Cameras vs Smartphones: A Head-to-Head Comparison

These days, smartphone technology has become so advanced that it’s fulfilling the needs of many of our daily devices. 

Smartphones made calculators redundant. Many people prefer to read from their phones rather than from books. And now, people are opting to make their phone their one and only camera for all occasions. 

But does a smartphone meet the capabilities you’d want from a dedicated digital camera? Yes, smartphone camera technology is improving yearly.

man holding smart phone with camera

But as our comparison shows, even the top-of-the-line smartphones still don’t beat out the best cameras - be they DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, or compact cameras - when it comes to image quality. 

The Difference Between a Mobile Phone Camera and a Digital Camera

Of course, not all cameras and smartphones are made alike. Premium smartphones will usually have superior camera technology to other cheaper mobile phones. And a compact digital camera can hardly be compared to a DSLR or mirrorless camera. 

But below we’ve taken a look at the general features you’d want in a camera and see how smartphones and cameras compare in general.

When considering whether you need a separate camera or can use your camera phone to satisfy your photography needs, there are several areas to consider which we will explore below:

  • Image quality
  • Image sensor size
  • Convenience
  • Versatility
  • Range of lenses
  • Price

Image Quality

So many different facets come together to influence a picture’s quality, from the camera’s image sensor to the type of lens used. 

waves crashing into lighthouse in storm

In general, the image quality in DSLRs and mirrorless cameras can be markedly different from the quality of smartphone pictures, thanks to their larger camera sensors, huge selection of high-quality lenses, larger resolution, and greater manual controls.

Don’t get us wrong. Smartphone cameras are now capable of producing incredible quality photos. But as soon as it comes to a tricky shooting situation, such as a low-light scenario or a moving subject, you’ll be wishing for something with a bit more power. 

Image Sensor Size

In general, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras tend to outperform smartphone cameras when it comes to sensor technology, with dedicated cameras typically better equipped to record greater detail. 

There is a huge difference between the sensor size of a DSLR, mirrorless, or even compact camera compared to most smartphones.

You’re looking at an average of about 20MP for cameras compared to 12MP for smartphones, which can really affect the outcome when shooting in different lighting situations. 

A Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR, for example, has a 40.3MP full-frame sensor while the Nikon D850 has a 45.7MP CMOS Sensor. 

Compare that to smartphones such as the latest iPhone 11 Pro camera sensor (12MP) or the Google Pixel 4 camera sensor (12.2MP). 

Very few smartphone cameras are capable of matching even mid-level cameras, such as the Sony a6400 mirrorless camera featuring a 24 MP sensor and the excellent Canon EOS 90D featuring an impressive 32.5 MP sensor.

The most reasonable smartphone contenders to beat a camera would be the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 and the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, both of which have 108MP sensors which (through complex quad-pixel technology) produces 27MP images. 


Unless you go for a pocketable compact camera, a camera is likely to be far heavier and bulkier than a smartphone, making the latter a clear winner when it comes to convenience. 

woman putting smartphone with camera lens in bag

It’s a popular refrain that the best camera is the camera you have with you. And since we tend to take our lightweight smartphones everywhere with us, they’re easily the most convenient camera at hand. 

A smartphone isn’t just convenient because of its petite size; it’s also incredibly easy to upload and instantly share your images and videos via social media. 

Granted, most modern cameras also have great connectivity features these days, including built-in Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth. But you still ultimately need to transfer your images to your phone using a compatible mobile app. 


The most important feature in a camera for most photographers is adaptability. You want your device to be just as capable of capturing high-quality portrait photography as it is snapping wildlife or recording a travel video. 

When it comes to accessories, a dedicated camera - especially one with interchangeable lens capabilities - goes far above and beyond the abilities of a smartphone. 

You can attach a flashgun, mix up a range of dedicated, bespoke lenses (from macro lenses to telephoto zoom lenses), or add an external mic. 

Beyond accessories, most cameras provide a full suite of shooting modes that allow you to control the aperture or shutter speed (or both), shoot in Auto, or choose a setting for the style of shooting you intend to do. 

While many smartphones have a great number of high-quality shooting modes (such as Panoramas, HDR, and Portrait), as well as some good add-on accessories (such as clip-on lenses), they’re just not as versatile if you want greater control over your photography. 

A Range of Lenses

One of the greatest advantages of having a DSLR or mirrorless camera over a smartphone camera is the ability to change lenses.

a selection of nikon prime lenses

Of course, you can invest in clip-on phone lenses but the quality remains drastically different at this point. 

Even a compact camera outperforms a smartphone camera with its true optical zoom lens capability. Some compact cameras can zoom as high as 30x, which allows you to capture incredibly remote subjects. 

On the other hand, most camera phones have built-in, fixed-focus lenses (with just a select few high-end smartphones offering optical zoom).

This means you can only use digital zoom if you want to capture far-away subjects. Digital zoom enlarges the pixels and can reduce the overall quality of the image. 


Prices for smartphones and cameras vary dramatically across different models, but it’s safe to say that smartphones are typically more affordable than dedicated cameras. 

At its most expensive, a high-end smartphone might sit at around $2000, whereas a professional-grade camera can be $3000 or $4000 for the camera body alone. And that’s not including the host of camera accessories you’ll likely want to invest in. 

But it can go both ways now; there are some instances where an entry-level DSLR or mirrorless camera may be cheaper than a smartphone while still offering far more camera features.

So Should I Buy a Camera or Just Use My Phone?

The choice is ultimately yours! It all comes down to how you want to pursue your photography and what you hope to get out of it. 

camera and phone with laptop

If you’re mostly interested in getting the snaps as a keepsake and less concerned about image quality, a smartphone camera may be all you need. 

If you’re looking for an affordable option or for the convenience of having a lightweight, pocketable device with you, a smartphone may suit you. 

But if you’re after the best quality images, you want to have full creative control over your photography, or you’re keen to go pro, a smartphone just won’t cut it. 

For those with a dedicated interest in photography, nothing compares to being able to experiment with manual controls, play with the manual focus, and vastly improve those RAW files in post-processing. 

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