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Will Phone Cameras Replace DSLRs?

Over the last ten years plummeting sales show that lots of people have decided to give up their traditional digital cameras in favor of smartphones, but that simply isn’t realistic for professional photographers at this point. But what about in the future? Will we see top tier photographers using the latest Samsung or Apple phone instead of Nikon or Canon? 

Personally, I believe that phone cameras will replace DSLRs over the next 10 years. Many photographers and videographers love being able to pull out their phones and take high-quality pictures and videos without lugging around a huge bag and all the extras you need with a DSLR. 

Will Phones Replace DSLRs Image
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Phone Cameras Will Eventually Replace DSLR’s, Here’s Why:

  • Phones camera are becoming more intelligent with the use of AI
  • Phone camera sensors are getting bigger
  • Phones are getting more processing power
  • Phone lenses are becoming more sophisticated
  • Digital camera sales have plummeted in the last ten years

What is a DSLR?

DSLR stands for Digital Single-Lens Reflex Camera. That sounds super complex, but in reality is quite simple. All it really means is that the light traveling through the lens of the camera is reflected off a small mirror up and into the camera’s viewfinder. This gives a live view of what you are shooting directly, without the latency and low resolution of most small LCD screens.

That was the big draw to DSLRs, even after mirrorless cameras hit the scene. The ability to view real-time what you are shooting is great. But with the advancement in mirrorless, LCD, and processing technology, the need for a DSLR dwindled and was eventually overtaken by the mirrorless camera.

But the question is can cell phones do the same thing when paired against DSLR cameras. Let’s take a look at what phone camera technology looks like today, and where it is going in the future, especially in comparison with DSLR cameras.

What Kind of Technology is in Phone Cameras?

Sensor

Phone cameras are not known for having large sensors, it is actually one of the most glaring weaknesses when comparing them with DSLRs. The image sensor is such an important part of image quality and dynamic range that I decided to add it at the top of this list.

Camera sensors in phones are small in comparison to full-frame DSLRs. The larger the size of the camera sensor, the more light it can receive. This means that in situations where the lighting is very poor, a larger sensor will have a more pleasing image. This explains why traditional cameras are often miles ahead when shooting in low light environments.

Lens

While smartphone cameras traditionally only had a single fixed lens on the back, the recent trend is to put multiple cameras with different lenses on the back. This helps give more variety to what was once a very mundane experience.

While we still don’t have a great option for an interchangeable lens system for smartphones, the multiple camera options is a great stop-gap solution that allows you to get some amazing shots no matter if it is macro or telephoto.

Processor

A cellphone that has a fast processor inside is going to give you not only a better experience in real-life applications but with taking your photos and videos as well. The Image Signal Processor, the specific part dedicated to the camera, can make a huge impact on things such as autofocus performance and panorama accuracy.

In simple terms, the processor is like the brain, it does all the calculations, so the faster your processor, the more things it can do in the split second it needs to do them.

Where is Phone Camera Technology Headed?

Bigger Sensor Needed

It is no secret that the sensor size is the main drawback to camera photography. While some companies have tried creating a hybrid phone camera (Samsung, Panasonic, etc), they end up feeling more like cameras and less like phones. The larger sensor and lens combo makes them bigger than the normal cell phone, meaning the average user is not going to carry them on a daily basis.

With the steady improvement in technology, expect larger sensor size to be in the pipeline for flagship phones in the near future. It is the main way they can improve their cameras drastically, and I assure you the likes of Apple and Samsung know that and are working to fit them in.

Improved Software Capabilities

Currently, the software that is used for camera phones is far superior to that of DSLR cameras. The reason is the image straight out of the camera can not compete. The phones then take that lesser image and add filters and effects to make the images look more comparable to their larger camera competition.

One of the most obvious features in this category is the portrait mode that is on most cameras now. It was created to give you the impression of an extremely shallow depth of field. It uses algorithms to predict what is in the foreground and blur the background accordingly. If you compare the first generation of this type of system to what it is now, you can already see the software improving.

Better Processing Power

This one ties directly in with the software, and that is the processing power. As cell phone processors increase in efficiency and overall performance, expecting the camera capabilities to scale accordingly. For filters and effects that make the images beautiful, they will get better and better as the processing improves.

Also, as the processing power increases, expect more AI to be involved in your camera. There is already some basic predictive AI in most high end phones, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. AI is the future of many things, and implementing it further into cell phone cameras is a no brainer.

Will Phone Cameras Ever Be as Good as DSLRs?

Parallel Paths

As camera technology in general improves, you will see both DSLRs and phone cameras improve as well. While DSLRs and large cameras tend to get new camera technology first, phone cameras have been improving technology in their devices in parallel over the last few phone generations.

Technology is on a constant growth pattern, so expect both larger cameras and phone cameras to continue to develop and get better year after year. While making camera sensors larger in DSLRs probably isn’t on the short list of things to do like it is for cell phones, they can improve in other areas such as processing and sensor technology.

Closing the Gap

Though both types of cameras are growing rapidly in the technological sense, the gap is definitely closing between the two. There are many ways that phones can improver quicker than DSLRs, which have already been around for so many years they have possibly already reached their peak. Or at the very least they are getting closer.

Camera phones still have plenty of room to grow. Finding ways to increase the sensor size, make variable lenses better and more common, and increasing the processing power to improve filters and AI. Given just the above list, there is a good chance that phone cameras can catch their bigger brother more quickly than many expect.

Mirrorless Already Dethroned DSLR Cameras

The Rise of Mirrorless

It’s not that long ago that mirrorless camera technology landed on the scene. They were touting the same large sensor size and great images without having bulky camera bodies. Smaller and sleeker, they could offer great performance with a much smaller footprint.

It worked. While the first couple of generations for mirrorless cameras lagged behind their DSLR counterparts, they eventually caught up and even passed them. Now high end mirrorless cameras from the likes of Sony reign supreme in the professional photography space. It didn’t take long for them to pass DSLRs, but who is the next contender to take the crown?

Mirrorless Hybrid vs Phone Cameras

Phone cameras are on the rise, much the way mirrorless was just a few short years ago. Get ready to witness extremely fast growth in phone camera technology, much in the way we witnessed mirrorless cameras growing to take on the DSLR.

The technology inside mirrorless cameras and cell phones are almost identical. Given that, mirrorless camera technology often piggybacks off the technology from smartphones, particularly image processing software. They are coming for DSLRs first, but the mirrorless camera will be the next hurdle.

A New King?

It was not quite as easy for mirrorless cameras to take over DSLRs as many believe. There are even still some DSLR holdouts who prefer the familiarity of those cameras over the mirrorless alternative. But they tend to be hardened professionals that are heavily invested in a particular DSLR system.

I wouldn’t expect cell phone cameras to grow to that point any time soon. I believe they can reach the bottom tier DSLRs in the future, but the high-end market doesn’t have anything to worry about. Not in the next few years anyway. But mirrorless cameras shouldn’t relax, because the competition below them is getting tighter and tighter.

The Future of Photography

Death Of The Traditional Digital Camera

As cell phone cameras have gotten better and better, the small camera market has really taken a hit. Most people have stopped buying small pocket-sized cameras in favor of using their cell phones which they always have with them. 

Why carry an extra camera for a tiny increase in photo quality? These small point and shoot cameras have stagnated (with the only exception really being Sony) as they have seen this sharp decline. Given that, cell phones have already crushed this market.

With the sale of Olympus Camera Division to Japanese private equity fund Japan Industrial Partners (JIP) in 2020, will other camera manufacturers be forced to do the same? Will phone producers simply drive DSLR’s manufacturers out of business. Only time will tell.

Courtesy of Statista.com

A High Quality Camera in Your Pocket

In the future, there will be no need to carry a huge camera bag full of lenses and accessories around with you to take high-quality photographs and videos. That future is actually much closer than you think. With the improvements in cell phone technology, people are already taking some extremely impressive shots with just the camera on their cell phone.

While phone cameras still can’t match the high-end professional rigs, they are getting closer and closer to low-end DSLR and mirrorless cameras out there. There is a good chance they catch the budget range of these cameras in the upcoming years. All they need is time, as mentioned before, the gap is already closing.

Convenience Trumps All

Most people prefer the convenience of using a cell phone camera over lugging around a huge DSLR. They are willing to sacrifice that extra quality for the convenience of being able to slip the phone in their pocket when they are done with it.

This is where camera phones put up a good fight against both DSLR cameras and mirrorless cameras. While mirrorless cameras have overtaken DSLR cameras for professional use, they both come with the same downfall. You need multiple lenses, they have big bodies, and you have to fill a bag or backpack full of gear to get the most out of them. What do you need with your phone? Nothing, just snap the pic!

Conclusion

DSLRs were the de facto king of cameras for years. Then the rise of mirrorless cameras took the best from DSLR cameras and added new technologies, and knocked them off the top. Will cell phones eventually overtake DSLRs for second place and eventually climb to the top? We’ll just have to wait and see, but I think so!

Camera phones have closed the gap in many areas such as multiple lenses, fast aperture, and image processing. Phone technology is moving at a very fast pace, and as it improves so will the number of awesome pictures you can take with your phone. Get ready, the future of photography is just around the corner!

Resources

https://www.statista.com/chart/5782/digital-camera-shipments/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/marksparrow/2020/06/25/olympus-exits-the-camera-market-after-three-years-without-a-profit/

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