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. 

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89 Comments

Previous comments
Mini Buns's picture

only a matter of time before strobe becomes a common feature with "iphotography"

Adam Palmer's picture

For years people have been coming to me for camera recommendations. Unless they are pretty serious about photography I've been recommending a nice camera phone. The current gen of phones is pretty nice. I've got 12mm, 27mm and 120mm optical in my pocket with some decent night shot modes.

Patrick Rangeley-Wilson's picture

Well that's because the picture is a nicer composition. It's nothing to do with the camera that was used.

David Moore's picture

I didn't like the iPhone shot (not that I knew it was, i didn't) because the face looked featureless. But maybe people like that lol.

T Van's picture

It's about the compositions. One you are close enough to feel within the subject's personal space. Creating a feeling of connection with the subject. The other is more removed. It creates a feeling of observing from a distance. Less connection. Or so I heard somewhere.

Gil Aegerter's picture

This would be a better comparison if the images were framed similarly and the viewing didn't take place on mobile devices.

Daniel Lee's picture

I use LR mobile from time to time to shoot DNG and I've found my XS Max struggles in anything even remotely low light. I went out to do cityscapes at dust with my A7III and even though I was using HDR DNG mode, it was noise ridden and looked horrible on the iPhone. It's main advantages all come from computational processing within the camera so when you use these 3rd party apps it really shows it's weakness.

Karim Hosein's picture

Turns out, I was not entirely wrong! The background in the first shot was tampered with, and the right shoulder was a giveaway. The legs in the second image was also a giveaway. What I got wrong, was with what precisely was tampered.

That being said, two remarks in this article —the article, not the video†— which are wrong; “Poll Results: iPhone Photo Beats DSLR,” and, “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.”

First off, the iPhone did not beat the DSLR. Lee's shot beat Patrick's shot. From a technical PoV, the iPhone shot was not that good. It was under-exposed, had too much noise, bad colour, and shot from too close to the subject, giving a distorted appearance to her hand. From the comments, it seemed that most everyone agreed to that. Nevertheless, it beat Patrick's shot on aesthetics.

I thought it was a background replacement, because of the right shoulder, and that the background appeared to have less noise. The apparent noise-reduction was a result of the same thing which caused the awkward shoulder; the background was altered. It was not replaced, as I had thought, well, at least, not in the traditional sense. It was blurred.

The second image was technically better, save for the light values on the model not matching the background, (leading me again to suspect background replacement, also in light of the foot replacement, and hips). It's short-comings were artistic choices, not technical excellence.

Secondly, neither image was that good (in my stated opinion the very first time), and I believe that that sentiment was repeated. Lee beat Patrick by default. His image was under-exposed, the dress was crushed, the hand was distorted from being too close. It did not, IMNSHO, “look just as good, or even better than, professionally shot and edited photos.”

This did nothing to prove that the iPhone can meet a modern DSLR in technical excellence. It only showed that, in this particular showdown, Lee did better artistically than Patrick.

When it comes down to it, artistry beats gear, but an artist can do more with better gear. Had Lee used a little more light, and had he stepped back, and used a longer lens, he could have solved the noise issue, —noise is a result of low light, not high exposure index— the exposure issue, and get his blurred background. A DSLR may have made that easier for him to accomplish.

† Do I need to discus the video???

Rappaport Arts's picture

It's a bizarre comparison. Two very different images, in pose, composition, background, etc.etc. Yet you compare the two and claim (quoting your words) "... 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." And you make that claim based on the fact that more people like the iPhone photo. Dude, it may mean that more people like the iPhone photo for reasons which has nothing to do with the gear, like, for example, the background.

Kevin Burke's picture

Why doesn't Apple just make a stand-alone camera if their tech is so great? I like the convenience of a camera on my phone but the form factor sucks compared to a real camera.

Karim Hosein's picture

Two reasons ① not all of their tech is so great, and ② they are a software company. Any hardware they sell is simply to enable the software.

Jeffrey Fose's picture

Thanks Lee for putting in the work to do the comparisons. Now that Apple has released the Pro-Raw capability on the camera I'd love to see a Raw comparison shoot out. Apple makes a lot of improvements to the images heuristically so that they are visually pleasing.

Daniel Curtis's picture

It would be of actual interest to me if it were the same model, pose, setting, lighting, etc. taken with each camera. THIS means nothing to me.

Daniel Curtis's picture

It would be of actual interest to me if it were the same model, pose, setting, lighting, etc. taken with each camera. THIS means nothing to me.

michael stern's picture

This is a BS test in that the subject's POV, focal length, posing, lighting angle and post are not the same. Apples to apples would been a better test control. This is silly at best.

Iftikhar Kango's picture

Comparing two portraits, i have to look for the skin tone first and foremost. 850 looks way better.

Harry Pro Foto's picture

The only reason people chose the iPhone photo id that it's a better photo! I could take shoot on a 12 x 16 plate but if another camera has a better composition, I would prefer their photo taken on a potato. The poll result only really confirms that one photographer took a single better photo. Such a misleading title - but despite that, if the aim was clickability over substance the OP will have a chuckle that this is the first Fstoppers article I have read for a long time!

Ian Cuthbert's picture

Odd to compare two completely different photos.

Claudio Almeida's picture

Why compare 2 different tools? Just because this article will give lots of views and likes? I don't believe a great website like Fstoppers needs to make this poor content just to get attention. It's called clickbait. Sorry but that's how i feel...

Roger Cutright's picture

So is Lee going to sell off all of his gear and start shooting weddings with an i-phone? lol While phone cameras have gotten better and better over the years they will never be a substitute for a proper camera.

Captain Jack R's picture

Is it just me, or am I seeing something a bit hoky going on here? In the second photo, Why did the cliffs grow larger and not the rocks on the other side? Also, her leg moved yet her hair is in a perfect wind-blown position (unchanged). In the first photo is easy to tell the difference because of the DOF. The one on the left is closed down, and the right is wide open. What kind of wizardry is this?

I vy's picture

This challenge would have been far better and more comparable if both submitted similar compositions in both locations ... but you know this already, and this omission is probably what swung the vote.

Examining the original images it's not difficult to see which is better. Not sure why so many readers failed to agree.

The title may as well read: Which composition do you prefer ?

Karim Hosein's picture

«Examining the original images….»
The original images were NOT available in the polls.

«The title may as well read: Which composition do you prefer?»
That was basically the question in the poll, and that is basically the answers given.

Nothing about the poll had anything to do with the quality of the images produced.

I vy's picture

[ «Examining the original images….» The original images were NOT available in the polls. ]

Exactly, another reason the poll is flawed !

.
I admit my commented was based on this article and examining both 'patrick_before.jpg' and ''lee_before.jpg' image files (as well as peaking at both the 'after' files) and after rereading the article and clicking on:
.

"A few days ago Patrick and I « posted two images » and asked you to vote on your favorite."
.

... it becomes even more obvious that the poll was structured in such a way to make it extremely difficult to actually examine and tell which image is better.
.

However opening both the 'before' JPG images (found in this article) side by side in my RAW processor of choice without making any changes it becomes apparent which was taken by which camera and by who.

Final words: I have to say I am not a fan of pixel peeping in general and I would argue that both image are sufficient (usable?) to work with. I personally also like the composition of the iPhone image more even though it is clearly not the better image quality.

However this wasn't supposed to be a poll about which composition we prefer, but what is the "best" image. Hence my feedback.

Ronald Tyler's picture

Both images are stunning on a digital device and comes done to the person using the device, lighting and composition.
The best comer is the one you have at the time you take your photo, not what is in your bag at home

Robin Mallon's picture

Perhaps FStoppers is just more adept at cell phone selfies than dealing with actual cameras. At least we did learn that the difference in pose and composition is caused by the camera

Karim Hosein's picture

You just won FStoppers, and are a finalist for winning the Internet!

Ronald Dickerson's picture

I recently purchased the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G, primarily for the camera. Although, I have to confess I got a deal on it, because I work for the cellular carrier that sold me the phone. But I am impressed with the photos it takes. I haven't printed any of them yet. But I suspect that any print over 8x10 starts to pixelate. Attached is an unedited photo I took on the fly, with my phone, last Saturday.

Krish Mandal's picture

Ugh. An experiment was done a long time ago by a famous fashion photographer (can't get his name out of my brain and onto the page, sorry), who did exactly this, but with a flip phone. This was over 20 years ago. He surprised everyone in the room by telling them the images were taken on a flip phone, after everyone ooh'd and aah'd at the images. The point was, an image is an image, the medium doesn't matter, but there's a big problem with that.

Printing technology couldn't handle it back then. You couldn't print a damn thing from that phone that would be able to stand the test of a consumer magazine page. While Apple constantly prints its images huge on billboards to show that theirs can stand the test of being printed, that's again sleight of hand. Billboards seen from a distance have the illusion of high resolution, when in fact they are actually terrible for resolution if you see something up close. All you see is the rosette pattern for CMYK, if printed traditionally. Digital printing ("FM printing" or a technique where the ink spray is randomize and not rosette pattern, basically an inkjet) may or may not have issues, I don't know at that size, I never personally saw a giant digital print up close.

This "comparison" is a non-comparison. I want to see something where the lighting, the pose, and everything is exactly the same. Then I want to see a nice 30x40 print sample up close.

Jon Winkleman's picture

Kai from Digital Rev did a series of videos giving the cheapest crappiest cameras including a literal Lego camera and one embedded in a Barbie Doll to professional photographers who were free to use their professional lighting gear with their cheap Lego cameras. The end photos were better than those taken by a layperson.

Give a pro photographer an iPhone and professional lighting or perfect ambient lighting and they can create a very good looking photo with an iPhone. I am grateful the iPhone 12 Pro now has an actual short telephoto portrait lens (the iPhone 13 is rumored to be developing a folded long telephoto lens). Even with new computational photography algorithms, a D850 or any prosumer and above DSLR can run circles around an iPhone when lighting and conditions are less than perfect. .

Chris PLUNKETT's picture

Years ago Ken Rockwell proved that the very cheapest point and shoot digital camera takes better photos than a full frame DSLR by taking the very best photo ever taken with the point and shoot and the very worst one taken with the DSLR.By this way of comparison the very cheap camera had taken a better photo than the one costing 100 times as much.
I wanted to see the same method used when shooting a subject such as a race car moving at 200 MPH several hundred yards away that can still prove the point and shoot can still take better photos.
Yes I know it was done tongue-in-cheek,but I still wanted to see that done anyway.Or maybe not,you could never tell with Ken Rockwell.

Michael Lasher's picture

I am a researcher in my professional life, and this whole concept is utterly flawed. How are your supposed to compare two effectively different photo shoots? If both were taken simultaneously then you can actually compare the two. This is just proof of concept that the iPhone 12 Pro can perform at DSLR levels online. In other words, paid promotion by Apple?

Kevin Hancey's picture

Interesting, but one is a medium close-up and the other isn't. It should have been the same framing for both cameras.

Steve Berry's picture

The most interesting point is the number of people talking about the article. Personally I liked the Nikon picture because I liked it. No technical reason. I use my phone for all sorts of pictures but when the lighting is poor my G9 comes out.
Have a great day everyone and keep mr angry going.

A M's picture

Probably the most important lesson, is to maximize the results of what you already own rather than the expensive process of chasing technology. Your target audience wants the results, not the equipment.

Jeff Hewson's picture

I started to lose the will the live after reading thru the comments so I'm not sure if anyone mentioned that the iPhone shot seems to be drenched with noise

Josh Springer's picture

Maybe compare the same shot and conditions next time?

Michael Mirecki's picture

How about if you're going to do this comparison, you take photos that are at least a little bit similar? These are completely different poses and compositions.

santiago munera's picture

not objective at all, if you want to make a really good comparison, at leas try to make the same photo. it gives me a bad taste aobut all the content on fstoppers, you were supose to be professional.