DSLR vs Phone Camera

One of the above images was taken on a DSLR and the other on an iPhone. Can you tell which? Answer is at the end of this blog.

I recently had to upgrade my iPhone. Decision was purely due to poor battery performance and elements starting to break down. Being a photographer I decided to get the iPhone 11 Pro max as the 3 lens camera system appealed to me. I always found the camera on the iPhone 6 disappointing but I am very impressed with the improvements in the latest model. I decided to put it through it's paces and do some comparisons with my canon DSLR 7D mk2 and lenses. The results below were fairly predictable but there were a couple of surprises and I learned a lot about how the iPhone works. No editing has taken place on any of these images unless specified.


Test number one was to compare both cameras in full automatic mode.


This image was taken with the DSLR on full automatic mode. To me it looks too cold, flat and not much detail in the shadows. Lens I used is a canon 100-400 mm to get the frame I wanted on the ship which was a fair distance away from the river bank. Lens was set to 100 mm the camera chose settings ISO 100, aperture of f8 and shutter speed of 1/4oo sec.


This is the iPhone version. Set to maximum zoom at just 6mm according to the file metadata in Lightroom. I used the 2 x lens. iPhones use digital zoom which will crop into a subject to make it appear bigger in the screen. This can result in a poorer quality result so it's often better to try and get closer. Metadata for this image was ISO 20, f2 1/1700 sec. From the two images I prefer this one with better sky and colour definition. It's a sharper photograph.

Semi automatic modes on DSLR

I then moved the DSLR through the automatic modes. First P mode where I only had control over ISO and focus points. The boat was much sharper. However moving through AV (aperture priority) and TV (shutter priority) controls as well the image consistently came out slightly underexposed. Now I could adjust my exposure compensation in camera or just tweak in editing to correct.



I moved the DSLR across to manual mode and instantly got a much better, well exposed image. Compare that to the fully automatic image above. I decided to start doing some aperture comparisons. Now because this is a long distance shot on a zoom lens there was very little difference to be seen regarding depth of field. The only real impact adjusting the aperture had was on the shutter speed. this image was taken at f29. 1/25 sec.

Faster Shutter speed with DSLR

This image was taken at f4.5, 1/1000sec. Slightly sharper image than the top one because the canon 100-400 mm lens works better at faster speeds.

Aperture on an iPhone

The latest iPhones have portrait mode where you can control aperture. So I thought great lets give it ago. I took two images one at f1.8 and the other at f16. Both images were identical same as the the DSLR it's a long shot so I wasn't surprised to see little difference with the depth of field.. What was troubling was that the metadata showed both images to have an aperture of f2. This is because iPhone lenses have a fixed apertures. Depth of field is controlled by software to create a realistic looking blurred effect.

iPhone depth of field

To demonstrate better on a closer object. These two shots were taken with apertures f16 and f1.8. The metadata for both shows f1.8. However notice how the DVD cases in the f16 image are much sharper than the f1.8 one. The software has burred them out to mimic the effect from a DSLR lens.


Now this is where the DSLR starts to win hands down. There are various apps you can use to give you more control of ISO and shutter speeds on your iPhone. I use an app called "manual".

3 minute exposure on the DSLR

With the use of ND filters on the front of the lens and going into Bulb mode I was able to get a 3 minute exposure on the DSLR. Notice how this has nicely smoothed out the water and the sky.

Slowest shutter speed on the iPhone

Compare that to the slowest shutter speed I was able to obtain on the iPhone at just 1/450 sec before losing the exposure. I tried 1/80 sec but was left with an image of totally blown out sky. However without any ND filters I do like the colours in this version better.

Long exposure after edit

This was the final edited version from the DSLR. I brought more details out from the clouds and boat and enhanced the warm colours.


This moves us nicely onto raw files. The "manual" app allows you to shoot in RAW instead of jpeg on your iPhone. I put this to the test by taking two identical shots with both the DSLR and phone and applying exactly the editing treatment to it.

iPhone raw edited file

DSLR raw edited file

Now I think this is all down to personal preference. I have studied these two very closely and maybe I am a bit biased but I think the DSLR has the slight edge. The image is a little sharper with a greater range of warmer colours. If I did not have the DSLR with me that day I would have been very pleased with the iPhone image.

Which is Which?

So have you worked out yet which one was taken on the DSLR? It was the one on the left. But which one do you prefer? Again I think the DSLR has produced the better colour range and grass detail but I do prefer the cloud detail in the sky from the iPhone.

Remember the best camera is always the one you have with you. While I won't be hanging up my DSLR for a long while I do find the iPhone camera convenient and intriguing. I shall definitely be using it a lot more than my old iPhone 6.

For more information on my workshops and 1 to 1 tuition please visit my website at https://www.louiseehubbardphotography.com

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