Poll Results: iPhone Photo Beats DSLR

A few days ago Patrick and I posted two images and asked you to vote on your favorite. What we didn't tell you was that one was taken with an iPhone and the other was taken with a Nikon D850. The majority of you chose the iPhone shot as the better photo. 

This idea came about after Profoto released an update allowing many of their strobes to sync with a smartphone. The ability to add lighting to a photograph outside was only possible with cameras with physical shutters until recently. With adequate light, shots with today's smartphones really do look amazing and combined with strobe light, it's really hard to tell that they weren't taken with a professional setup. 

For our shoot, we both used a single Profoto B10 and a large softbox. My photo was taken with the new iPhone 12 Pro's "telephoto" lens/camera. 

Patrick took his photograph with a Nikon D850 and Tamron 24-70mm lens. 

My shot, taken with the iPhone, received 55% of the votes while Patrick received 45%. We also mentioned in the previous post that there was a "twist" involved in this shoot. Cristiano Uyeno was the only photographer who guessed that my image was taken with an iPhone. 

Does this mean that the iPhone is a better camera than the Nikon D850? Of course not. The D850 is superior in literally every way. But it is pretty telling that cell phone photos taken with adequate light, and displayed on the web (like 99.99% of photos) can look just as good, or even better than, professionally shot and edited photos. 

Lee Morris's picture

Lee Morris is a professional photographer based in Charleston SC, and is the co-owner of Fstoppers.com

Log in or register to post comments

I would be curious to see a similar poll, but with more specific criteria for "better". I think the iPhone photo is better, but that's just because I like the composition and more muted approach to value a bit more. Or, if you didn't want to poll users in multiple categories, take the same poses/compositions from both cameras.

Here's a more apples to apples comparison https://youtu.be/gxhvZfLm5xs

OK thanks for this final nudge to make sure I never read any of your posts again. Everyone knows that the vote had nothing at all to do with the technical quality of the photo yet the headline is implying the iPhone is technically superior to an 850.

Headline may have been clickbaity, but the last paragraph of the article does explicitly say the exact opposite.

Lol. I love that showing poll results sends gear loving photographers into a rage.

LOL who said anything about rage? Sensitive much? If you are so comfortable in your skin why are you responding to everybody that doesn't agree with you? Bye.

You refusing to ever click on my posts again is definitely rage and I always respond to the craziest comments.

Nope. It is definitely your insecurity. Have fun with that. I also refuse to walk out in traffic because it is stupid. Not clicking is simply not doing something stupid.

You keep walking back into traffic to respond


Mediocre gear used well beats great gear used poorly.

You're supposed to read the book, not the cover

I obviously read it or I wouldn't have known that detail would I?

"Does this mean that the iPhone is a better camera than the Nikon D850? Of course not. The D850 is superior in literally every way."

But he also says, and I quote: "... cell phone photos taken with adequate light, and displayed on the web (like 99.99% of photos) can look just as good, or even better than, professionally shot and edited photos." There, he is alluding to the technical aspects.

The "comparison" is downright stupid. Two very different images. Someone can vote for the iPhone photo because, for example, the model's facial expression, which has nothing to do with the gear or technique or the art of photography. The poll only ask which one the voter prefers but not the reason. Then how can you use this poll to claim that ".. cell phone photos taken with adequate light, and displayed on the web (like 99.99% of photos) can look just as good, or even better than, professionally shot and edited photos." Make absolutely no sense. It's an apple to orange comparison.

I voted for the pose.

As long as we stay within the limitations of the cell phone, sure. If the situation pushes it beyond its capabilities, no.

This kind of comparison means close to nothing. I remember back in the 70s, the self-proclaimed "professional amateur" Herbert Kepler of "Modern Photography" magazine used to make the same kind of comparisons between Kodak Instamatics and his own professinal Nikon cameras to the same end. Within it its capabilities and cheaply printed in halftone, he could make the Instamatic shot look as good as a Nikon shot.

I demand a recount.

They probably used Dominion software.

Wait for it (angry D850 owners)... All is not lost though, iPhone 12 is still a $1K camera if you really think about it.

Love d850, but I take pictures with whatever I have at hand. Love for gear does not interfere with desire for taking a great image. Perception is the key. Lighting on the first one rather added to the whole appeal, on the second one artificiality looked more apparent, sorry Patrick. Although it could've been an artistic intent.
On the side note, does the profoto app triggers the modelling lamp instead of main flash if used with the phone on B10? It used to.

I found the reason for the image from d850 to underperform!
Whats up with legs on the bottom picture? There is a miss-match while moving the slider.

My guess is the legs were intentionally stretched to make the model feel taller, more elegant?

The legs are explained in the video.

if you also look at the models hips, looks like the photo was cut and pasted...that was what I originally thought...

different feet, longer toes...in the left image, she has webbed feet. Probably a mermaid...

This is hilarious. I actually voted for the iphone 12 shot myself. When I voted, I didn't even think twice about what the photos were shot with because they were both very well lit.
This just goes to show that gear really doesn't matter as much as we would like to believe.

Now, of course, we are viewing these photos on a small desktop screen. OF COURSE the D850 will outperform the iphone in harsher situations, lowlight, and have a better ability to deliver incredible, huge, prints.

But damn I'd be lying if I said I wasn't surprised. What a plot twist. I'm quite amused by the amount of haters in this comment thread.

but why is it a surprise? Phone cameras have been exceedingly competent for years.

Phone cameras have been exceedingly competent for years. Why is it a surprise?

That had to be the worst comparing ever. Its not the same basic photo at all. Wow, this site is really going down hills.

Genuinely cannot tell if you're being sarcastic or not. It wasn't a comparison, it was a contest between Lee and Patrick to see which photo people liked most. At the time of the vote, the cameras used were not known. This article posted the winner with the most votes, and funny enough, more people liked the shot taken with the iphone.

He’s not being sarcastic. The site is going to hell because we did a photo competition and we used 2 different cameras and then revealed the results. How dare we.

It rough making a living on the Internet.., why are people so angry?! I thought it was a fun video, thanks. Sorry, I will try to be more hate-filled and edgy in the future so I fit in better!

Am never sarcastic. You just wait and see. When Nikon drops a model with simcard input. No one will ever buy Iphones again.

ok, so the title of the article, hell the article itself is total clickbait then... Because the camera used held no relevance. All this shows is that an iPhone takes competent photos... which has been known for years. There is a whole competition based on purely iPhone photos, and they are breathtaking.

Found a Nikon shooter


Lee Morris Why exhibit such trolling behaviour on your own website? What is the intent - to have people be less civil by copying your style? I never comment here but I feel a need to remind you that you are shaping the culture of your website.

What is the intent? Maybe to show that it isn't about the gear and more about what you do with it? Some people think gear is the end-all-be-all and that using X.Y. or Z means you aren't a real photographer.

I remember Kai W doing something with pro photographers and el cheapo cameras to show it was the eye behind the camera that meant more.

I noticed a couple years ago with an iPhone 11 that some of my images, especially for industrial photography, were coming out as good as my images taken with a DSLR. Post processing was even easier with the iPhone images. I think this video proves a point that a lot of photographers don't want to confront. However, the iPhone images will not hold up to an enlargement over 8"x10" if you are a pixel peeper. Of course, iPhones aren't good for sports although its being worked on. Maybe in a year or two.

Something I’m genuinely curious about, with no judgment towards the article/contest, is how you feel about the ergonomics of shooting with a phone. When Sony ramped up on mirrorless, everybody and their brother said they would never use anything other than a tank of a camera because the grip was better, yet I never see anybody mention this in the “iPhone vs. DSLR” debate.

I use mirrorless and I’ve never had a problem with it, but for the life of me I’ve never found shooting with a phone to be anything other than extremely awkward. To the point where if I knew I was going to have to take a picture, I’d rather carry something like an RX100 than try to use my phone, even if it means carrying an extra item.

The only thing I’ve ever found a phone camera to be useful for is taking a photo for documentation purposes, where artistic merit is completely irrelevant and composition doesn’t matter. But actually trying to do a professional shoot with a phone? It seems like the only reason to invest the time and effort is to prove you “can”, which is not the same thing as “should”. It makes for a good article to start a debate over image quality, or to get ad clicks, or to sell phones. It works when your business model is “photographers as customers” (which people need to start recognizing is a completely different business than being a photographer to customers).

Granted, I’ve seen people shooting video using a phone on a small gimbal and that seems like a reasonable setup for what it is. Likewise, I could probably stomach the suggestion that you can use your phone as a backup to your backup if both your cameras died and you were on a shoot with Proto lights… but it also seems like the # of things that would have to go wrong for this scenario to be realistic means you’ve already done something so wrong that it's unlikely that whipping out your iPhone could salvage it.

I could be wrong, and I’m not saying I’m not, but I’m wondering at what point the effort outweighs the practical.

If you use the volume button to take the photo it becomes far more comfortable. But the best part is that in between shots you can put it in your pocket.

Yeah I've tried that too and it still feels awkward, especially if you try to shoot at any height other than hands in front of face. Getting low is particularly tricky.

Different strokes, I guess, but for me (and I would expect for many) it's about more than image quality. I get that there are people out there who have a chip on their shoulder about that aspect and it's tempting to prove them wrong, but proving them wrong doesn't also satisfy some basic standards for selling this as a viable alternative.

I suppose the question is... who is this aimed at? Is there a market for people who are looking to get into photography by saving big on not buying a dedicated camera, only to turn around and drop at least $1500 per strobe (not to mention modifiers, stands, accessories, etc)? And if you already have the camera, why are you going to use your phone instead? Portability? You're already packing strobes, modifiers, stands and/or an assistant... are you really gaining that much by not taking your camera?

I just can't see a scenario where this matters, other than the backup of a backup option for people who already use Profoto. Ok, in that regard, I guess there's a use-case. But it's pretty niche.

It seems like there's a concerted effort these days, on the part of people and companies whose business model it is to make money off of photographers (rather than providing a photography service to the public), to show that you "can" do something. You "can" do this professional, on-location shoot, with $3k in lighting equipment and an assistant, with "just" your phone. You "can" shoot a professional headshot with "just one light". You "can" improve tenfold with just these 2 quick tips. While there is some truth here to what you "can" do, the implications exceed realistic expectations.

"Can" doesn't mean "should", and I don't mean "should" in the sense of right vs. wrong, it's about practical vs. impractical. "You 'can' do something" is not the same thing as "this is what professional photographers do and why". There's often a reason for doing something a certain way, even if you "can" get similar results doing it a different way.

I recognize that some of this falls outside the scope of what this specific article is attempting to say; I guess my point is that this topic feels incomplete without a giant "BUT..." at the end.

For your next phone/camera challenge, I'd like to see an Eagle grabbing a fish out of a lake or a grizzly crashing upstream to grab a salmon or a wide receiver making a great catch near the center of the field. Probably leave the strobe and soft box at home. :-)

Let us know where that is naturally happening in Puerto Rico and we will make it happen.

I put a smilie at the end of my reply for a reason.

On a slightly different note, I'm curious about the decision to lower the contrast of the shine on the model's left breast in the top photo. Sometimes I feel people retouch based on technical measurements rather than by how the photo looks. Yes, technically the highlights are not blown in the retouched version, but aesthetically, is there really anything wrong with the glitter actually having some shine to it? If you were seeing this scene in person, wouldn't the highlights be blown out as a result of the sun shinning in the glitter? I realize retouching is subjective and the photographer certainly used aesthetic judgements in slimming the model down and reducing the wrinkles. It's an excellent retouch and better than what I'm personally capable of, but I just wonder if that decision to reduce the shine on the glitter was done more from a technical standpoint than from a visual one.

Not sure I know what you're talking about. I put an exposure effect over the entire image that darkened it but I didn't manually darken her chest

I blame Patrick 😭

More comments