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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The device is a means to an end. When a technological shift happens, some of us will evolve and some of us won't. In the end, however, I don't think that a photographer is defined by the device that they use to capture the image, but rather what they do with that device. Whether we are talking about a 4x5 camera, compact, 35mm SLR, mirrorless, or a smartphone, this fact doesn't change.

Technology will always bridge certain gaps, but until we reach a point where photography doesn't require recognizing subject matter, composition, and moments to be captured, photographers won't be completely replaced by technology. Of course, I happen to be of the belief that technology will eventually get to a point where it can replicate everything a professional photographer could do today, but I'm not so sure that I'll see that come to fruition in my own lifetime and even if it did, people would still practice the craft for their own pleasure just like people still hand forge swords in the modern day.

Yes, the iPhone can produce images that are more than enough for the vast majority of consumers. I think that's a point that's been beaten to death around these parts. The question is ultimately whether they are good enough for you in what you are looking to do, though. In some cases the answer will be yes. In other cases the answer might be no. While I won't knock what the iPhone can do, barring some major technological advance, a dedicated camera will likely continue to produce better images for the foreseeable future simply because there is nothing that you can theoretically fit into the iPhone's limited form factor (there's not much space in there) that you can't also put into a dedicated camera in a bigger and better way.

Maybe Apple will pick up on this and jump into the ILC game, incorporating AI and computational photography technology into the body of a DSLR or mirrorless camera for even better results. Without the limited confines of a cellphone space, I wonder what kind of dedicated camera Apple would be capable of producing. They might even let it pair with iPhones and iPads for great native mobile integration. Doubtful that this will ever happen given that the camera market isn't exactly the most lucrative place to invest your resources these days, but you never know what tomorrow might hold.

OMG an Apple camera ? LOL !, it will be white, made of slippery plastic, performance will degrade with time, lenses will not be compatible with follow up versions, special connectors for everything
Actually it would be an interesting experiment to see what a phone company can do together with a camera company

If you asked most people years back about Sony making good cameras, most people in the industry would have gotten a good laugh from it. It's really impossible to know where things will go and what companies will emerge. On that note, I think it's a damned shame that Samsung decided to back out of the market because I think out of "outsider" companies, they would have been able to really give Sony a run for their money in innovation—particularly with the advantage of their position within the mobile industry. Cameras with native integration with Galaxy devices could have opened up a lot of opportunities.

Maybe shorter than 10 years. It's the same as when digital was introduced and film went out. Although films on the way back. In a few years Pro will be using film and maybe a couple of digital cameras, but for the most part the cell phone will become brownie, the point and shoot of tomorrow.
Film comes back for Pros
High end digital for news papers and some pros
cell phones for the everyone else. Lets face it you get a free cell phone/camera ever two years with the last and great features.

Nikon's having issues, Pentax/Ricoh having issues, Sony the TV company may stay in or get out if sales continue to drop or continue stagnate.

Sad, but true, that's the way it's going to happen if you like it or not.


Only time will tell. People still paint and sketch landscapes.

I would call it less a fad and more a curiosity. People want to know where it started. It’s interesting and rewarding. I don’t think film will ever surpass digital again by a long shot, but its resurgence is a good thing, craft-wise.

My business isn't being hurt by cell technology directly. It's being hurt by consumers thinking they know how to take corporate photos because their cell phones take technically pleasing pictures (good color, brightness, contrast, etc.). If cell phones will be able to take billboard-size photos in 10 years without blown highlights and reasonable DOF, I'll embrace them. But consumers will still not know the difference between a snapshot and a photo that compels a customer inquiry or brand engagement, no matter what we're shooting with.

It's not likely to happen. Computational photography and multi-shot HDR+ enhancements make small sensors look very good. What happens when you apply those things to images taken on physically larger sensor with better glass? You will get great photos that are superior to their smartphone counterparts. It is more likely that small-ish sensors like micro4/3rds can use computational photography to get full-frame equivalent depth of field, low-light performance, bit-depth and dynamic range. We might hit a limit where images get so good, they will have a surreal quality. Kind of how 60fps video looks less realistic than 24p. Full frame will look like medium format and medium format will burn images directly into your retinas. 😂

"fighting for an obsolete technology"

So obsolete that Kodak is bringing back discontinuated references… Try to shoot 4×5 or 8×11 in digital… Oh wait !

Seriously, Kodak has targeted photo consumer market since the Bulleye… That was in the early 20th Century. As far as I know, no Instamatic ever killed the market of pro photographers.

DSLRs are not just about performance and visual result, they are about ergonomy too. Holding a phone to take a pic is a slippery experience, zoom-pinching is approximative, you see your reflection in the screen as much as what you frame, you have no low-light stability because you need to put the screen at a fair distance of your body to see it, and the battery gets down after 8 hours. My DSLRs is fast and accurate, the buttons are accessible eye in the viewfinder, I don't mess with a tactile-greasy-gross screen, the battery lasts 3000 pics and I don't miss my shot when somebody calls.

A phone is not what I call a working horse, and there is no hipsterism in that. I have shot with a wide range of cameras, from Mamyia RB 67 to Nikon D810, early digital cameras, bridges, disposable film cameras, and nothing beats the feeling and control you have with a DSLR.

But you can go with the other hipsters and make nice pic with an iPhone just to post another thing to say "I did it, it's possible". Sure. I shoot with a Mamyia tank, it's possible. Doesn't mean it's comfortable.

It's like saying the phone market will kill the laptop market because everything you can do with a laptop is doable with a cellphone. Sure, if you like to suffer, you can write your blog, do spreadsheets and presentations on your phone. But I will still be the guy doing it 10× faster with a 2012 computer.

Phones are toys. They do everything approximately, but what they do good is entertaining people. Nothing more.

I’d like to say if you think you are in the business because of a better camera (a bulky heavy and complicated to use DSLR) then you probably should look for another job. As technology is so replaceable easily nowadays. Often times you may come across someone who owns the top-end DSLR or even an expensive DMF but does that mak him or her a pro? It’s like sporting an IPad Pro and that Apple Pencil does not automatically make one a better sketching artist than someone who sketches with a real pencil. Imagination, vision and skills are what separates good art from average work.

'What are you going to do when real writers replace fstoppers' current lineup?'

When DSLR dies, Mirrorless will take over for the Pros, computational imaging will still have to go a looooong way to even get close to hi-res, large sensor, low light, real DOF lens photography. Even when that time comes, large sensor and camera tech would have also leapt forward too.

Too many people, like me, will never switch to an EVF for DSLRs to die. Decrease perhaps.

When "phones" have zooms, physical controls, viewfinders, and good shooting ergonomics, then we can talk. But then, they won't be phones with cameras built-in, they'll be cameras with phones built-in. What some folks seem not to understand is that a camera is more than a lens in front of a sensor.

Hi Dusty. Since you already have the conviction, you should sell all your DSLR and/or mirrorless camera equipment now and buy a couple camera phones to use in your photography business. That way you'll be highly experienced phonetographer in 10-years and can lead the way for the rest of us. (lol)

Truth be told, my gear lust has died down significantly over the last several years, but I couldn’t see myself giving up what I’m most familiar with - my DSLRs. At some point though, I suspect I’ll be the old guy in the room and ignoring such trends in technology would certainly make me the obsolete old guy in the room much like some others I can think of

I'm already in the room and will save a chair for ya! Actually, I'm excited about camera phones because they've put pressure on the camera manufacturers to step up their game. There will be room for both camera phones and what ever they call the evolved DSLRs.

I'm not worried about it for several reasons. 1. Physics makes it very difficult for a phone to produce the same image as a DSLR, especially when you start shooting long focal lengths. 2. Just as some sources are now rejecting unrealistic images (for model body size), soon there will be sources that will reject phone photos due to their fake bokeh, fake lighting, AI processing etc.

Film shooting hipsters... Like, pretty much all the top paid working wedding photographers in the USA? Those hipsters? Or maybe he means film-makers like Christopher Nolan. Dunkirk, what a hipster-romp. Might as well have it set in Williamsburg 2003 amIright????

You know what I'm going to do when phones do whatever the hell phones do?

Keep shooting my Rolleiflex, that's what. (Maybe get it CLA so it's good for another 60 years...)

"You know what I'm going to do when phones do whatever the hell phones do? "

I will be buying used DSLRs for half their price and laugh at hipsters struggling with their phones.

Remember, in the 2010's, everyone was planning the big replacement of laptops by ipads and other tablets. Everyone was posting blogs on how to do whatever-takes-less-time-on-a-laptop with an ipad and apps. And guess what… 7 years later, laptops got touchscreens and are 180°-tiltable, but people still use them and they keyboards to… actually work.

This is exactly why I use my phone camera instead of buying a DSLR.

I see the writing on the wall for sure. While i am not sure that cell phones will ever be able to top a dslr (unless they figure out how to stick an APS-C or micro four thirds sized sensor into a smart phone), the cameras on these phones do improve significantly with every generation. And in general, the technical part of photography is becoming less of a barrier. How long before the tech in something like a Light Camera becomes good enough and cheap enough that the average person will be able to take a 50 megapixel photo and be able to select focus points and change the lighting at will.

A fundamental understanding of storytelling, lighting, composition etc. will still be required to take a great photo, but the execution of your vision will no longer require professional tools.

The photographers of the future will be those whose creativity can't be replaced by an algorithm.

As I lay here in my bed recouping from surgery, I find it interesting that a lot of people can't see the writing on the wall. I've read all the post and it reminds me of times gone bye. When I started out in the 60's then turned "pro" in the 70's people were fighting about 8x10 was the best then 4x5 then 5x5 then 645 then 35mm then hand held meters vs in camera light meters, then film vs digital then FF vs APC-S sensors then 4/3 then mirco 4/3 you get the idea, but the whole time the only thing that stayed constant was the selling model, sell sell sell. The latest and greatest improvements, more for less.
Now here comes the cell phones, they will get better and better and better just like digital cameras did, and just like the old days companies will close and the really good photographers will survive thru talent.
Like it or not cell phones will take over, they will get better and better. It's happening now I know clients that have turned their business over to their child and the guys girlfriends say to their sons, "I can do that good with my new cell phone for free, wink wink," you get the idea, and you know what, their right. It's good enough for the internet and 4x6 prints up to 8x10 prints. I have friends like myself that have been in the business 30 to 40 years that just shoot film and cell phones, they say it cheaper and just as good.
I was very very lucky, I worked in the medical field for 40 years and traveled the world shooting for different companies and magazines and have a "pro" with all the major camera companies (the ones that are left) with great success, but that's over now it's 40 years later and all I can say is change will come weather you like it or not and my negatives, slides, and prints a still here. A lot of my digital images are gone due to hard drive failure. I know back up the important stuff to more than one drive and hope they can be read at a future date.
I wish it were the 60's and 70's again and I had my film cameras ready and leaving on an assignment to some hot zone, but that gone now. Very sad, but all to true.

Just food for thought.

Have fun while you can


Good points. I went from medium format film to an APS-C (if anyone remembers that) dSLR and my business soared. I'm in the process of moving to mirrorless and nobody has noticed in the shots yet.

I'm sorry. Your food made me throw up from laughing too hard. :-)

I have looked at your website . . . . an absolute waste of bandwidth. I don't think I have ever seen such worthless imagery . . . . everything photoshopped to hell and back to cover up the fact that you have absolutely no talent whatsoever.

The fact that you still exist underlies one thing, you are an excellent fraud artist.

unless there's a new technology miracle to mimic dslr lens quality, zoom, depth of field capacity and pixel density, phones will never achieve dslr quality. Phones will continue to eat the amateur market that was held by compact cameras, but professional and the highly technical aspects of photography will be always on the dslr side.

I'll continue to use the most suitable technology to take photos at the time. If that's a phone, then that's what I will use. I'm not married to any brand or technology. I just like taking pictures.

In other words, nothing will change. It's how I've always approached photography.

Thanks for the article. I think it's missing out on an important point. Photographers rarely make any money with what's happening behind the camera. A good photographer is one who creates magic IN FRONT of the camera. The device which snaps the picture is of no big importance. When a phone gets as good as a bigger camera, fine. Less crap to carry. There is no reason to be afraid of technical progress. Every pro photographer knows that an amateur will never come home with one decent picture, no matter what gear was used. Portrait Photography is about the chemistry between two people.

Keep in mind that our vision / craft / style will never change, just our tools. Creatives are great at adapting to change. If you cant take change then find another job?

Why does anyone have to change or change their tools? You can still take great photos with all the older technology.

100% agree, but like everything change is inevitable. You can choose to stick with what you have or buy the next best thing if budget permits - either way both are great but support for older models will eventually get harder.

Oh no, that is just another article about how smartphones will kill the business... But wait, It's not just a smartphone, It's the IPhone! Oh, come on! Digital photography killed film photography and people didn't just stop hiring photographers because they can buy a decent photo camera for a small price. Even in the shi*hole where I live - Bulgaria. So, please stop flooding us with these IPhone adds made to look like blog posts.

In this regard I am a luddite and will never completely forsake my DSLR. I do not think a phone camera will ever be able to compete for quality with a DSLR when it comes to large prints.


Joe McNally - Da Grip
If telephon is safe to hold, easy to operate and steady as DSLR, it can replace DSLR.

To be honest; what I do commercially and what I do as a hobbist are completely different. I have already made the adjustment, hobbywise, to the phone; getting stunning results in pro mode with the Galaxy S8. This has been a godsend while I travel the world as a flight attendant, no longer needing to carry a photo bag along with my crew luggage, however...

What I do commercially cannot be replicated on a phone. Work created for large format print, simply cannot be mimmicked on a phone. A great example is a previous commercial shoot of the solar eclipse. The awesome depth, and focal capbility of a full frame DSLR can in no way be imitated by my S8.

As for events like weddings, parties, etc. I think we (photographers) have keen competition with the phone cams, but even then there are just some things a phone is not sufficient to handle.

I'll just buy one then, my grandma isn't using a pinhole camera.

You're right, Stephen, it's not the camera, it's the photographer. An ever increasing percentage of the population does not believe that nor do they want to believe that. They are convinced it is the camera. Professional photographers will eventually join the buggy whip manufacturers.

Same thought crossed the minds of photographers that used large format cameras when the reflexes made it onto the market. Then when the DSLR made it, the pro wondered if they'd still have a job with thier MF reflexes, etc etc etc..

The answer has always been the same.

Skill. Vision. Creativity. It can't be bought.

Phones will never replace DSLR's, however the quality is still pretty damn good. My wife took this during a 30 second break in the clouds with her Samsung S7 and it became the front cover on the magazine that we publish.

It will be more important the creativity of the photographers, the composing skills, lighting managment,etc. It will be good i think, only photographers who doesn't feels good enough to make better photos than a common person with the same camera will feels in danger.

'Ten years from now, will you be the equivalent to what I refer to as film hipsters, fighting for an obsolete technology'

You sir, are a Twat.


I think that technology will quickly reach the point where DSLRs, high-end cameras (RED, Arri, ...) and smartphones will share a LOT in quality and even ergonomics (wireless everything).
And about quotes like "It isn't the camera. It is the photographer!", I would say that this is only a very small part of the business puzzle nowadays. To be successful now, you need to go against a few things: the ever growing competition of fellow photographers and the clients' ever growing expectations. The latest are 2-fold: low profile clients and high profile clients. Low profile clients is the market that will shrink a lot, and that's because with the available technology, they are convinced they can make great pictures by themselves. Therefore that means photographers will try to enter the high-profile clients market, where the clients are interested in the photographer's vision to supplement theirs. That market will be even tougher, making photography itself just a basic required skill from the whole skill set : finance, marketing, languages, relations, personal implication and initiatives, adaptation ... Only those working that way will make it in photography/cinematography.

Probably the same as you will do when something comes along better than and to replace your mobile phone camera. I have been using SLR's for nearly 50 years now and they are still going strong. Do you think your mobile phone camera will last that long? I think not. Everything gets superseded in time.

A phone might replace DSLRs for most of the common uses of photography, but unless phones sprout large sensors and correspondingly large lenses there will always be things a bigger camera can do that a small one cannot. It is physics.

As for the photos that can be made with a smartphone I will continue to consistently take better photos with my phone than 99.99% of smartphone owners with a smartphone can take with theirs.

Just as a successful novelist will write better prose via Word than the countless millions of techy Geeks that use the same word processor.

But why am I even bothering to respond to clickbait?

there's always going to be a need for higher power equipment that isn't portable or having the most compact form factor. We still have large (relatively) PC's in our homes despite the fact we have computers in our pockets. For the immediate future I'd look for DSLRs to become truly linkable wirelessly with our phones to the point of not even requiring a dedicated screens in camera bodys.

Fit a 17-200 2.8 lens optics into a cell phone & we might be talking the end but anyhow. Tired old subject.

so with the same idea... my iphone takes great videos, who needs holywood. or why spend millions of dollars to make a movie. I will grab my iphone find 2-3 people on the street and a make movie and submit it to Oscar community.

Photography like everything else in the world, will change and evolve. But this change does not and will not effect a persons, an artists creativity.
Photography is creativity, artistry, experience.
Yes what camera you use is somehow plays a part in photography but its like %10-15 of photography rest is the business side.

Look at the photos below...most of them could be taken with a good phone but they are creative, artistic and that is what photography is, not which camera you use.