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5 Things Your Phone Does Better Than Your Camera

5 Things Your Phone Does Better Than Your Camera

The cameras in phones aren’t working with much. Between small sensors and simple lenses, it’s impressive they can produce the level of quality that the most recent flagships phones are capable of. But there’s more to an image than just pure image quality. Do you want to know the 5 things cameras could learn from phones?

Casual Usage

Ever needed to grab a quick shot, or even worse, hand your camera to someone unfamiliar with it? While cameras have gotten more configurable, with remappable buttons and complex AF implementations, it makes getting that vacation snapshot more difficult. On my camera, if I were to hand it to a stranger, I’d have to explain or remap AF-ON back to the shutter button. I’d also want to turn back on Face Detect AF, disable any shutter delay, turn back on VR, and toggle a host of other changes to make it as much of a point and shoot as possible.

While plenty of cameras feature an auto mode, it’s often missing entirely from higher-end cameras. Even when implemented, there may be a number of features that aren’t adjusted by it, and even if they were, will they be returned to normal when I switch back to my preferred mode?

Compare that to the simplicity of an iPhone. Open the camera app and hand it to any stranger, and you should get back a good-enough shot. While the huge user base helps, it truly is as simple as pressing 1 big button.

I’d love to see an implementation work like this: a button in the i-Menu/My Menu that lets you set an entire group of settings for the next X number of shots. This way, you don’t take up one of the limited settings banks on the dial or in the menu (depending on your camera’s implementation). It’d be easy to get into, easy to get out of, and would be more versatile than just defaulting to an all-auto mode.

Shooting in Bad Weather

While many cameras claim to be “weather-sealed”, there’s little guarantee to this. Sure, there’s some rubber seals, and photojournalist grade cameras can take quite a bit of rain and dust, but as you move down the product line, you’ll find weather resistance is one of the first to get reduced. Lenses are particularly bad, especially the new collapsible designs. On some, I can feel air being pumped in and out of the system as I zoom.

Now, phones have a huge advantage in this regard: they’ve got far fewer moving parts and are much easier to seal up than a button and port-laden camera body. Even still, the work that is put into ensuring their high degree of weather resistance is impressive. They’ve got far tighter tolerances, sturdier construction, and make smart use of adhesives and gaskets. For all of that, they often have IP68 ratings, denoting submersion resistance and dust resistance far beyond that of most cameras.

I don’t expect cameras to truly be submersion resistant. Just the very ability to remove the lens would render that virtually impossible. Instead, I’d like to see a camera company actually stand behind their weather resistance claims — as it stands now, water damage is frequently a warranty ending prospect. 

Also, give us some reasonable expectations of what the camera is supposed to resist, as well as how best to improve it. For instance, adding a lens filter on lenses with a moving front element could potentially make a huge difference, but we don’t know for sure. There're plenty of great photographic opportunities to be had at color runs, dust storms, and in monsoons, but without a sufficient understanding of the water and dust resistance capabilities, it’s a big risk to shoot them.

Nighttime Handheld

I’ve mentioned this a number of times, but I still find the computational imagery that powers night mode/ night sight to be incredible. Previously, low light would be a worst-case scenario for a tiny sensor camera like an iPhone. Now, at reasonable print sizes, it can turn out images that match or beat my full frame camera with a 24mm f/1.4 lens when handheld.

iPhone or full frame?

It’s not just an image quality bump either. Instead, night mode is truly a unique capability. For a variety of reasons, you can preserve far greater depth of field than when shooting wide open on a camera. Also, it’s somewhat more forgiving than VR. Taken together, a night mode shot is just easier to get right than trying every trick in the book to get a quality handheld, low light shot.

A huge part of this is thanks to the incredible capabilities of the processor powering these devices — the architecture and node of the A14 chip is so far beyond the Expeed/Digic/Bionz processors it isn’t even funny. 

For perspective on how important these chips are, consider the newly announced Z 7 II. Along with a few small hardware tweaks, the biggest changes all are made possible by adding a second Expeed processor. Imagine what could be done with an A14 or Snapdragon 855 chip dropped in.

Integrate with Other Services

Beyond just enabling more complex computational imagery tricks, a fast ARM-style chip could also open up a number of exciting possibilities when it comes to services and connectivity. These chips do far more than just crunch numbers. In the case of a Snapdragon 855, it supports 5G mmWave, LTE, Wi-Fi 6, HDR10+, computer vision processing, and more. Also, these chips are priced perfectly for inclusion in $1,000+ and up cameras, reportedly being only around $50 per chip.

The Zeiss ZX1 already shows some of what would be possible if cameras were to integrate a software-focused approach. It offers Lightroom editing built right in, while a full Android subsystem could enable access to the entire ecosystem of apps. Imagine being able to upload to Instagram right in the field, move your files to the cloud at 1Gbps, and more.

Support Emerging Technology

Cameras have a much longer design cycle than phones, but it’s disappointing to see even the newest releases continue to miss support for even basic standards. Phones typically support the latest standards and technologies, often to a fault. It’s taken cameras a long time just to catch up to USB C and USB 3, and even then, they are often missing basic things like charging functionality and full speed throughput from the internal card.

LIDAR tech would make a huge difference for close-range low light focusing, as well as make for the best manual-focus experience ever

Phones, meanwhile, now come with OLED screens as standard, high speed connectivity via USB C, and are even beating cameras to the punch with photography-centric features like in-camera HDR recording and LIDAR focusing.

Think of what an improvement it would be to use the rear screen at night, where an OLED’s true black levels would make it far easier to focus, as well as preserve your night vision. Support for LIDAR focusing would make up for a huge problem when using mirrorless cameras in event conditions, serving as a perfect alternative to the incompatible focus assist lights on speedlights.

What’s unique about all these improvements is that starting today, camera companies could integrate them into their bodies. Phone companies have already proved the concepts, driven down the cost of the chips through volume, and introduced the ideas to the market. Some might be tougher than others to adapt, but even using them as inspiration could make for a camera body that truly pushes forward the capabilities of the system. They say good artists imitate, and great artists steal — when it comes to cameras, the path to the next great camera might involve a little larceny.

Alex Coleman's picture

Alex Coleman is a travel and landscape photographer. He teaches workshops in the American Southwest, with an emphasis on blending the artistic and technical sides of photography.

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Well, since i've bought my P30 Pro, i've kind of ditched my EOS 6D. For what it is, it makes excelent pictures.

That is the typical poor argument you get on this site. "My needs are more demanding, therefore your comment is not valid.". First, Paulo did not say a phone takes the place of dedicated cameras. Second, he did not mention his gear/phto requirements. And he did not say he replaced his 6D. He implied that most of the time, the phone meets his needs.

Mike, don't bother. This is the usual business around here nowadays. And James, no, my 6D is being spared because those shutter counts are money flying around. So my daily driver is the P30 Pro and it does what it was designed to do, specially when it comes to snaps and photography overall, I don't get the low noise of the 6D neither the DoF (at least the true one) on my phone, but it sure is handy and is there all the time.
As for the weddings...don't mind starting to share some of mine on this website gallery.

I'm interested. How's the resolution? And how big could you print a photo taken by the P30? (Not trying to criticize, just purely interested)

Well, I usually only print pictures from the 6D. The P30, I usually print 15*10cm photos, familly moments. And for instagram stuff it works pretty nice. The P30 though has a 40mp sensor, which would allow for big prints (?), but still I leave that for the 6D. Each has a function and purpose, and the P30 avoids me wasting shutter counts on hollidays and vacations.


Well you can print beautiful 24x24 prints and bigger with a 10mp camera so that camera will be no problem.

Processors can only crunch numbers, nothing else

While that might be true at the lowest level, what I'm referring to is the additional functionality that's included as part of the SOC.

My phone also takes incoming calls better than my camera.

When I was using EM1II by Olympus, my camera was shooting WAY better pictures in the dark than my phone. At f/1.8 and with 1 second handheld exposure entirely possible, it was taking amazing night time pictures.

1 sec handheld? So you have IBIS?

Yes, EM1II has very good IBIS. I've had several cameras with sensor stabilization, this was by far he best one.

Make it 6 things. GPS. My phone (any phone) tags every picture. Incredibly useful for those who travel a lot.

Should have noted that several DSLR/mirrorless cameras offer this feature. But they're few and far between.

Sure, phones are fine for casual use — walking around documenting our lives for our friends. Easy to snap, share and charge. Phone nighttime shots always look other worldly, and are not, to date, something that I would ever use. Those phone-created very saturated, crispy sharpened photos have a place in my casual life. But, yikes with the phone filters. They look strange.

My camera is something different. It is a creative tool, for my professional work and my own art, which is creating images. That's really different from snapping a shot and accepting the phone's jpg engine's of it. The viewfinder, controls, weather-sealing, and real lenses made a difference.

It's not really a question of phone of camera. Everyone needs a phone. And some of us also need a camera to make images, in addition to taking shots.

Can we add HDR? My Pixel 3a is much better at taking sunset pictures than my d800. I mean, I know I can bracket and photoshop and all that but the pixel just works and the quality is great. It's not like I'm blowing up my photos to cover a wall.

Honestly, I've been happier with some of my phone shots recently than with my dslr.