Are todays smartphone cameras capable of taking good quality photos?

I carry lots of tech when I ride ’cause this is my thing, and my motorcycle has plenty of capacity for carrying all my stuff! I’ve always considered that the quality of my photos is improved by using a Digital SLR (DSLR).  I did go for a compact DSLR, choosing the Sony NEX-5, and have always been happy with the results with a little less bulk. Most of the photos that appear on this site have been taken by me on the NEX-5 with just a bit of basic editing (mostly cropping and to adjust levels).

But do you need to take a DSLR with you on every ride? Or at all?

I’ve often wondered if the extra cost and effort of a DSLR was worth it, but never done any sort of comparison of the photos produced by smartphone cameras against a DSLR.

Just as I was leaving the Classic Motorcycle Show at Stafford yesterday I thought I’d frame up the same photos using the various “toys” I was carrying for the day, just to see how they each stacked up against each other.

First up is my oldest smartphone, a HTC Desire.  It’s getting on a bit now but I still use it as my primary mobile/cell phone and it goes fine.  I’ve not really ever used it for photos though.  It has a 5MP colour camera with auto focus, digital zoom and flash. Here’s the photo taken with the HTC Desire:

Next up is the Samsung Galaxy S2.  Being slightly newer is has an 8MP camera also with auto focus, flash and digital zoom.  Here’s the photo taken with the Samsung Galazy S2:

I think you will agree this is a big improvement over the 5MP HTC Desire.

My final smartphone photo is from the 8MP iPhone 4S (also with flash, digital zoom, auto focus etc):

For me the photo taken with the iPhone 4S looks the best, but we don’t all see things the same way.

Let’s now look at the same scene photographed with the Sony NEX-5 (14.2MP) using a 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 telephoto zoom lens:

Just one last piece of technical information about the editing process.  Each photo was edited using Adobe Photoshop Elements 10, purely to crop them all to a common size that best suits this website (600 pixels x 314 pixels and a resolution of 72 pixels/inch) and then Saved for Web as a jpeg file with a High Quality setting adjusted to 75.  No other adjustments to light, colour, shade etc were made.  The resulting file sizes are relatively small:

  • HTC Desire – 67KB
  • Samsung Galaxy S2 – 94KB
  • iPhone 4S – 90KB
  • Sony NEX-5 – 94KB

This last photo probably is the best, but is it worth the extra cost and hassle associated with a DSLR?

For many, maybe not.  In most instances a smartphone (minimum 8MP) will probably do the job.  Maybe I won’t take the NEX-5 with me all the time now and will just rely on the iPhone or Samsung, which require much less preparation, planning and effort.

There are some instances though where only a DSLR will do for me, especially when used in conjunction with the 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 telephoto zoom lens.  I really like the NEX-5 and enjoy admiring the photos I’ve taken with it on my recent European tours.  I know there are better or professional quality cameras out there but the Sony does all I need it to and its compact size works well on the road.

The most important thing is to use what you’ve got. Get into the habit of taking a few photos of where you’ve been so you can share your adventures with others.  Riding with tech does not have to be expensive!