Sharpness, High Resolution and Excellent Dynamic Range - No longer the preserve of 'full-frame' DSLR's

It used to be the case that if you wanted the best sharpness for reproduction, high resolution files and excellent dynamic range, then a full-frame DSLR was your only option. It was a commonly held view and indeed still is in certain circles. But then along came mirrorless cameras with 4/3 and APS-C sensors and this idea was challenged. And an initial skepticism and often unjustified prejudice was gradually eroded and the photographic internet came to see that big sensors and lots of pixels didn't automatically ensure higher quality files. 

Eventually, over time these smaller sensor cameras gained acceptance and seeing how well their images printed became no longer a shock and the fact that magazine double page spreads could look just as good taken on 'amateur' and 'glorified point and shoot' cameras. There was even an article by the editor of Professional Photographer magazine who took along a Panasonic GF1 to a Vogue cover shoot and the magazine liked the pictures taken with the GF1 (as opposed to the MF digital back that the photographer used for the rest of the shoot) and promptly printed several of them.

And this is why I've included the images with the 100% crops above. Except they weren't taken on a m4/3 or an APS-C sensor camera. The picture at the top of the page is there to mislead you. They were in fact all taken on smartphone cameras. My Nokia Lumia 1020, Panasonic K Zoom and iPod Touch. 

Finally here is a couple of comparisons between an image taken with one of my smartphones and a Panasonic G7 at 100% pixel peeping blowup size. I don't have to tell you which is which. It's obvious, right?

So how does this work in terms of what I do? Well as I've written before I sell a lot of images scanned from 35mm and MF film. My smartphone images are better quality than those.

I also still sell a lot of images taken with early, small sensor digital cameras. 4, 5, 6 and 8MPS. My smartphone images are better than those. 

I did this comparison between my Nokia Lumia 1020 and a Sony A7r a while ago.

It obviously occurred to the companies who make smartphones some time ago that since people who wanted to take images of their lives, their families and friends were increasingly doing it using their phones. It would have seemed sensible therefore, since smartphones with cameras outsell stand alone cameras 10:1, to improve those cameras. It would have also seemed obvious that there was no desire to buy a smartphone the size of a camera. So over the last couple of years we've seen the introduction of the 'high-end' smartphone camera. Still small, still with a tiny lens and still hopeless at high(er) ISO's, but nonetheless pretty impressive in decent light. And the philosophy has been to make them as simple as possible, with auto everything and yet make sure that important stuff like correct exposure and colour was taken care of. This is the ultimate 'point and shoot' demographic after all. And so we get cameras that work out all that technical stuff and let us get in with the important stuff. Making pictures.

Two things - firstly the camera I own that has the most accurate colour balance under all circumstances is still my Blackberry Q10. Secondly, if you are wondering which is smartphone and which is m4/3 in the image of the Nikon camera above, the smartphone images is the one with the accurate exposure and the one that has managed to render the wall of my room the correct colour i.e. blue, using auto white balance. 

So will smartphone cameras decimate the sales of those 'real' cameras? Well of course they will, because it's still very early days in terms of smartphone camera quality. And does anyone think that we would have that 28MP APS-C BSI sensor in the Samsung NX1 without all the R & D that goes into making smartphone images look better? Of course not. My Nokia Lumia 1020, with its 38 Million very small pixels can, at low ISO's and with the file downsized actually produce better looking images than the majority of the mirrorless cameras I've owned. And that's with a tiny fixed aperture lens. My Samsung K zoom lens isn't really a match for a 'real' 'full-frame' high-end superzoom, but it gives some of the cheap and cheerful kit lens options a real run for their money. And Panasonic have collaborated with Leica for the lens on their CM1 smartphone. 

I shot all the camera images on the CM1 and below is a 100% blow up from one the images shot at ISO 800. Not exactly shabby!!

So what happens when more smartphone cameras start using 1" sensors? What happens when they get decent miniature zooms? What will Apples dual lens system they are apparently working on give us? The rumour is they are going for 'DSLR quality' whatever that is. 

For myself, the camera I've used most since I bought it is my Samsung K zoom. Every time I've gone out it's been with me and it always gets used. And when I get a 20MP file with detail like in the sample below, why wouldn't I prefer it over something heavier, bigger and significantly more expensive?

Now I'm not arguing that Smartphone cameras are the complete package yet, they clearly aren't, but for the kind of work I do I can't ignore the evidence of my eyes. Plus there may well be websites where smartphone photographers bicker about miniscule differences in their kit and turn into brand botherers, but I haven't found one yet!!