It never fails. I go out in the world with my kids and I fail to bring my camera so I grab my phone to capture that memorable shot of monkey #1 eating a melting ice cream cone or monkey #2 jumping in the pool for the first time.  I either share it up on facebook right away or maybe throw a filter on it and post it to Instagram.  Do I ever print those pictures?  Actually, I’ve never even thought of printing my cell phone pics and that got me thinking…  Do people today see the difference in image quality when comparing a cell phone camera to a “real” camera?  I know that I usually do because I’m using both so regularly but I thought that it might be helpful to do a completely unscientific camera comparison to show how my cell phone compares to my “real” camera.

So, what am I working with here…

Representing the camera phone, I have the classic Samsung Galaxy III with an 8 MP camera.  Yes, it’s not an iPhone (I’m a Droid/PC girl) and it’s not even the latest that’s available.  I must admit, I haven’t been able to follow the whole getting the latest phone craze.  It’s just not my thing.

And to represent a “real” camera, I have the my Canon EOS Mark iii.  This is my baby.  22.3 mega pixels.  Full frame.  ISO range of 100-25600.  All that basically means that it’s a really really nice camera.  The ISO range is what I love most about it and a big reason why I bring it with me even on family trips.

Now I’ll admit,  it’s not exactly a fair comparison but I also think that it’s not as one sided as it would seem at first glance.  What the phone camera lacks in megapixels is made up for with how portable it is.  It fits in my purse or pocket and I can whip it out in a manner of minutes.  They each have pros and cons.  What I want to look at is image quality and answer the practical question of can I print and display the pictures that I take on my phone or is it better to use my “real” camera to capture those really special moments?

First up, the side by side test.

For this test I simply took a picture with my cell phone and then snapped the same shot with my canon.  I used the automatic settings on my phone (because I never have the time to fiddle with the settings there, even if I could find them quickly).  I used manual settings on my canon because that is how I normally shoot.  The only post-processing adjustment for the phone image was turning it from landscape to portrait.  I didn’t do any adjustments to the canon image.

little girl sitting on a bench in front of a green wall.  she's wearing cowboy boots and holding a straw hat in her lap.Phone settings: ISO 50, f-stop 2.6, shutter 1/213, focal length 3.7 mm

Canon settings: ISO 100, f-stop 3.2, shutter 1/320, focal length 50 mm

Aside from the framing difference, you can see that the colors in my phone are definitely warmer.  The Canon colors are truer to what was actually there, you have to just trust me on that one.  The other thing that I notice concerns the whites in both images.  The whites in the hat on my phone camera are brighter but they also lose detail.  The whites in the canon image aren’t as bright but you can see the folds in the ribbon on the hat more clearly.  Overall, I don’t see a shocking difference.

Now, to look at some test prints.  For this, I’m using my “old faithful.”  That would be my HP Photosmart desk jet printer with HP 4×6 paper.  Again, it’s not the newest, best technology but I think it will work for just a quick comparison.

and the result…

Well, I am actually pretty surprised!   I’m not sure that you’ll be able to really see but actually, my little cell phone camera looks pretty good.  It’s still warmer in coloring but there are more details in the whites and the Canon print actually looks a little more washed out.  I’m actually inclined to think that there might be an issue with how the printer is reading the Canon camera file but like I said, this is far from scientific and the phone print is definitely something that I would keep and put in an album.

Now to point out a distinction, these were both taken in a shaded area, with plenty of light and of a subject that was sitting very still.  Pretty much ideal conditions for taking a portrait but what about when you have a more challenging subject in a more challenging setting?

For the next part, I decided to use our recent vacation snapshots to compare the cameras.  We’re very fortunate to have family that live right outside of New York City.  This year while out for a visit, we decided to do a few trips into the city.  The first day, I only had my cell phone.  We surprised the kids with tickets to see Aladdin (an AMAZING show if you get the chance to check it out).  Since we were just doing the show and a little bit of walking around, I didn’t want to fuss with my big camera bag.  The next day we visited a few more tourist spots so I had my Canon as well as my phone.

Now, I was not comparing the exact same shots like in the first test.  This was a real-life kind of test situation where I just went for whatever was handy.

First up, I have 2 inside shots.  The first is from inside FAO Schwartz at the famous floor piano.  One of those special moments to capture the little girl and her daddy making music in their socks.  Low lighting, movement, and everything has a red tinge to it thanks to all of the red in the store.  I didn’t have a chance to set my flash to fire so I just had to make do.  The second image is a similar setting (again, not the same).  We were inside the Legoland Discovery Center in Yonkers, NY.  This time the girl was trying karaoke.  Low light, movement, and once again red and pink walls affect the color.  I also didn’t use my flash but rather just pushed my ISO as much as I could.

images of the people playing on the floor piano in FAO Schwartz in NYC and a girl singing into a microphone.

Neither is outstanding but the singing girl on the right is definitely brighter, a bit pink and she’s very much in focus while the left image is still dark, red, and fuzzy.

Now let’s try outside and see how things compare.  How about Central Park?  Lots of green.  Lots of shade.  Lots of opportunities to take pictures.  I actually had both cameras for this visit but to catch a  cute moment between the monkeys, I just grabbed my cell phone instead of getting out the big camera.  The second was a posed shot with the pond and some of the buildings in the background.

little boy and girl walking in central park, NYC

Both are decent images.  Definitely enough light.  The phone picture on the left still has red tinges to it and there are fuzzy bits as well.  The girl’s pink shirt seems to make all the light around her pink.  I find that a little annoying but not awful.  The picture on the right with my real camera doesn’t have the fuzzy bits and just her shirt is pink.  My subject is in focus and the background is intentionally blurred.  The lighting is probably a little cool but the sun was setting and the buildings create lots of cool, shaded areas.

But one more to compare…
little girl and crowds in Time Square, NYC2 Manhattan images.  The first is from Rockefeller Center.  The second was from Times Square.  Again, pretty even lighting-wise but I find the cell phone still has fuzzy areas and hazy streaks (up at the top right corner).  The Times Square image is sharper and there isn’t the same warm tinge to the image.


My personal take on this little experiment.  I think that the old saying is true… The best camera is the one that you have with you.  It’s a tool and in order to use it well, you have to learn what it can do and then practice with it.  If all you have is a cell phone, then learn to use it, practice, and then (most important of all) make sure you get those pictures off of the phone and put them somewhere you and your family can see and enjoy them.  I was quite impressed with how well my cell phone picture was printed.  I’m planning on going through some of those images and printing them to display around the house.

But there are downsides to having only cell phone images.  They tend to be more blurry.  The colors are sometimes distorted.  They don’t always record the exact moment that I was trying to get.  Yes, sometimes it’s really nice to have my “real” camera, and sometimes, it’s a good idea to have an artist who knows how to use their tools to capture those special family moments too.


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Hi there, it's Jodi!

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