Are Smartphones “real” Cameras?

Is it real or wannabe?

What really defines a real camera? The size or the number of lenses it can use? What about the weight or the technology used? In my world, a “real” camera is any camera that can take a picture I’m happy with. If the end result is an image that meets my needs, then it’s a real camera and not a toy.

When you understand the basics of photography and you understand your equipment, then that real camera can be as simple as a cardboard box with a pinhole in it and a piece of film on the back. But I digress from my real subject at hand.

This post is really about smartphones and the perception that they are not real cameras. I have heard the comment so many times of “oh, it’s just a cellphone” that I cannot help but laugh. I’ve actually taken advantage of that bias to get shots that would normally be very difficult or even impossible with a DSLR or even a pocket camera. People have been trained that cellphone cameras take really crappy pictures so there is no threat in someone taking a cellphone picture of a building, a person or a stage show. If I show up at a park with my DSLR and start taking pictures, I will be approached by some do-gooder threatening to call the cops on me. This has actually happened while taking pictures of my own kids. However, I’ve never had anyone say that threat while I’m running around the park with my iPhone.

The shot below was taken with my iphone while on a morning run. Instead of carrying a 5lb DSLR, I had my smartphone and I think it did a bang up job, dont you?

Apple iPhone Smartphone Pano


Think about this in another way. It is not about the camera. Nobody looks at your picture and says “well, if only you took this with a Nikon ABC, it would be a real picture”. No, they will say something like “what an awesome picture!!” And it doesnt matter what you took the picture with.  In the early days of photography, you did not have a real camera unless you had 30 pounds of glass plates, a gallon of emulsion and the 8×10 view camera. Kodak released some cameras in the 50s that look like toys by today’s standards. Quite simply, they were a box with a lens and a place to put film. No more. Then came the medium format cameras, the 35mm cameras, the 110s and so on. I remember it went from “real” cameras where you had to adjust the shutter and f stop to instamatics which were the cellphone camera of the day. Small, cheap and portable but with very crappy pictures except in very controlled circumstances.  In 1999 is when I bought my first digital camera and for a few years I shot digital for fun and film for important events. But digital got better, the software got better, the cameras got better.  The “real” camera wars started up again with the adevent of cropped sensors vs full frame sensors. Now we have smartphones vs DSLRs and mirrorless. The funny thing is that the smartphone camera is heads and shoulders better than what our parents/grand-parents shot with. An image from an Kodak instamatic or 110 doesnt hold a candle to a average iPhone picture quality wise. So which is the “real” camera?

What else can you do?

Since the smartphone is a real camera AND a real computer, not only can you take pictures, you can edit them while standing in lines and upload them to social media or to the grand parents on the fly. Not only that but you can stream in real time using periscope or other software so the party that could not come can still be part of the day. Try that with your canon or Sony or Nikon.


Here is a shot i took at Disneyland and edited while having one of many snacks 🙂

Disneyland Castle 60th taken with Smartphone


Helping Hand for the Smartphone

As good as the iPhone or most smartphones are, there are times they can use a bit of help just like a real camera 🙂  In the image below, I used a 18mm Moment lens for a very wide angle to get this shot of the space shuttle, Endeavour at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Even my Nikon DSLR with a 24mm lens could not get the entire shuttle in the frame. This is a case of playing with to strengths of the camera. In this case, most smart phones have a pretty wide view and my Moment lens agumented that to get the entire shuttle in a single frame. The cost of the lens was about 50 dollars. A lens for the Nikon to get the same view is several hundred dollars.  I’d say that a smartphone which can outshoot a DSLR is a real camera in anyone’s book.

Space Shuttle Endeavor taken with Apple iPhone Smartphone


Today’s smartphones are a real camera, just wrapped in a slightly different package and a powerful computer included.


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This entry was posted in Articles, iPhone, musings.

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