Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Can Your Smartphone replace a DSLR Camera?

iPhone 8 plus image
Smartphones are ubiquitous. It is estimated that over 2 billion people now own and use smartphones around the world and that another one and a half billion will be sold in 2017. Everyone of these devices as a camera. Since genealogists are people, they are included in this estimate. It may seem simplistic, but these smartphone cameras are useful for doing genealogical research and replacing the laborious process of copying books and photographs. Instead of sitting in a library and writing pages of notes, it is faster and easier just to pull out your smartphone and take a photo of every page you are interested in preserving. This also works for what is left of the world of microfilm.

Lately, there have been a lot of news articles online about smartphones ultimately replacing DSLR cameras (Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras) used by professional photographers. One issue is still the resolution of the smartphone cameras when compared to a "real" DSLR camera. I have written about comparing the two devices in the past. But this week, I received my upgraded smartphone, an Apple iPhone 8 plus, and decided to go the rounds again with a comparison.

The photo above was taken with my new iPhone 8 plus. Here is the same view taken a few minutes later with my Sony DSC HX400V 20.4 MP camera. The iPhone 8 plus has a 12 MP camera. I must also note that the Sony costs less than half the prices of the iPhone.

Sony DSC HX400V image
Both shots come right out of the cameras and have not been altered except the iPhone image is stored as an .HEIC image and had to be converted to a .jpg to work in this blog post. I could have the iPhone store all the images as .jpg images, but the .HEIC is the newer format and saves storage. There are some obvious differences in the quality of the color of the two images, but what about the detail?

A 12MP image will never have as much detail as a 20.4 MP image. That is the reality. But the main question for genealogists is whether the 12 MP image is "good enough?" Here is a comparison by using Adobe Photoshop to zoom in on both images at 400%.

First the iPhone:

iPhone 8 Plus
Now, the Sony:

Sony DSC HX400V
Now, here is the difference. The Mega-pixel measurement is misleading. Zooming in with Photoshop does not produce a valid comparison of the detail of the images at any given size. The real comparison is much more complex. To show the same view, the Sony photo only needs to be zoomed in at 200%. So here is approximately the same visual area of the mountain from the Sony photo.

Sony DSC HX400V
If you can't see any significant difference it is because at the size that you would normally view either image, you are actually seeing a screen projection of the digital file. So making any comparisons is really almost impossible. There is more information (detail) in the Sony image, but looking at them in this type of comparison is somewhat misleading. What it turns out is that for most users, the smartphone images are perfectly adequate, especially if they are going to be viewed on a computer screen. You would only begin to see an appreciable difference if you printed both photos at poster size or about 24 x 36 inches.

What does this mean for genealogists who are not professional photographers? It means that you can now use your 12 MP smartphone for practically all your image needs. The reality is that it is true; smartphone cameras are killing off both low cost point-and-shoot cameras and the sales of high end DSLR cameras. Here is an appropriate quote from a article entitled, "This Latest Camera Sales Chart Shows the Compact Camera Near Death."
“In a nutshell, photography is more popular than it has ever been – take a look at the rise of Instagram or Snapchat, for example,” Skafisk tells PetaPixel. “But literally 98.4% of the consumer cameras sold in 2016 were built into smartphones – only 0.8% were compacts, 0.5% DSLRs, and 0.2% mirrorless.” 
“Where will we go from here? An easy prediction is that smartphones will continue to get better, and compact camera sales will go to near-zero,” he continues. “There will always be people interested in larger, more ‘serious’ cameras, and the camera companies that listen to these people and meet their needs will be fine.”
For genealogists, learn to use your smartphone camera. If you are considering spending a few bucks on a separate compact camera, you might rather consider upgrading your smartphone to one with a newer camera instead. So the answer to the question in the title of this post is a definite yes.

1 comment:

  1. I have the Google Pixel XL. I have been shooting with my Canon T5i for a while now, and also shooting with the Pixel. In many cases, the Pixel can give me a better exposure, quicker. I have been a photographer since the early 80's, I have been shooting manual exposures for decades, so I know my gear and I know my craft.

    I concur that for the vast majority of people and uses, the latest smartphone cameras are more than good enough. Add to that, you can get add-on lenses for many of them that make them even more versatile.

    It's going to be hard to justify buying a new DSLR in the future.