DSLR vs Phone Camera – Why I Need a DSLR for Travel Photography?

Why a DSLR?

Yesterday I got the Nikon D7000 DSLR camera as a gift. If I hadn’t, I would continue taking photos using my OnePlus 6 smartphone only. I don’t have the budget for such a camera, although I always wished I had one. Now that I do, I am very excited about it.

In this post, I want to share the reasons why I need a DSLR and what advantages it brings compared to shooting with my mobile phone camera.

Optical Zoom

Yes, there are some phones with an optical zoom like the OnePlus 7 Pro, Samsung Galaxy Note 10, iPhone X, Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus. IF they don’t have an optical zoom range, they offer another lens with a higher focal length.

In other words, they give users the option to get a higher magnification view of the scene. So far away objects appear closer. This isn’t the same as digital zoom that any camera has, which is just a crop or crop and enlargement. Crop and enlargement degrade the image quality because it’s like just enlarging the image digitally and cropping it. Optical zoom is lossless and doesn’t degrade the image quality. There is some optical degradation that can happen depends on the lens constructions but this isn’t destructive compared to digital zoom which means ensured great loss of defails (depends on how much digital zoom is applied to the image).

For example, with some lenses, you might get some slight blur in the corners, less sharp image or more distortion depends on the focal length and aperture used.

Keep in mind that even with current optical zoom offerings in some mobile phones cameras, still, the optical zoom isn’t great. For example, the OnePlus 7 Pro features a 3x optical zoom. But this zoom as used using two cameras, one ultra-wide 17mm-equivalent f/2.2, and a telephoto 78mm-equivalent f/2.4 OIS lens. The camera might use kind of interpolation to fill in the gap, but these are essentially just two prime cameras.

The Huawei P30 Pro is more impressive in that aspect. It features a smart 5x optical zoom implementation. It is combined with AI-powered scaling that delivers 50x, but the 50x zoom is still a combination of the optical zoom and digital zoom, but it should provide better results (sharper images) compared to other digitally enhanced zoomed images. I think that around 10x you get good results and above that, from what I’ve seen the results are not that good. The optical zoom is delivered using three cameras, telephoto, main and wide.

The Huawei P30 Pro utilizes a 125mm-equivalent focal length lens with f/3.4 aperture. This is a great offering. Just in comparison, the 18-105mm lens on my Nikon D7000 is 27-157.5mm equivalent focal length.  It’s nice to reach and if I had the Huawei P30 Pro I could have taken even better photos due to the optical zoom versatility.

One of the advantages of having several cameras on a phone is that each one is a prime lens, which has very good optical performance, generally speaking.

It’s all comes to the price of the course and whether there are disadvantages for that type of optical zoom lens on that particular phone cameras.

Large Sensor

The Huawei P30 Pro uses a 1.17″ 40MP sensor. Most phones use small sensors. These sensors are significantly smaller compared to on that come in a DSLR or Mirrorless cameras. My Nikon D7000 has an APS-C sensor, which is significantly larger compared to any of the sensor of the high-end mobile phones.

A larger sensor means that I can take photos with a shallow depth of field effect. Now, the shallow depth of field (background blur) depends on several factors, the focal length, the aperture and the distance from the subject.  With mobile phone cameras, the actual focal length is much smaller compared to DSLR, thus the defocus effect is much less prominent. To increase it, you need to get close to the subject, and this is why you can achieve a more prominent shallow depth of field effect when you shoot macros.

However, you don’t get it when the subject isn’t very close to the cameras. Phones mimic this effect digitally using ‘Portrait’ shooting modes. It’s a special algorithm that can mimic that effect, but the results aren’t as accurate as with DSLRs. You can even achieve a very blurry background that in order to achieve that with a DSLR, you’ll need very expensive equipment.

However, it’s not accurate as I said, it’s not working well with objects far away from the camera, it’s inconsistent and it works better for portraits than other objects. Nothing like naturally achieved bokeh effect with only the lens itself.

A large sensor also means bigger pixels.  It depends on the sensor resolution of course, but if you take a DSLR camera, it will have pixels much bigger than any other smartphone on the market in most part. For example, many mobile phone camera nowadays has sensors with around 1.12-micron pixels, some might reach to 2.0-micron. Just in comparison, the D7000 uses an APS-C sensor with a pixel pitch of 4.77 µm.

This means that for each pixel the camera can store more photos, which translates to better low light performance, better color reproduction and higher dynamic range in most part. High ISO performance is in most far better on a large sensor. However, many high-end mobile phones use very fat optics, which reduce the requirement to shoot at very high ISO sensitivities. Those fast aperture lenses are very expensive on standard interchangeable lenses for DSLR and mirrorless cameras.

Overall, large sensor translates to better image quality and better low light performance.

Shoot via an Optical Viewfinder

I love shooting through an optical viewfinder. It helps me connect better with the subject. Aside from that, shooting with a phone’s screen isn’t comfortable outdoors in daylight due to poor visibility.

Even with modern phones that have high brightness, it’s still under certain conditions hard to see what’s on the screen.  With an optical viewfinder, you can shoot comfortably and see the scene clearly in those conditions.

The downside of OV is that you don’t get to see the exact image of what you are going to get. Whether on your phone, you know exactly how the image is going to turn out. With digital viewfinders, it’s different though. I am talking about DSLRs here, so this is one of the reasons I prefer a DSLR.

Ability to Shoot High-Quality Raw

This is not a must for me, but having the option to shoot high-quality 14-bit RAW on my Nikon D7000 is a great feature. I can take some photos in RAW, ones that I might want to make large prints and then spend time tweaking it on Lightroom and get excellent results.

Some mobile phones do support RAW, but from what I’ve seen, due to the large pixel size, the data that a RAW file holds from a DSLR gives much more creative freedom in post-processing compared to that of a phone. Again, it depends on the hardware and software but overall, you can produce fantastic images in post-processing using RAW with a DSLR camera.

Summary

These are the main reasons I wanted to have a DSLR camera. It gives me more room to get creative both on-the-go and when I come back and process the images.

A DSLR camera like the D7000 delivers excellent high-ISO performance, super-fast autofocusing and subject-tracking performance, I can zoom in on my subjects, I can achieve beautiful bokeh and shoot RAW for HDR and it gives me more freedom in post-processing.

There are many other advantages of course, but I touched the basic ones that made me want to get a DSLR and ones that can directly affect the quality of photos that I share with you.

There is, of course, the option of changing lenses, which is one of the main reason people buy an interchangeable lens in the first place, but for me, the 18-105mm kit lens is fine for the most part. I cannot afford another lens, but in the future, if I can, I will be able to do so.

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