCH better low light performance, better image focusing, better flash performance, and color detection.

Expensive compact camera sample shot:

Are Smartphone Cameras as Good as Real Cameras?

Camera recommendation:

Sony RX100

Cheap Compact Camera vs. iPhone?

Lastly, we have the cheap compact cameras that range in the $100-300 range. These cameras are similar to what you would find on an iPhone since they have better flash performance, lower quality image sensors, and variable zoom quality.

However, in this category, the iPhone wins since it has better color detection and more features than most of these cameras would have as well as the convenience factor of online integrations and pocket size.

If there is an image difference, it’s not big enough to make it worth carrying around another camera if you have your phone with you.

Cheap compact camera sample shot:

Are Smartphone Cameras as Good as Real Cameras?

Camera recommendation:

Sony DSCW800

Verdict: Real Camera vs. Smartphone Camera

Smartphone cameras aren’t as good as REAL cameras. That’s the verdict. If you are willing to spend some money, you WILL notice a difference.

If you want a better camera than your iPhone or smartphone camera, you will need to pay upwards of $400-500 to get something like the RX100 that has a bigger image sensor to notice significant image quality improvements in coloring, focus, and low light performance as well as zoom functionalities.

Low-end compact cameras aren’t worth the addition of another camera if you have a smartphone. DSLR cameras, on the other side of the spectrum, like this one, can give you much better features and image quality (image focus, coloring, zoom, customizability) than you will likely see in smartphones for many years.