An early 2014 look on Smartphones vs DSLR and Cameras

Recently DP Review wrote an article which resonated with whatever we have been writing on TechGarage about the issue of Smartphones vs DSLRs. After all, amidst news of the Japanese Camera Makers struggling this coming 2014, and facing perhaps long term oblivion due to the catching up of technology by the makers of smartphones. Smartphones like the iPhone 5s, Samsung Galaxy S4 and the beast of what is the 41 megapixel Nokia Lumia 1020 have steadily caught up with removable lens cameras, whether it is the DSLR or the mirrorless, or quirky designs like the Ricoh GXR.

nokia vs dslr

Smartphones vs DSLR : The Convergence of Smartphone and Camera?

The problem with technology is, it always evolves at evolutionary and revolutionary paces. And at times, it isn’t easy to let go of our past nor our affection towards the gadgets that we are used to. After all, as we develop stronger and lower power consumption processors, older devices becomes obsolete. Take a look at the Sony Walkman. It was superseded by the CD player, and then the iPod, which itself was superseded by the iPhone. Of course, to an Audiophile, having songs on an mp3 player like the iPod was considered sacrilegious. After all, real music lovers wouldn’t switch to mp3s, or would they?

As technology matures, and the quality of the upcoming technology becomes good enough for the masses, the incumbent technology either has to evolve themselves, or be left out. The smartphones and tablets, led by the iPhone and iPad has also eaten into the marketshare of console gaming. Apple’s continued to push the boundary of mobile graphics on it’s iDevices and combined with affordable cheap games on the AppStore, has made the problem of plummeting sales of game console makers even worse. (link from Time Magazine)

Do note that the scale for smartphones and cameras are not the same. However, notice that smartphone camera has increased dramatically in terms of performance and quality of photo. Taken from DxOMark

As for smartphones, according to DP Review’s test, though the iPhone 5s resolved around the old Canon 20D’s image quality, and the Nokia Lumia 1020 around the Nikon D800’s image quality, they both suffer in low-light settings. However, smartphones has shown a dramatic increase in quality in the recent years. Take a look at the graph above. No, smartphones and cameras aren’t on the same scale. But if you observe, while the Canon EOS APS-C DSLR camera showed small improvements per model release (as measured by DxOMark), Samsung’s Galaxy S series and Apple’s iPhone showed dramatic increases in image quality.

iphone 5 improvements iphone 4s improvements 2 iphone 4s improvements

For further photos to see the difference of improvements between the various iPhones, drop by both Petapixel (who did a compilation of photos from the original iPhone, all the way to iPhone 4s) and Camera Plus, which did a comparison between the various iPhones, starting from the original, all the way to the iPhone 5)

The main problem between Smartphones vs DSLR

The problem, as we have mentioned before, is Japanese Camera Makers, such as Canon and Nikon, continues to sit on their laurels, handing out small increases in performance for every new model, while not being really being networkable. Though the Nikon D5300 has wifi capabilities, it does not offer the convenience that a smartphone does. And what happens if there is no Wifi in your area? What about connectivity to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr? Also, how about editing on the fly?

project ara 1
Could Project Ara be the basis for all new interchangeable lens camera? A modular setup, to enable consumers to customise what they need?

It’s small details like this which Apple and Samsung has taken noticed of and as a result, have seen smartphones and Samsung’s Galaxy Camera with Android and 3G grabbing the marketshare of point and shoot cameras from the Japanese Camera Makers. Faced with a forty percent drop in sales for point and shoot cameras this 2014, together with flagging sales of the highly hoped on mirrorless cameras, and the upcoming Project Ara by Google, which promises modular smartphones with interchangeable lenses, Japanese Camera Makers face what perhaps is a bleak 2014.  I don’t believe they will go BlackBerry’s way just yet, but they might if they don’t come up with radical improvements just yet.

I like what DP Review has wrote, and hereby include it below as a conclusion for this article on Smartphones vs DSLR.

I now see smartphones as like the early steps in the evolution of premium, prime-lens compact cameras. Good quality, convenient, with huge depth of field, but compared to DSLRs, they’re still slow and inflexible, and their pictures aren’t as ‘malleable’ to change in editing. Their results are good, but if you’re used to a DSLR, the feel of smartphones — how pleasant and transparent they are to use as a craftsperson’s tool — is still a work in progress. Like those prime compacts, phones have subjects that they excel at (landscapes, street shooting), along with subjects that they’re hopeless at: traditional sports, portraits, action and wildlife — anything that benefits from a longer lens or limited depth of field.

canon eos 20d
The Canon EOS 20D. It was one of the leading DSLR Cameras back in 2004-2005.

Ironically, as dedicated cameras, prime lens compacts remain niche products with no aspirations to popular appeal. They’re aimed squarely at discerning users. But as phones they’ve become the tool of choice in everyone’s hands. We accept their limitations as the price of extreme convenience.

But many of their limitations will disappear in a few short years with zippier processing. Only their fixed lens remains as an Achilles’ heel, with no obvious technology on the horizon to rescue it. Yet.

I’m loving this new breed of smaller, super convenient, high-quality prime-lens compact cameras that make phone calls. They help me heed the call of my favorite photographer, Elliott Erwitt, who said “It’s about time we started to take photography seriously and treat it as a hobby.” Photography can enhance your vision, your enjoyment of the world, your interactions with other people, and your life. If your photography isn’t doing all of these for you, I’d argue that you’re not demanding enough of it.

I find that smartphones help me to reap these benefits at least as well as many dedicated cameras. For me, it’s merely an added bonus that they can now make pictures that compete with those from most DSLRs up to about 6 years ago. And I predict that the gap will shrink further.

If you’ve never considered smartphones as tools for “serious” photography, I’d argue that we’re fast approaching the time to look again.

Having spoken that, 2014 looks like it will be a defining year for the Japanese Camera Makers and their DSLR / mirrorless systems.  Would they grow, or would they be the next to fall after BlackBerry’s dramatic fall from the tech industry. After all, Lazaridis, Blackberry’s CEO had long respected Apple’s design acumen. But, he said,”Not everyone can type on a piece of glass. Every laptop and virtually every other phone has a tactile keyboard. I think our design gives us an advantage.” Superior hardware would win out, he believed. We now know how it panned out.

Got an idea? =) Drop us your thought here