Is a cell phone camera equal to a professional camera?

We hear this question frequently or a statement to the effect that they are comparable. I hear it from strangers, friends, family, clients and colleagues. Everyone seems to have a different opinion. So, what’s the truth?

I thought it might be helpful to do a little research and provide some honest answers. So today I sat down to type out this response. I mean, really, I have been doing photography a long time. I have seen the change from film to digital. From the darkroom to Photo Shop. I remember the days when some photographers were very resistant and sensitive about that new technology. I personally think it’s time we move away from the initial resistance of cell phones being considered a worthwhile camera in the photography world. They are here to stay and will only improve with time.

In writing this I first needed to do a little research as anyone would. So, first I “Googled it”. I’m telling you I was very surprised at some of the articles I found. There are actually some professional photographers using cell phones as their main camera, getting paid for doing so and doing it very successfully. Some very nice photos too. I’m serious, Google it for yourself. I also found a comment from the famed photographer, Annie Leibovitz. About 2 years ago she said, “the iPhone is the *snapshot* camera of today”.

Honestly, I’ve always belonged to the group who believes it really doesn’t matter if you have all the fancy equipment or latest most expensive. So why should I believe it would matter what a good photo was taken with if it’s a good photo? My opinion on that really hasn’t changed over the years or with the introduction of new technology/equipment.

Armed with my cell phone and my professional camera I went outside on a little adventure to conduct my own experiment. I really would encourage others to do the same. For these photos I stood in the same spot, in the same lighting conditions and tried to mirror with my cell phone what I was doing with my professional camera. I feel like doing this experiment gave me a better understanding of the true differences between the 2 types of cameras. (Pictures included below.)

Cell Phone Camera

Professional Camera
I then posed the question to a professional photography group that I’m a member of and their collective opinions seem to be the same as what I had found in doing my experiment. 

My conclusions;

1. I wholeheartedly agree with Annie Leibovitz. Today's cell phones are great “snapshot” cameras. They are great for family/friend gatherings. Or, in today’s world, great for “selfies”. Therefore, in that aspect, a cell phone camera is a worthy camera.

2. Can you use a cell phone to make professional quality photos? Kind of. In the right hands, under the right conditions and with a few equipment additions it is possible to take some very nice photos. But this has limitations.

3. What are the limitations of a cell phone camera that are not limitations for the professional camera? Print size, zoom quality, creativity, and color range.

4. The average person still does not know how to use the manual settings even on their cell phone camera. Most would prefer to use the auto setting.

5. The 2 are not equal but each has its own value.

So why do professional photographers get so upset when someone says their cell phone is just as good as our professional cameras? Well, I can’t speak for all of us, I can say it really isn’t because we spent more money than you spent. It isn’t because we are afraid of the “competition”. In my opinion it’s because the 2 cameras really are not in the same class. Let’s think apples and oranges here. They are completely different even though they are both fruit (camera). I think many get upset because they feel it is an unfair comparison and you are not seeing the value of the different cameras. I hope I have explained this difference.

Though the cell phone will work wonderfully in everyday situations, I believe (for now) you will still want a professional photographer with a professional camera to capture those special moments. Not necessarily just because of the equipment, though that is a factor, but also because of the skill and knowledge on using the equipment, what is necessary equipment, artistic value, composition, etc. Bottom line:  A professional photographer brings with that professional camera a whole lot more than just the camera.

Cell Phone Camera

Professional Camera

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