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© Ute Reckhorn

© Ute Reckhorn

Camera vs Cell Phone: My thoughts…

  • 6 min read

In these days of never ending upgrades of electronics, logic would ask why anyone would pick up a camera when today’s cell phones are better than most cameras used to be? The megapixels in today’s cell phones make for some pretty amazing pictures but whose is controlling the story that is being told? And exactly how is that cell phone story composed? How do you isolate your subject and let the rest fall into blur? How do you block out unwanted elements? How are you in complete control of showing what you want to show when using a cell phone? How many options are there for being creative with your cell phone?


Today’s cameras, be it a DSLR or mirrorless, still beat out a cell phone. You can add a different lenses to accomplish different tasks. Do you want a wide angle landscape or the reach to capture that bird in a tree or whale off in the distance? Do you want to get so close that you’re capturing the fuzzy texture of bee or be in the stands at sporting event and capture the emotion on the face of an athlete? Do you want to take pictures in a school auditorium, or outside at dusk and tell who is the subject and have them be clear and sharp? You can’t do all those things, or at least, do them well, with a cell phone.


About a year or two ago I was in need a new cell phone. Apple had just come out with the iPhone 13 Pro Max. It could shoot macro. I HAD to have it. Just HAD to have it. And at first I was thrilled but I quickly realized that I couldn’t tell the same story with it. I could capture clearer and sharper pictures than I could with my iPhone 8, but I couldn’t do the same things I could with my Nikon 750 that was introduced in 2014 or the Nikon mirrorless that’s now in my bag. Shooting at a wide open aperture isn’t possible with a cell phone due to the size of the sensor and the cell phone having an electronic shutter vs the mechanical shutter of a camera. What this all boiled down to for me was that my 12 year old DSLR camera could produce better, more artistic images than my brand new iPhone. What a let down.


Everyone who creates uses tools of some kind or another. Does a painter use the same brush for every picture? Does a woodworker use the same saw for each cut? No. There are different tools for different purposes. Much the same can be said about photography. A photographer selects their lenses based on the subject and the result they want. They select the aperture, ISO and the shutter speed for the same reason. Do you want to stop motion and maybe capture the birds wings as if they those wings were still or a gull walking along the ocean without blur? Do you want to stop a baseball or a football after it’s thrown? How about stopping the movement of your little ballerina? You can chose the shutter speed and other settings on camera so that there’s no blur and you have tack sharp details. Can you do that on your cell phone? Probably not.


While cell phones are improving each day they can’t compete with a 600mm lens. Yes, you can use your fingers to enlarge the subject on your cell phone but you’re just changing the pixel size and ending up with a blurry picture. Not so, on long lens. Your camera is capturing that image at full resolution, unlike your cell phone. The sensor on your cell phone is a fraction of the size of the sensor on today’s full frame and mirrorless cameras. That larger sensor is capable of capturing much more detail than any cell phone without sacrificing quality. When you shoot with today’s cameras, and bring them into Photoshop or another post processing program, you’ll be able to pull out and correct more data (think over exposed or underexposed, just for starters) to improve your image than you could with the data from a cell phone. Shooting in low light? Much better with a camera than with a cell phone and without adding any noise or grain to your image.

Isolating your subject so that they stand out in your image, rather than the cluttered background, is easy to do with camera where you select a wide open aperture. It helps to tell the story and guide the viewer’s eye to what you want them to see. Trash in the background? No problem with a shallow depth of field and a camera that allows you to select that. People that you don’t know? Use your aperture to blur them out. Got a busy background behind that rare bird you see in a tree? No problem with the compression in a long lens. You don’t have the same tools or quality optics available to you on a cell phone. Tack sharp focus only where you want it? Again you’re limited on a cell phone but today’s cameras let you select all of those options! Many of today’s newer mirrorless cameras even show you the exact portion of your image that is in focus! That’s a game changer. Have you ever taken a picture with your cell phone and realized later that the person or subject you wanted in focus isn’t in focus? That’s because your cell phone chose the area of focus for you and unfortunately, it was different from what you would have selected!


I mentioned a bit ago about wide angle and long lenses, but what about creative lenses? I began my journey into those lenses with a Lensbaby Velvet 56! I’ve added many more Lensbaby’s and other creative lenses to my bag since then. I can capture more blur and bokeh and isolate my subject with those lenses better than I ever could with my cell phone. My cell phone can document, but I can’t add a lens to create an in-camera artistic affect. I can’t get the soft, velvety blur of the Velvet series, the line of focus of the Edge series or the background texture of the Double Glass ii with aperture disks with my cell phone. I love being creative and it’s much more difficult to do that with my cell phone.

In today’s world of fast and furious instant gratification, there’s something to said for slowing down and doing it a better way. I don’t just want to document everything I see, I want to want to look at again and again. I want to feel the emotion of my work. I want others to see the beauty of the world through my eyes. I want to dream about possibilities. I want others to see the world in softer way. I want to create. I want others to wonder. I doubt I’ll ever frame any image I’ve taken with my cell phone, but I have walls of prints hanging in my house that I created with my camera. These images tell my story!


If I don’t have my big girl camera with me, I’ll use my cell phone, but I won’t be happy about it. I prefer to have options. If I want to create a lasting memory I’ll use a camera where I’m the one choosing the settings, telling the story or creating unique art that will transcend time! In short, I’ll be me and I hope you will see the wisdom in this and be the unique photographer you’re meant to be, as well!


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Cathy Kuhlman

Cathy is an avid nature photographer who enjoys pushing the limits of light and focus to create thoughtful images. She is also an accepted member of Click Pro, which is an association of professional female photographers. In front of her camera you're likely to find pretty macro subjects, wildlife or a beautiful landscape.  


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