We Compared the iPhone 7 Plus Camera to a Nikon DSLR

Another iPhone has hit the market and once again Apple has claimed that its camera creates "DSLR quality pictures." I never believe when any cell phone manufacturer makes this claim, so I decided to put it to the test. 

The iPhone 7 Plus has two cameras on its back: one 12 MP sensor has a wide-angle lens with optical stabilization and excellent ISO performance, and the other has a standard/telephoto lens with poor ISO performance. Our iPhone cost us around $1,000 but we certainly can't claim the camera itself is worth that much. It's one of many included features of this smartphone and therefore we couldn't compare it to a $1,000 DSLR. We decided to compare this phone to a Nikon D300s and a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens. Both cameras shoot 12 MP files and both of them have a wide to standard "zoom" range. On eBay this kit sells for around $500. Honestly this is still too expensive to be a "fair" comparison because the camera in the iPhone certainly isn't half of its value, but it's what we had available. 

Image Quality In Ideal Light

Winner: Nikon D300s

I expected the Nikon to absolutely destroy the iPhone in this test and I was shocked to see how well the iPhone's wide-angle camera performed. If you printed both of these files out, I'm not totally sure you would be able to pick out which is which, but if we zoom in to 100% on a computer we could tell the iPhone had more grain and noise than the Nikon. 

Camera Speed

Winner: Tie

The Nikon D300s shoots at 7fps but the iPhone seemed to shoot around 15fps. That being said, the iPhone didn't give us manual control and chose a slow shutter that produced blurry images. In short, the iPhone is faster but the Nikon got the better shot.

Shallow Depth Of Field

Winner: Nikon D300s

Once again the iPhone lost but was still quite impressive. The new "portrait mode" on the iPhone allows you to create a fake shallow depth of field that looks quite convincing, especially for web use. One major downside is that the longer lens on the iPhone used in this portrait mode does not perform well in low light. 

Video Quality

Winner: iPhone 7 Plus

This test wasn't even fair. The D300s was one of the first DSLRs to ever shoot video and it can shoot a very poor 720p. The iPhone shoots an incredibly crisp 4K. It's amazing to see just how far technology has come in seven years.

ISO Performance

Winner: iPhone 7 Plus

This was the biggest shock to me by far. I never would have believed that a cell phone could beat a DSLR, even if that DSLR was seven years old. Well, the iPhone was extremely impressive in low light and easily beat the ISO performance of the D300s.

Versatility

Winner: Tie

This is a tough one to judge. A DSLR will obviously give you access to unlimited accessories like lenses and flashes, but the iPhone has access to the App Store. Currently, many apps are allowing you to shoot raw on your iPhone 7. If you want to shoot a long exposure, a DSLR is your best bet, but if you want to do almost anything else, an iPhone probably has an app available. 

Durability

Winner: iPhone 7 Plus

Never in a million years would I have guessed that a glass smartphone would be more durable than a professional DSLR, but the more I thought about it, I realized it is. I've dropped both my iPhones and my DSLRs and I have to say that even if my iPhone's screen breaks, the phone and the camera still works. My DSLRs easily break and their lenses are even more fragile than the bodies. I've shipped many lenses and bodies back to be repaired and I have never had an iPhone fail completely. The new iPhone 7 is 100% waterproof adding yet another level of durability that no DSLR will be able to compete with.

Conclusion

As I expected, DSLRs are still superior to iPhones when it comes to taking pictures. That being said, the iPhone is getting shockingly close in many areas, and has actually surpassed DSLRs in a few. We have to remember that the DSLR that we used in this test is seven years old, but we also have to remember that the iPhone isn't a camera; it's a phone with a million features, one of them being a camera. It's absolutely crazy that a phone can hang with any DSLR. 

This test proved just how far technology has come in the last seven years and has shown that in the very near future, DSLRs will actually have some serious competition. 

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46 Comments

Previous comments

Wow there's a lot of hate in this forum. I guess photographers and get heads are offended by the proposal rather than the presentation. It was a pretty good video and the end underwater test was obviously a joke that many didn't get. A fun video I enjoyed.

ISO performance...? Which ISO are we talking about here, ISO 100, 1,000 or 10,000? After all, surely you are not using the term "ISO" alone to mean a high ISO range...only an amateur would do that and you list your self as a "Professional".

So what is meant by "ISO Performance"?

Ariel Martini's picture

just taking a picture of the same lowly lit still subject

Can change lenses under water, hahaha!

Luke Adams's picture

I'm not sure why people complain about the excessive iphone articles on here. The iphone is the most used "camera" in the world, is it not? Also, fstoppers seems to get a ton of activity on these types of articles, so why would they stop? Honestly, as a D750 shooter who loves the stills, but is underwhelmed with the video, I was already planning on grabbing the iphone7 for video work. I'm not interested in changing camera systems (to something like Sony) at this point as that's just throwing cash down the drain, and I don't want to invest in another system for video (like Blackmagic), so why not just buy the latest and greatest model of what I already have in my pocket anyway (currently an iphone 5s). I can still use the D750 when I really need those shallow DOF shots (which is less often than you think with video), and I get to use the iphone with it's huge screen (skip the external video monitor), great apps (Filmic) with things like automated rack focus, touch to focus and remote control (skip the follow focus system and remote), numerous and generally cheap accessories (microphones, steadicams like the smooth C!), and two different lens lengths built right in (skip buying an extra lens). I know it won't work for everyone, but for me, it's a no brainer.

Almost 100% of the time when someone complains about the subject matter of an article, it's going to be one of the most popular articles of the month. You can almost guarantee it.

Why would anyone compare the iPhone 7 to a much older (But wonderful) D300S. Why not compare to a Nikon D500. Do be honest the iPhone 7 is about $850 MSRP so an equivalent priced Nikon DSLR would be either D5500 or a D7200. Video will not be compared as neither D5500 or a D7200 shoot 4K video. However the D500 does shoot 4K video.

Lee. Thanks for this. Right on! I liked how you approached this subject. Well done. I speak from much iPhone photography experience. At last count I have shot over 500k iPhone photos. Yep.Thanks again for taking the time to produce this. Patrick, thank you too. Dude, you are a ringer for a young Tom Brady:)

Anonymous's picture

Yeah sort of. Nothing beats a good chunky prime with a bright aperture. I'll keep with vintage camera gear. The bokeh on my Canon 50mm f/1.4 FD mount is so much more gorgeous than what is produced by the faux bokeh on the iPhone. Especially when the light hits it and it flares up.

Not surprisingly, you're getting a lot of push back on the choice to use an older dSLR model in the comparison. My suggestion is you approach such projects with an understanding of your goals for the project. One way to view those goals in this case is to answer the question: What do we want readers to be able to do with the information we'll present? I'm struggling to find much use for the findings. It seems pretty academic since you've chosen a somewhat tortured basis of sort of similar costs.

Instead you could have chosen a goal to provide useful info for the practical question of "If I have a modern smartphone, when, if ever, is it worth buying and carrying a modern dSLR?" I think answering that question would have driven a different choice and made for a better project.

I appreciate the article, but I think you wasted much of the opportunity to provide useful info.

I'm surprised you didn't use a 3rd party app to manually adjust shutter speed / ISO. This has been in the Apple API since iOS 8.

James Mlodynia's picture

Reading this test that pit a DSLR against a cell phone made laugh, first part of the test, image quality in ideal light. How many photographers photograph in perfect lighting conditions, we shoot before the sun comes up to the time it sets, and at times after that. Camera speed, winner tie, if the photo is blurry does it matter how fast it shoots.I photograph wildlife with a Pentax K5ii and a 120-400 mm Sigma lens, can you hang one of these on a cell phone. The flash on a cell phone is a joke, I would rather use a pop up DSLR flash. The sensor on is so small on a cell phone that it can't compare to an APSC sensor this is why the aperture is around a F 2.8. I could write a book as to why I do not consider a camera in a cell phone a camera, and yes I have a cell phone, itst a I phone 4. you may say that I have an older model , yes that is true, but I need a cell phone to make calls, as a camera it is a joke. I have a Canon G-15 that I carry when I need to carry a camera in my pocket, the best part is it shoots like a real camera and not a cell phone. I ask you this question would you hire a photographer to photograph your event with a cell phone?

Now we have another article referencing this one, but not fully appreciating the huge caveat that the dSLR was so old, so they are claiming iPhones have better ISO performance. http://www.gadgetreview.com/is-the-iphone-7-really-better-than-a-dslr-fs...

Eh, I guess it's cool, but like you said. It's a 7 year old Crop sensor body and using a Tamron zoom lens... the iphone camera in no way shape or form can look like my now 4 year old d600 with 105 DC lens, or 50 1.4, or really any decent lens. Iphones also can't get the "shots" of a 70-200, etc. I would say the performance is more like a D80/D300/etc with an 18-55 kit lens, shot in good light, and hopefully that is the only kind of shot you need to take. It has definitely replaced my old point and shoot sony years ago. Most people replace DSLR "bodies" just like phones these days. I'm on my 4th body since getting a D80 in 2008, but I'm still using lenses made in the early 90s for some of them. Many people still use great AI and AIS lenses from the 60s, 70s and 80s. What's cool is that a DSLR from 2008 is still a really good camera matched with an appropriate lens... but a phone from 2008 is probably unusable.

Can you PLEASE do a video comparing the iPhone with the Nikon D3400? I'm trying to decide whether to buy an entry level DSLR or upgrade my iPhone. I will probably take most of my pictures in Auto mode. Thank you very much! Really enjoy your video 👍