What Are You Going to Do When Phones Replace Your DSLR?

What Are You Going to Do When Phones Replace Your DSLR?

Ten years from now, will you be the equivalent to what I refer to as film hipsters, fighting for an obsolete technology, or will you be a part of something that may be inevitable? Something that we all seem to refuse to talk about?

I’m sure I’ll catch a lot of l flack for this, but not taking this thought into consideration may just be the final nail in your professional coffin in the future. After receiving our new iPhones a few weeks back, my wife says to me while fooling around with the camera and its features, “This is awesome. Geez, if these cameras get any better or easier to use, I hope we still have a job.” I gave her a defensive look before chuckling and brushing her comment aside, but the thought stuck with me. To an extent, her comment raises a valid concern — one that we as photographers should be talking about.

Spare me the “we need to re-educate our clients” and “the cameras will never be better than a DSLR” spiel. First ask yourself, which technology has been advancing faster with a much larger consumer base? It may be a simple matter of demand that forces camera giants like Nikon or Canon to get into bed with an iconic giant such as Apple. What would happen if the camera technology used in phones caught up in terms of performance to DSLRs?

Impromptu Chong costume thrown together and shot by my wife with her iPhone using the Portrait setting.

I’ve had this idea, which I’m sure would be terribly received, but let’s talk more about the elephant in the room. I’ve recently been tossing around the idea of creating a digital advertisement for a single “special edition” portrait session, sharing it online, booking the session, handling the payment for said portrait session, editing the images, and delivering them all via my iPhone 8 Plus. Terrible, right? The reality is, it’s completely possible and due to my experience as a professional photographer and tact when it comes to dealing with people, I’m almost positive whoever booked said portrait session would be entirely pleased with the images I delivered.

Oh man. What are things coming to? It’s time to ask yourself whether or not you’re going to be on the cutting edge of technology as things shift away from DSLRs or will you be a die-hard DSLR supporter until the end?

Dusty Wooddell's picture

Dusty Wooddell is a professional photographer based in the Southwestern United States. Self-proclaimed thinker, opportunity seeker, picky eater, observer of things.

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oh dusty.........

We probably won't have time to worry about it because, according to people like you, we'll all be dead from global warming / global cooling / STD of the week / Republicans / Democrats / Russians /...
I think you get the idea. ;-)

Gotta watch out for those STDs

At my age, it's not a problem unless you really can get them from a toilet seat! :-)

Those STDs are a pain in the ass!

It isn't the camera. How many times have we heard that? It is the photographer!

Many of the things I do for fun, like photographing wildlife, could be done with a mirrorless if the focus was fast enough and the optical zoom long enough. That can probably be built in to a phone eventually.

But what I do for profit, photographing people, primarily headshots, takes skill that is unrelated to the camera. The lighting for one. But mostly it is the photographer's skill in directing the client, getting the best out of them, that makes the difference between a good headshot and a great headshot.

I would guess that there will be more people interested in studying photography when they are already carrying around a decent camera, but there are plenty of people now carrying around a huge DSLR who are taking snapshots of children with them.

If a person buying a new camera threatens your business, then you might want to look at finding a new business, or educating yourself to become a better photographer. The camera desesn't take the picture, the photographer does.

That said, if a million photos are taken by amateur photographers every minute, there is a high likelihood that one of them will be a very nice photo. Maybe even a great photo. But that shouldn't threaten your business.

Very well said, Steven. The inevitable fall of professional photography has been predicted since nearly the advent of professional photography. First, it was the Kodak Brownie, then 35mm, then semi-pro slrs, polaroids, digital point-and-shoots, cell phone cameras, and Instagram that would all hammer the final nail in the coffin. Vastly improved technology and democratization of picture taking are not a threat; they show a continued (if not growing) interest in the medium, and make professionals with learned skills and great eyes even more desired.

Good point. In a sense we're already there with cameras ability to meter and focus more accurately and faster than humans. I meant more that "skills" regarding interacting with people and scenes and "eye" regarding what is visually pleasing. But there are algorithms now that calculate what most find pleasing, and even AI that can interact with people in similar ways. So yeah, it'll keep advancing.

Interesting and relevant read on the creation of a similar database: https://medium.com/stories-from-eyeem/how-we-trained-an-algorithm-to-pre...

I don’t know much more about the project (I downloaded the app and didn’t agree with some of its choices, lol) or have any updates. I’d be interested if anyone does.

I very seriously doubt that. If such a product is regarded as great photography, it will say more about the audience than the technology producing it.

What makes something art is the human element, both that of the artist and that of the audience. Truly great art is a "dialogue" between the artist and the audience. Anyone who has that same conversation with a computer generated image is giving up part of their humanity. One could make the argument, the artist is guiding the computer but flaws are also part of the artist and his message.

In my mind, art is what it should be...not what some people consider it. Those people can get stuffed! [1st definition :-)]

Well, if somehow phones become so AI developed and so powerful that they overcome physics by algorithm then we're done for (i guess).
For now, no AI bokeh can replace a true physical depth of field, no tiny sensor can have the same pixel density and noise to signal ratio as an APS-C sensor, not to mention 35mm or MF sensor.
Point and shoot cameras, yes, they are being overtaken by mobile phones, dSLR cameras i think not.
As i've said, it's all in physics, and as phones evolve, dSLR cameras do too.
7 years ago, we were strugling with 11EV of Dynamic Range, Banding sensors, CMOS vs CCD. Nowadays, we are hitting the 15EV Mark, autofocus is getting way better, Morrorless 35mm cameras are also becoming amazing tools (Kudos for Sony).
And last, no phone lens can match a dSLR lens.

As for AI depth of field, on the next 10 years we'll see technology like the new iPhone faceID sensor used in camera to measure subject distance and background, with that 3D mapping we might get a more authentic depth of field simulation. And even so, it will have to be able to distinguish flying hair from background.

So, to me is a shy no.

I totally agree with you Paulo.
It's a no for me too!


I also see things over this perspective.
People who photograph on their cellphones aren't actually trying to produce some top end photography, like studio, product and so on.
Those who are, are fooling themselves.
Point and shoot cameras had the purpose of being used on vacation trips, and cellphones nowadays exell on that.
I couldn't trust a wedding to a phone, neither could i trust studio photography, yet, there are now gizmos to allow the usage of studio lights with phones.
This is why my no is shy, because a good AI and a double or triple lens setup on a phone could do a lot of things.
Or, instead of having two cameras, the lenses could become mobile and re-arranged mechanically to change the element setup of the objective.
There are a load of things that can be done, if technology allows such.

Can cellphones do some pretty cool and clean photos? Yes, sure.
Can cellphones be a tool for real work? Depends on who's asking, depends on the client, but to me is a no, not yet.

"if somehow phones become so AI developed and so powerful that they overcome physics" Ha, I love this! If AI overcomes physics, the decline of professional photography will be the last thing I would be worried about. I'd be more concerned with the inevitable enslavement of humanity.

There are limits to AI, despite the contrary opinion of Sci-Fi movies and literature.

Hmmm sounds suspiciously similar to what an AI creature would post to lull me into a false sense of security... ;)

Dave? What are you doing, Dave? :-)

Haha. Good one

Sorry, but it ain't gonna happen. I use ultra wide and super telephoto lenses and a new machined pinhole lens just arrived today. I invest in glass because of the effects I want to create and then I use my Canon Pro-1000 to not only print up to 17x24 on beautiful paper, I also print on various textiles, like silk satin for windows hangings and cotton twill for hanging on the wall. I suppose the printing part I could still do with my iPhone XX, but I can't duplicate the effect of a 14mm of an overhanging boulder on a trail or a 1/15th with trailing edge flash sync of a taxi splashing through a large puddle. I've already switched to mirrorless, BTW.

You'll have bigger things on your mind, such as avoiding pigs as you're flying around in your jet-pack.

Personally, even when the technology reaches a point where phone cameras can match the image quality (we are pretty close now but being stuck with a single wide-angle lens remains a big limitation) I just can't stand the user experience of holding a phone in front of me though so maybe a future with DSLR form factor but super small and light like micro micro micro 4/3 ;). I think what is more likely is that we will be moving to a situation where a floating 360 lightfield camera is the future then we just choose our frame/focusing in post. (though resolution will need to be massive so we can zoom in without losing IQ)

For that matter, I think phones, as we know them, will be gone by then too. I suspect we will have reached a place where phones are just a projected HUD in our vision from a wearable like a contact lens with no physical aspect we interact with using our hands.

There's this cool videogame, Deus Ex Human Revolution, where people can use augmented parts in their bodies (actually the game takes place in 2027), there's a scene on a trailer that shows a man, climbing up a mountain, taking a picture of what he's seeing and sharing it. Prosthetic limbs, eyes in this case, that can allow that :) that game is a pretty dope insight on what we could be in not 10 years but 30 or more.

I was told in the 60's we would be there about 20 years ago. I didn't believe it then, either. ;-)

Except back then all the technology was wishful thinking, now most of the technology is already a reality in some form or another.

we have micro drones more than capable of hovering with a small 360 camera on them. Lightfield technology exists and works. Sensor technology is constantly improving meaning higher and higher resolutions become available. GoPro has already shown that shooting traditional format video in post "from" 360 is totally viable via overcapture. Wearable tech is continually improving and there have been proof of concepts of being able to put technology into a contact lens.

The only thing that is needed is for all that tech to mature and be put together. In my mind, not really a matter of "if", more a matter of "when" unless something even better is created first.

If you had written "advanced," I would agree. None of this is "better".

I really don’t think there’s a one size fits all answer here. What it comes down to for me is that if your business is built on basic things, like shallow depth of field and presets, you could be in big trouble. However, if you are bringing more to the table and creating images that require an actual skill set then you should be fine. If anything it’s just raising the bar for photographers everywhere. The cream will rise. If you’ve been lazy about your craft, it’s time to look in the mirror, admit it, and step up your game.

So, if you like to use shallow depth of field in certain circumstances, you're lazy? It's all or nothing?

Uh no. They key phrase is “if your business is built on basic things like...”

So if that’s all that’s in your tool belt, there’s a problem. There’s no issue with using them at all as part of a skill set. But if they make up the entirety what you have to offer...

That seems like a pretty narrow line of thought to follow from the article.

How so? The thing that phones are doing well that they couldn’t do well before are shallow depth of field and presets. Seems right in line with the article to me.

Really? Well, okay.

DSLRs will go the same way as film, and there will be a ton of people holding on to their camera and denying the transition as it happens around them. Small form sensors have a LONG way to go, but it's happening. A true camera will always have a place on a professional set as it pairs with lighting accessories, but it's not beyond imagination that even that could change.

Very seriously doubt that. Assuming you're making a prediction, rather than a statement, though, okay.

Hello, the name is Bait, Click Bait. I don't see Photographers ever switching to just a phone and normal people don't know what the hell they are doing when they take pics. So all good.

Hi, Bait. I think where it becomes less obvious of a decision is when you're considering the first time buyer. If the first time buyer takes into account the ease of purchasing a smart device (monthly payments, multipurpose, etc) and weighs it against a +/- $1500 DSLR they may not even know how to use, the smart device becomes more and more appealing. If big names ignore the first time buyers, they have no future. As smart devices become more capable and affordable, I'm curious to what that will do to the cost of the consumer and professional level DSLR.

I can't imagine there are many first time buyers in your audience and you were very clearly not addressing them in your article so...

This is so untrue. I work in a camera store(yep they are still out there) and most beginners are set on DSLR’s or even film cameras. Cell phones will continue to destroy the point and shoot market but I don’t see photography enthusiasts owning just a phone anytime soon. The evidence just isn’t there. Hell these days an entry level dslr is cheaper than a cell phone. Not a lot of beginners are dropping $1500 on their first camera. Most people are looking to spend under a thousand.

They may not know how to use a dslr but with automatic modes and cheaper kit lenses it’s easy to get the bug these days.

Cellphones killing the dslr/mirrorless is not Going to happen any time soon. Even with advancing phone technology

Just yesterday a real estate agent called me up to take photos for his property listing. Apparently his ultra fancy-1000 dollar smartphone ain't good enough to take even semi-decent indoor photos.

I GOT IT !!! take a DSLR empty body and put and iphone in it bingo bango !

Lets say in 2018 a phone that can shoot like 32mp resolution and shoot in raw comes with the dinamic ranges of a high end DSLR for 1000$ bucks!

what would it changes ? or even in 10 years with the iphone XXL :P that shoots large files like the high ends DSLR's
in raw etc... what would it changes realy?

you still need to know the how to shape light how to deal with brides, how to deal with clients.
Look at the bigest names in photo they are not always the best photog's but they are realy good in marketing !

I have a car i can ride it it can go fast, i can drift in the snow with it...
yet i dont think the pro race cars drivers are scared of losing there jobs.

who cares if in 10 years an iphone shoot betters quality then an DSLR. just use the iphone then to make your art !
Use what ever you want to get the job done and get your creativity flow active !

Maybe prices for DSLR,s will go down & I can replace the P&S superzooms I always buy...

One thing that has surprised me on shoots is how often a client asks me what camera I'm using and then says "oh yeah, I've got one of them." Always makes me feel pressured for some reason but I guess it should be taken as a compliment. They've got the same gear but they are still paying me to take the shot.

That said I don't see camera phones catching DSLR's for the work I'm hired to do. They are arguably already better than a DSLR for a quick snap in a dark space but when you have everything in your favour a big lens will beat a centimetre of flat glass on the back of a phone every time. I think they may be developing quickly but the ceiling for their development is going to be hit quite fast.

The pursuit of quality never ends. The quality of early 2000s pro digital camera(billboard shooters used to shoot in 3mp cameras) are worse than a RX100 in making images.

A phone or a camera is just a tool. End of conversation. . .

Smartphones needs to step up their game: interchangeable lenses, wide angle, telephoto, super telephoto, faster shutter response, faster autofocus.
But if my film SLRs still work and film is still available, I'll continue using my SLRs and if my DSLR still works, that too.

Scary, but you can buy the accessories now. Telephoto lenses, zooms, wide angles, etc., all in snap-on form. And for $5, you can get the ProCam app that "unlocks" the phone's camera and allows you to adjust most settings (can't adjust aperture because the phone's camera is fixed). I will admit that I've downloaded and use Procam for iphone, primarily because it's not comfortable or convenient to carry a Nikon in my pocket, and sometimes I can catch a good unexpected photo when I don't have my "real" camera with me. No worries, though... these are novelties, not SLR killers.

I agree. Smartphones, as cameras, are novelties. I use my smartphone more for telephone, texting, and data.

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