Opinion: Phone cameras are catching up

By Morgan Givens
Staff writer

Along with writing, I use a lot of my journalistic capabilities to show visual aspects of my stories with photography. Virtually all of the images I use for the newspaper have been from using my trusty Canon DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera). But photographers like myself are dealing with a monstrous competition, and it’s something that is already here, already in our pockets: our cell phones and their cameras.

The capabilities of cell phones, especially on the camera aspect, have continuously improved every single year. They have improved at such a lightning-fast pace that companies like Canon, Nikon, Sony and other DSLR makers can be seen struggling more to stay ahead as time goes on.

Take the new heavy hitters in the cell phone industry: the iPhone X and the Samsung Galaxy S8. Both phone cameras feature a 12-megapixel camera and with both phones, like any DSLR, the user has the abilities to control shutter speed, the exposure value, color tones and more aspects to compose your shot. Many of the basic or starter level DSLRs have those features as well as a larger megapixel sensor, but that’s ultimately where the capabilities end and the phone features are getting started.

On cell phones, you can obviously make calls, use GPS features whereas only high dollar cameras have that built in, and when you talk about the simplest of things, your DSLR does not have a front-facing camera. Basic cameras also lack the ability of face detection, as that his toted as a key feature on cameras close to the $1,000 range. The only way to take a selfie on a DSLR is to stretch your arms out and also hoping that you have a wide enough lens to capture everything in the frame. But what if you dropped your camera on the ground or in a puddle? Cases for cameras, which are usually just rubber wraps, are not as practical. More and more phones are becoming waterproof as well, so cameras can be very susceptible to water and moisture. Soaking it in rice won’t help your case either.

Post-production is another thing many users take extremely seriously. The beginning to end process of taking a picture and editing it on your phone is incredibly faster than loading the pictures from your camera’s card and editing them on your computer. There are some devices that can transfer your DSLR photos to your phone and some cameras even have Wi-Fi, but it still adds more steps and takes more time, and people appreciate streamlined and integrated editing processes

Nowadays, I’ve noticed that news videos do not need to be captured with a nice camera anymore. Many breaking stories you see on local and even national news are captured on cell phones. Streaming videos is another killer advantage phones have over cameras. You can’t go live on a regular DSLR whereas you can stream of Facebook easily with the push of a button.

As I said earlier, DSLR companies are very slow to stay ahead, and some business practices are not helping their case. I’ll use Canon as an example. Canon is the only brand I use and I have invested a lot in their camera bodies and lenses but is to me one of the slowest progressing of the big companies. The cameras Canon produces have amazing video capabilities, but with the rise of 4K video, the only model that shoots that high-quality video is the 5D Mark IV and the 1D-X, with prices set at $3,200 and $5,500. Earlier this year Canon released the 6D Mark II version for $2,000 and although it is part of Canon’s top line of camera bodies, it still only shoots in 1080p. Obviously, I saw this a cheap way of getting consumers to spend the extra $1,200 and I felt disappointed in the brand I use because I can shoot 4K video on my $130 iPhone SE.

So with the horror stories of phones and their camera technology catching up, am I worried? Not really. I am extremely impressed with what phones have brought to the table in terms of photography. I’m comfortable in saying that photographers that use traditional cameras will most likely never be replaced by those with phones. I do a lot of sports photography, and what I can capture on my DSLR and the wide variety of better lenses smokes most photos taken on a phone. Even set up shots with artificial lighting gives traditional users the advantage. And importantly, more times than none, the quality of the images will be better on a DSLR, and I know that quality is incredibly valuable in today’s society.

The argument is that some people will choose a more practical approach in carrying a phone rather than a heavier camera and still be able to use all the features the DSLRs don’t have. Another important thing is that gear does not make the photographer. Although everyone has a camera on them now, that does not mean everyone is a photographer. It’s the work and effort put into the craft and art form that sets many creators from the pack. I’m interested to see what the future holds for phone photography and what camera companies will do to grow and innovate as well.

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