Photos Your Mobile Phone Can’t Take


See how mobile-photo-enthusiasts can take their creativity to the next level with an SLR camera.

Smart phones like the iPhone have changed the way we communicate with each other. Mobile phones with camera features have introduced many people to the world of photography.

To deal with the limitations of mobile phones, many apps have been introduced. However, using an app to ‘fix’ an image taken with a mobile phone only masks the faults and limitations of the phone hardware.

SLR cameras grant users an exciting level of creative freedom, and quality of images that simply cannot be matched by mobile phones. For those smart phone owners who have had a taste of photography and are looking for more, we look into the photos that your mobile phone simply cannot take.

Click any image to see the full-size versions to really compare the differences

#1 Fast Shutter Speed

Ever wonder why some pictures taken at kids birthday parties have all sorts of colourful blurs where there should be happy children? This happens when a camera’s shutter speed is too slow to capture a scene with movement. Mobile phones do not offer much control for the user in this respect. When there are options for controlling shutter speed, they are extremely limited.

Most entry level SLR cameras can capture pictures at up to 1/4000thof a second!  The faster the shutter speed, the more “frozen in time” the image will look. Modern phones automatically do what they need to do in order to achieve the “best” picture. This often results in unwanted images. SLR cameras allow users to have full control over shutter speed with just a flick of the wrist.

#2 Long Exposure

There are few things quite as enchanting as a glowing city skyline at night. Ever try to snap a quick photo, only to see bunch of little squiggly lines? Sometimes with luck, one might get a photo that kind of looks like the city, except with blue and gray sprinkles everywhere. These are not the same kind of delicious sprinkles found on donuts and cupcakes. These sprinkles are referred to as “noise” or “grain”, and they definitely do not make the picture look good.

SLR cameras allow users to take “long exposures”, which means the camera is taking a photo for a few seconds, or even a few minutes! This lets users take amazing photos at night, where there doesn’t seem to be any light at all.

Taking night pictures isn’t the only cool thing SLRs can do. Long exposure shots allow anyone with a flashlight or torch write out cool messages or draw silly pictures. Ever wonder how some people are able to take mystifying photos with blurry ferris wheels or misty oceans and waterfalls? How about those star-filled night sky photos? The answer is long exposure photography!

#3 Rapid Exposure

Anyone who has ever yelled at their phone for lagging a few seconds before taking a photo is not alone. It’s easy to miss a winning opportunity with kids, pets, and funny moments while mobile phones think about what they want to do. Often times, it’s important to take many photos rapidly.

Maybe a parent wants to take a photo of their son’s first goal in his first soccer game. A mobile phone is likely to miss the moment completely. SLR cameras are able to snap repeated photos quickly, one after another. This can help users capture a moment that would otherwise have been near impossible to catch.

#4 Macro

Click on the image to open the full size and see the real difference between the two

Want to take a close up photo of something very small? Mobile phones simply were not built to handle these scenes. Results will typically be blurry, out of focus, or just plain disappointing. SLR cameras can capture mesmerizing, miniature scenes with amazing clarity and detail.

Macro lenses can uncover a whole other world that no other type of photography can see. Users can make the camera focus on a single ant, and have everything else pleasantly blurred into the background.

With true macro photography, it’s a whole new world. It’s a new exciting point of view. There’s no one to tell you no, or where to go, or say you’re only dreaming.

#5 Optical Zoom

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! No, it’s a plane! Well, we really can’t tell what it is, because the picture I took using my mobile phone looks like a blurry blob.

Many mobile phones brag about their “zooming” capabilities. However, these claims rarely describe “Optical Zoom”. Mobile phones use “Digital Zoom”, which simply takes a normal photo, but stretches the picture to artificially make something look bigger. This results in a blurry image with reduced detail and quality.

SLR cameras make use of Optical Zoom, which means the lens is physically adjusting itself to simulate the user actually being closer to the thing they are taking a picture of. The images above were taken from about 60ft (18m) away.

The mobile phone photo is blurry, and there is no difference in focus between the dog and the background. This is digital zoom!

The SLR captured an image where the dog is sharp in focus and the background is all blurred out. The definition is sharp and there is no loss in quality. This is optical zoom!

#6 Intense Direct Light

The great thing about mobile phones is that you can hold them any way you’d like, and touch them all over the place. The bad thing about mobile phones is that by holding them, fingerprints, grease, and dirt get all over them.

Having any grease or dirt over the image sensor in a mobile phone vastly reduces the quality of photos taken. It can become very inconvenient to have to remove a mobile phone from its case or cover in order to wipe down the lens before taking a shot.

In the example above, we did clean the mobile phone lens fully before taking this shot. Due to the nature of small optics, mobile phones are not able to cope with intense direct light the way SLR cameras can. This allows SLRs to capture a wide array of scenes, without needing an app to apply a filter to hide the fact that the shot “didn’t turn out quite right”.

#7 Wide Angle

One of the most important things in a photo is the amount of the scene you can fit into the picture. Being able to fit a whole lot of the environment is vital to conveying a sense of space and size to make the picture look grand and epic. It is vital for many landscape shots to be captured with a wide angle lens.

In the example above, the mobile phone is “zoomed out” as much as possible. The SLR image is able to express a sense of openness and say much more about the environment.

Also, in the example above, a huge difference in color is apparent. This is because of something called “White Balance”. Controlling the white balance allows users to ensure that their photo has colors that are close to the real life scene they see with their eyes.

Mobile phones typically allow very little, if any, control over the white balance when the photos is taken. The mobile phone image above appears colder and the colors have less dynamic. This is a result of the phone automatically  trying to do what it thinks is best, which is not always correct.

#8 Custom Bokeh

Pronounced “bow-keh”. Bokeh describes what things in the scene look like when they are out of focus. When lights in the background are out of focus, you see the bokeh clearly. Mobile phones have extremely limited capability and control on how much something is out of focus. SLR cameras give users full control over how much the background is blurred when it is out of focus.

In the example above, the SLR is equipped with custom shape bokeh filters. These filters turn any out-of-focus lights into dainty heart shapes. There is a wide range of shapes on the market, and the fun to be had is endless!

The mobile phone image in the example above has been processed using a “bokeh app”. Unfortunately, the app requires that the scene be blurred somewhere of the user’s choice. This is quite frustrating, as it wrecks havoc on the actual image itself. Needless to say, software solutions are not very effective in simulating a true bokeh shape effect.

#9 Controlled Depth of Field

What makes professional portrait photos of actors and models look so much better than the snapshots we take with our mobile phones? One of the biggest contributing factors is the depth of field. DoF is simply the area in a scene where things appear in focus, while everything else appears out of focus.

In the example above, with the SLR image, we can see that only a narrow area within the photo is in focus, while everything else is blurry. This helps create and control flow in the image, and it directs the viewer’s attention to what the photographer wants them to look at.

In this case, the depth of field directs the viewer’s attention to the pebbles. SLRs give users complete control over depth of field, and lets the user decide whether they want only one thing or everything to be in focus.

With the mobile phone image in the example above, the depth of field is quite wide. The far background and near foreground are only slightly out of focus. However, because too much of the scene is in focus, there is no way to direct the viewer’s attention to any one thing in the scene. Mobile phone cameras usually allow absolutely no control over the depth of field.

#10 Dynamic Range

Dynamic range describes an image sensor’s ability to record both light and darkness at the same time. However, there is a limit to the amount of light and dark that an image sensor can pick up at one time. In the example above, the mobile phone’s limitation of dynamic range is evidently seen.

The photographer in the example above is on a wicked bushwalk, wherein he would like to take a fully sick picture of himself to post online and share with his friends and family. Unfortunately, his mobile phone is not good at capturing both dark shadows and bright light at the same time. This is because the image sensor has low dynamic range.

As seen in the example above, the SLR camera has a high enough dynamic range to be able to capture the photographer’s face, as well the details in the shadows, and even the sky and trees caught in the bright sunlight. This is a characteristic of SLR cameras having a lens and image sensor that is physically bigger than those found in mobile phones.

#11 Studio Portrait

A studio portrait may seem as foreign and difficult as traversing the surface of the moon. However, setting up a home studio and taking portraits are much easier and affordable than it sounds. Just about any SLR camera can be used to take studio portraits. A home studio can be a great way to take fantastic photos for friends, family, and even enemies, if for some reason they wanted their photo taken.

In the example above, the SLR is equipped with a wireless emitter that allows it to trigger 3 wireless flash units when the picture is taken. The result is a fun and beautifying image that would make the model’s facebook friends weep with envy. However, the mobile phone image, taken with the phone flash turned on, is rather normal for a facebook profile pic. The red eyes aren’t quite normal, and either the phone flash caused it, or the female model is a vampire.

#12 Fisheye

The fisheye lens is the greatest example of taking lemons and making lemonaide. Barrel distortion is typically unwanted in images, but fisheye lenses have so much distortion that it is actually desirable!

The fisheye takes the scene and bends everything to look wobbly and curvaceous. The properties of this type of lens are not just for having a willy nilly fun time. It allows users to be more creative with their photos and capture some truly unique scenes.

In the example above, the mobile phone image is the product of running an image though a “Fisheye App”, which applied a filter. The result is an image which appears to have a fisheye-like distortion. However, the resulting image has reduced quality, as it stretches the image, losing sharpness and detail.

The corners of the scene are chopped off like bad 80s sideburns, producing an image that is difficult to use anywhere. A true fisheye lens allows users to capture a lot of the scene in one photo, and can be useful as wide angle lenses. This is something that apps and software will simply never be able to simulate.

Mobile phones make everyday living and communication much more convenient. Being able to spontaneously snap a photo in situations when one would not normal carry a camera allows the mobile phone to fill a gap that the SLR could not address. These mobile phones allow us to play with our pictures and share them quickly and easily, but they are not the end-all solution to photography.

There are many issues which really separate mobile phones from proper cameras. Th ephysical size of the image sensor in mobile phones prevents images from having the same quality as those taken by an SLR camera. At this stage of technology, photographs taken by mobile phone will always have less sharpness, dynamic range, contrast, clarity, and depth of field when compared to images taken by an SLR.

While mobile phones do many things that an SLR camera cannot do, it can be said that SLR cameras do many things that mobile phones cannot do as well. Neither is a replacement for the other, and it’s important to see how one compliments the other. Water guns are good fun during summer time, but when someone needs to put a fire out, they use a proper fire hydrant and hose.

SLR cameras are perfect for people who want to make an art of capturing scenes and sharing them. Mobile phones are perfect for casual photo takers, and are great for spontaneous moments deserving of a photo. For anyone who loves taking photos with their mobile phones, it only makes sense to take the next step and pick up an SLR camera to see where their creativity takes them.

The list below details some excellent entry-level SLRs from some of the top brands, and are all excellent choices for getting into the art of photography.

Click on any image for a review of each camera

Nikon D3100

Canon EOS Rebel T3i

Sony SLT-A35

Fujifilm FinePix S100fs

Keep your chin up, your held head high, but most of all, don’t take your finger off the shutter button. You never know when you’ll get the chance to take that award winning photo.

For more tips, techniques, and hands on time with cool camera gear, check out the upcoming The Digital Show Expo in Melbourne, VIC!

Click to register for free entry!

Happy Hunting,

Jerrel Dulay

Jerrel Dulay

All photos copyright Jerrel Dulay *excluding images of “Nikon D3100”, “Canon EOS Rebel T3i”, “Sony SLT-A35”, “Fujifilm FinePix S100fs”


About idigitaldarwin

Helping people stay informed with the latest ground breaking technology and valuable photo-imaging and gadget tips. View all posts by idigitaldarwin

One response to “Photos Your Mobile Phone Can’t Take

  • Charlotte Tai

    This is an interesting article with first-time-seen side by side comparison between a mobile phone photos and DSLR’s. I think it provides an good introduction for the camera phone lovers considering upgrading to DSLR. I for one, started out shooting around with a phone and later started using a DSLR as I realized I’d like to explore more in photography. Phone cameras provide a convenient way for people to practise at least the composition and to discover the fun of snapping photos… at least in the entry level.

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