Photography is ever-changing, especially for smartphones. However, the fundamentals of photography remain the same. Be it DSLR or smartphone cameras, the basics are the same – especially the exposure triangle. Of course, there are differences between DSLR vs smartphone cameras.

We took a look at how to shoot in portrait mode and manual mode, but not really focused on other modes and how it can be created by a DSLR. Hence, I took the opportunity to curate this piece – a brief comparison on how to create these “picture modes” through a DSLR.

And by the way, dual-camera smartphones are not better than single-camera smartphones either. Learn more about dual-camera smartphones here.

To be honest, I’m just very triggered by ridiculously outrageous and baseless claims like this. Once you understand photography, these claims wouldn’t exist. Prices between DSLR vs smartphone are in completely different leagues. Just try taking a Nat Geo-esque video with a smartphone.

For either of these devices, it’s best to always use a tripod for the best effect. You know, us humans aren’t the stablest beings in the world – and any tiny movement will affect the picture negatively, destroying perfection.

smartphone holder tripod
Just a simple one will do.

Exposure triangle

We mentioned the exposure triangle quite a lot of times. The gist of it is this – a balance has to be struck in between these 3 parameters. When it comes to the exposure of a picture, there is a total of 3 parameters that control it, namely:

  • Shutter speed
  • ISO
  • Aperture

These 3 parameters can be controlled individually and bring out different types of effect, depending on which one you’re looking for. For certain scenes, there are different usages too. All in all, it really depends on the situation.

Exposure Triangle
The general idea of what the exposure triangle is about, as shown by Photography Life.

There is another general rule when it comes to controlling these parameters. The ISO is always to be set at its lowest value for the best picture quality and will be the final parameter to be adjusted to change the exposure of an image.

It’s all about balance

Each of them has their own impact in creating the whole picture. It’s best to practice to really know how the exposure triangle works, and how your particular camera behaves – be it a smartphone or a DSLR. It’s all about balance.

Every camera does have its own differences, and specs can’t really tell you all the difference. It’s best to learn your camera and get a feel of how it responds to you, the photographer.

Playing around with the exposure triangle

Most smartphones and cameras even have a “modes” which has already tuned the exposure triangle to work the way it should. For example, Sports Mode will adjust to a low aperture number, relatively high shutter speed to capture the quickest motion without blur and adjust the ISO appropriately for a balanced exposure.

smartphone modes
Some of these modes are better created through DSLRs.

As for Portrait Mode that we took a look here, it will prioritize to maintain a low aperture number and adjusting both ISO and shutter speed appropriately. Night Mode? Simple – for the best effect, it’s advisable to aim for low ISO and long shutter speed. The same concept is used to do light painting and light trails. The “silky waterfall” effect? Yeah, just take the picture with a long shutter speed and a high aperture number and low ISO.

As long shutter speed is used, any sort of tiny movement to the camera will cause blurriness to the picture. Hence, it is best to use a tripod.

However, for situations like a wedding dinner, it’s best to have a moderately high shutter speed (about 1/60), appropriate aperture at about f/4.0 and ISO 400~600. Else, an external flash is recommended.

How do software and hardware modes differ?

Let’s take portrait mode as the prime example here.

Software portrait mode is done through blurring the background and foreground by detecting depth through either the second camera like the Huawei P10 or through autofocusing technology. With that said, it can sometimes get confused and blurred the wrong thing.

False blurring on a smartphone camera
The major flaw in software-based “modes” in smartphones is always when the algorithm doesn’t work as expected.

DSLR blurring is on point and it obviously doesn’t get confused, as everything is done through hardware. I mean, it’s obeying the laws of physics and there’s nothing that can run away from that. There are no software tricks but the price to pay is its bulkiness and weight.

For a DSLR lens with the same f-number as a tiny lens like in a smartphone, the amount that light that can go in and through the DSLR lens is much more compared to a smartphone’s lens. I mean – just look at the diameter difference!

DSLR header
My main camera’s lens.

When it comes to the amount of light that the camera can take in, the clear winner between DSLR vs smartphone is obviously the DSLR.

DSLR vs smartphone – which is better?

In terms of quality, DSLRs win by a wide margin – no questions asked. Even the clarity of a DSLR is much better, as shown here in our guide to “portrait mode” photography. There are many things that smartphone manufacturers do not disclose, like the sensor size, the focal length of the lens, and the number of aperture blades.

DSLR can create custom-shaped bokeh

Speaking of aperture blades, I have never heard about smartphone cameras having aperture blades at all. The number of blades matters when taking hardware-created bokeh images. The number of blades dictates how the bokeh image will appear. The more aperture blades there are in a lens, the smooth the final bokeh image.

Apeture Blades
Improve Photography‘s comprehensive comparison between the number of aperture blades and the final “roundedness”.

For example, a lens with 3-bladed aperture will create triangular bokeh, and a lens with 9-bladed aperture will create octagonal-shaped bokeh images. You can create custom shapes too, like these lightning bolt bokeh image. But wait – let’s not forget that smartphones don’t have variable f-number, so these fantastically artistic bokeh images are only possible to be taken with a DSLR. Of course, it’s a niche trick – but cool nonetheless.

Heart bokeh
Heart-shaped bokeh!

Also, images taken with a DSLR is just cleaner compared to what a smartphone can offer. This boils down to two different limitations that smartphones inherently have. Firstly, it is the physical sensor size. With such a small sensor on a smartphone, it’s impossible to take a picture that is on par with a DSLR even with the exact same settings.

Difference DSLR smartphoneWrapping up

Certainly, the DSLR vs Smartphone camera fight comes down to your own preference. It’s a game about trade-offs. Do you want portability or a photography experience like no other?

So, is the idea of getting a DSLR justified at this day and age? Definitely. The choice of getting one, however, depends on how serious one is about photography. Sure, smartphone cameras are getting better every year, but there are some fundamental physical limitations that smartphone cameras have.

Smartphones can never create “natural bokeh”

However, smartphones are definitely more flexible compared to a DSLR. Obviously, smartphones can make calls, WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram, Facebook, Facebook Live broadcasting, browse the web, etc. and can still take pictures. Software-based modes like Beauty Mode and GIF mode are best done on a smartphone too. They’re just more flexible, as a simple software update can bring a slew of new features. Even an overhaul of the entire UI.A DSLR however, can only take pictures and videos. DSLR resell values are also much better when it comes to the test of time, especially for lenses and tripods when compared to a smartphone.

Ultimately, you do get the best image quality from a DSLR, but also the bulkiest and not the most flexible when it comes to new software-based features through updates and upgrades. Though these features can be done through Lightroom or Photoshop – but that’s another story for another time.

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The enthusiastic nanoelectronic engineer who found his way into simplifying the world of tech for everyone. Introverted, but noisy. Nice to meet you!