Regardless of how far the technology advances, there will always be some fundamental limitations preventing smartphones from replacing professional cameras. One of these limitations comes down to the laws of physics which are notoriously difficult to bypass. By which I mean sensor size.
For the most part, larger sensors are better sensors. They are able to gather more light and offer a greater depth of field control. The sensor in my professional camera is 50 times bigger than the one in my iPhone. This means no matter how easy it is to share pictures on my iPhone the larger sensor on my camera allows me to capture images that would be physically impossible with my smartphone.
In addition, the smaller sensors of a smartphone cannot offer a particularly good depth of field control, even with an f/2.2 lens. In terms of practical photography, smartphones don’t give you the same level of control that you would have with a DSLR.
Another really common problem with smartphone images is that when they are printed they appear much more drab and dark compared to the photo on the screen. This is because screens display the image by directly emitting light while a printed image reflects light instead. Since a screen is a light source your images will always appear brighter with more vivid colours on screen than they do when they’re printed. This is one of the areas where the differences between a DSLR camera and a smartphone is most evident.
Asides from the issues with sensors, DSLRs feature interchangeable lenses giving you a greater level of control. Smartphone manufacturers, on the other hand, have to strike a sweet spot between wide-angle and telephoto and it is usually the telephoto side that suffers the most. This results in smartphones suffering when it comes to long-focus photography. In addition, the autofocus ability that comes with modern high-level cameras simply cannot be matched by smartphones.
Smartphones are also victims of a jack of all trades and master of none label due to the not too wide and not too telephoto nature of their lenses. In practice, this results in the lens being too wide for a flattering close-up portrait and too telephoto to take in entire landscapes. With a professional camera, you don’t need to compromise as the lens you need is out there for you.
Another, often overlooked, aspect is the ergonomics of a professional camera compared to a smartphone. A modern smartphone is designed to do a lot of things that used to be done by a range of individual devices. They can play music, access the internet, play games and take photos, to list a few. As such, your smartphone can’t be designed to solely be a camera, which leads it to have some shortcomings compared to a made for the task DSLR.
It can be unwieldy to hold the smartphone in front of your body and difficult to frame your subject through a screen. On the other hand, a well-designed professional camera will fit your hands well and easily allows a line of sight connection with your subject. The controls are also intuitive and easy to learn.
Smartphones also lack manual controls, which can be a big problem while working. A camera isn’t smart and it can’t automatically ignore the random guest that has strayed into the shot while I photograph the couple at a wedding. Thankfully, I can tell it to do precisely that. This kind of fine control isn’t possible on a phone and while I might sound like I’m nitpicking, and I obviously am, this level of refinement can make or break a photo. Especially if you are under pressure.
While some are lamenting smartphones as the end of professional photographers I believe this is a short-sighted attitude. Sure, smartphones might push some of the point and shoot out of the market, but a professional high-quality photographer is always going to be preferred to an amateur.
In addition, smartphones have had some positive impacts for photographers. For one, they have created a culture of photography. With the rise of smartphone cameras and Instagram everyone loves taking and seeing pictures. There is a greater demand for photos now than ever before.
Secondly, the increasingly advanced technology has resulted in higher-quality images being accessible to more people than ever before. Now some might look at this as removing the need for photographers. I choose to see it as creating an attitude of expectation. People now expect great-looking high-quality images all the time. This appreciation of quality will lead people to realise the limitations of non-professional equipment combined with the lack of training and experience and instead call in the professionals.