camera vs smartphone: is it love or is it war?

Camera vs Smartphone. Is it war or is it love?

Posted on Dec 22nd, 2020

An open topic debate

During this week I had an interesting debate with a very dear photographer friend of mine. David, this is his name, in a certain sense reproached me for my enthusiasm in pushing smartphone photography with such vigor.

For him I am sending the wrong message, namely that photography is becoming way too simple, that everyone can do it with these devices without great technical difficulties. Furthermore, according to him, there is still an abyss of qualitative difference that leads him not to take this new medium into consideration.

My reaction was to give him an observation and a comparison.

  I suggest you to give a look at all the “learning and inspirational” articles I wrote: you can find contents about Lightroom, Photoshop, Capture One Pro, photographic techniques and culture:

A panoramic photo taken with iPhone 12 Pro Max using the Pano mode that blend automatically the photos as you drag the smartphone.
A panoramic photo taken with iPhone 12 Pro Max using the Pano mode that blend automatically the photos as you drag the smartphone. To get a panoramic photo in a single shot with a camera, you can use the Hasselblad X-Pan / Fujifilm XT-1, although they are quite rare and expensive!

One of the first real compact camera

In 1914, Oskar Barnack created the first prototype of what would become the Leica rangefinder. Many professional photographers of the time saw that medium as a toy because the very small format of the frame did not allow absolutely the same quality as a large format camera.

Yet that machine opened the doors to photojournalism, to spontaneous stories in the streets, to documentation in areas of war where the photographer with his photographic medium had to be as hidden as possible.

Leica thus created a new standard, 35mm which is still the term we use today when we talk about “full frame” cameras.

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Smartphone photography: a different aesthetic

So what do I mean by my observation? That smartphone photography does not replace the camera. It stands close to. It allows us to take our everyday life with ease. With too much ease? It may be, but we also remember how disposable cameras, which practically did everything themselves, exist from the Kodak N.1 of 1888 (one of the next topics of discussion!)

Surely what we can say is that the smartphone aesthetics are different from that of cameras: the algorithms that automatically work the images return us many times flat images in contrast, very bright, with all the lights well balanced and very saturated colors. It is an aesthetic that manufacturers adopt to make buyers like the photographs taken.

And this is where we can make a difference! Now all smartphones, from Android to Apple can shoot in RAW format. The recent introduction of Apple ProRAW has given a jolt that in my opinion will bring significant benefits for everyone from now on, even for the Android shooters.

The possibility of being able to work with a file and being able to give a different aesthetic, according to your tastes, is what can make smartphone photography even more elevated.

On the one hand, immediacy of the smartphone devices, on the other, personal interpretation of color, contrast, shades, etc.

   I suggest you to give a look at the smartphone review page where you can find other articles about smartphone photography :

Start to experiment with the raw file

If you have never used the raw shooting format I suggest you start right away.

On the Android devices you will most likely already find an option in the App of your main camera, otherwise you can use the Lightroom App, which contains a camera that records in Raw format. For this feature, you do not need to activate a subscription, you can use the free version of the App (you just need to register to activate an Adobe free account).

On the Apple side, if you have one of the latest iPhone 12 Pro, you can immediately use the brand new Apple ProRAW format, otherwise, also in this case as for Android, I recommend the Lightroom App or the Halide Camera App (mind that Halide Camera is a subscription App, but it deserve for the extra controls it gives to you).

Which program to use for raw editing on smartphone?

Although there are many applications that allow you to edit raw files, I feel at the moment to suggest the use of Adobe Lightroom.

The reasons are many and I summarize them here: it is a universal app that you can find on Android, iOS, Mac and Windows. You can even use it via the web browser! It has a nice clean interface that I think is quite easy to learn.

It also offers many basic (free) and advanced (but paid for with the subscription) controls.

It is also the most used photo development app in the world and it is therefore easy to find a lot of information material about it online!

In any case, if you are a beginner with Lightroom and you don’t know how to use the development tools, I’m working  to help you in this post production process! I’m about to release a series of Presets and actions for Lightroom that allow development of RAW file shot with Smartphone in an easy and fast way!

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  • Mark Weinrib
    Posted at 15:15h, 24 February Reply

    I’ve had massive arguments with Canon 90 D owners on how simple and beautiful the 12 pro max takes photos. They hate it and show me a photo of a bird from 800mm lens. I agree that is great but the Canon is so hard to use ! My 12 pro max out classes it every where else. A canon can not match night mode!

    • Alessandro Michelazzi
      Posted at 10:04h, 17 March Reply

      Well, it’s a different kind of photograhy. Smartphone is about immediacy, about capture a moment that is happening fast. In some way smartphone photography today is what was the reusable camera in the ’80ies (althought smartphones costs much much more!😅). Photo camera and different process, like for instance analog film, can achieve something that smartphone cannot. Every medium has it’s own characteristic and we have to use and like it for these aspects.

  • Greg McMillan
    Posted at 15:56h, 23 December Reply

    Lightroom cannot process Apple ProRAW files yet. This surprises me because Adobe (who created the dng format) worked with Apple in creating ProRAW. ProRAW files can be processed in Apple’s Photos app but there are two really good apps that can also process them on iPhone, Darkroom and RAW Power. These two apps have the ability to adjust the Local Tone Map which is what is required to even see the file as an Apple ProRAW.

    Something your friend David should consider is that photography is, and has always been, a changing medium in this form of art. He has obviously accepted every change that occurred since photography was invented, but now he has a hard time accepting the fact that smartphone cameras are a part of that evolution, and a massively huge part of it at that. Sure they are very simple to use, but a serious photographer can take the abilities of the smartphone camera and work with it in ways similar to bigger cameras, much like you suggested to him with the use of RAW.

    Creating images comparable to big cameras is challenging for those of us who just use a smartphone, but that’s a challenge I accepted when I sold my big camera and I’m having a lot of fun doing it.

    • Alessandro Michelazzi
      Posted at 20:17h, 23 December Reply

      Ciao Greg, thanks for your interesting comment and point of view! You said absolutely right about the evolution of photography and the camera equipment.

      There’s always been a deep link of technology in the photographic process, from the first wood camera from Daguerre to the modern smartphones. And this link allowed the technique to evolve, and to get the photographers out from the first super bright sun lighted studios to the streets. It’s an interesting topic, I love the history of photography from the time I’ve studied it at the university. I plan to bring some more topic like these here!

      About Lightroom and Apple ProRAW. It’s not true it can’t process. Lightroom and Capture One open the files correctly (since they are open DNG format like you’ve pointed), only that you will find a different “look” than the one you have in the Gallery App. For this reason I’ve decided to create these presets that allows to correct in a fast way these raw file. The same happen from the raw file from Android, there’s for years this problems and Adobe never addressed. When they will address with a proper “Tone Mapping” slider like in Darkroom (I have the App, but I’m not always convinced by the results) I will update again these presets 🙂

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