Can smartphones now replace a “real” camera?

Can smartphones now replace a “real” camera?


All photos taken with a smartphone by Brandon Hoover.


This is question I’ve been often asked and see discussed online each time a new phone is released. New features are often labeled as revolutionary, or game-changing therefore supposedly eliminating the need to carry another camera. There are few ways to think about these statements and factors to consider when seeking an answer to this question. Note, this post is very much written for the masses and does not include each and every variable in the mix. We could get far more technical with this discussion, but at this stage it’s about the big picture.


Screenshot 2013-11-02 14.26.59Sensors in smartphones, for the most part, are absolutely minuscule in comparison to DSLRs and are quite a bit smaller than most point and shoot cameras. There are some physics involved in this discussion but generally the larger the surface area of the sensor, the more capable it will be at resolving detail and creating less noise in low light conditions. Granted, technology has rapidly improved the ability to maintain decent image quality in challenging environments. There’s speculation that the first iPhone sensors were creating images so poor in terms of resolution and noise that this gave rise to apps that could utilize filters such as Instagram and Hipstamatic in order mask the faults, much in the way that Lomo cameras became an artistic fetish with random light leaks and unpredictable additions to the final image. So while technology marches on, there’s only so much that can be accomplished with tiny sensors and software. This is an area that may and should see further improvement and may continue to close the gap.



Brandon Hoover

This is what I view to be one of the most limiting factors for current smartphones. The lack of an optical zoom has created a whole generation of sub-par images captured by people digital zooming in on a scene. Take a look around the audience at any event and you’ll still see this pinch/zoom happening. It’s not the user’s fault; it’s been something proudly stamped on the sides of cameras for years, aka “100x digital zoom”, etc. Consumers, unaware of the differences, enable digital zoom and greatly degrade the final image quality – to the point that prints from these images would look quite horrendous. The counterpoint to this is that in reality how many people are actually printing photos from smartphones? The vast majority are posting them online in reduced resolution and calling it a day.

As a lover of prime lenses (lenses that don’t zoom), there is absolutely a time and place to slow down and creatively constrict yourself to one focal length (which is what every iPhone is essentially). But the average person generally isn’t treating their phone in this manner and therefore is using digital zoom.

This is what I view as the next step in smartphone photography; the advent of optical zoom and improved lenses. This will be a challenge as it requires additional physical space or attachments of some sort, much in the way third party companies have tackled this need in a less than elegant manner. A company like Apple won’t resort to an unrefined solution, so it’ll be interesting to see how they approach this design.



Brandon Hoover

Brandon Hoover

One massively important benefit that smartphone cameras have over most traditional cameras is the ability to immediately and easily share memories captured. This point can’t be stressed enough. This is a huge limitation to most cameras. Sure there are workarounds and some companies have tried to create solutions, but there is simply no comparison to the sake of ease one experiences when snapping a pic and uploading it directly to social media within seconds. This, for many people, drives them to use their smartphone instead of another option despite the other disadvantages. Quite often I’ll see people carrying DSLRs still taking photos with their phones – for this very reason. Camera manufacturers should find methods of embracing the desire to share. Building wifi or apps into the camera isn’t enough. We need a very simple and straightforward method of quickly getting photos from our cameras to the cloud. There will come a time when many consumers will abandon point and shoot cameras for this very reason – as smartphone technology catches up, there will be little reason to consider bringing a compact camera. Declining sales in this area have already begun and the landslide will only continue.




I personally find the process of throwing on some good music with a steaming cup of coffee and editing photos in Lightroom or Photoshop to be supremely relaxing. But I freely admit I’m absolutely an oddity in the minority. For most people, this would sap any desire they had to share their memories. Once an event passes, it’s exponentially more difficulty to work up the time to go back and edit pics from the time. I’m sure this is even more true for the under 35 crew; Instagram, Whatsapp and Facebook are avenues for quick sharing and harvesting of likes and comments. Tying in with the previous section on sharing, the ability to quickly edit and share in a spontaneous manner is critical for many people. Beam your DSLR pics to your tablet or smartphone, edit quickly and share. Yes, to an extent this can be currently done, but it’s not a mainstream workflow and hasn’t been a priority for companies.

vscocamWith apps such as Snapseed, VSCO, etc, there’s something fun and almost tangible about touching the photos you’re editing on your phone or tablet. For many, this is likely to be far more approachable than the intimidation presented by professional editing software.


Wrap up

Brandon Hoover

Brandon Hoover

This all comes down to the often repeated statement that the best camera is the one that’s with you. When film cameras were king, far less people had a camera with them all the time. There’s no doubt that being able to capture and share memories on the fly is highly desirable; and for many this trumps any of the geeky points discussed above regarding image quality. This is a huge advantage for smartphones, and weighs in heavily to this discussion.

I can see no foreseeable future in which I personally will give up taking a traditional camera with a bag of lenses with me to travel destinations or while striving to create photos to hang in a gallery. There’s simply no current substitute for the quality offered by a full frame sensor with fast glass, or  a mirror-less camera with a decent lens. But I’m admittedly outside of the norm. And for most people, there’s equally no substitute for sharing that special moment with your closest 400 friends in seconds and ultimately that may be what determines the answer to the initial question.

Yes. Current phones can now replace a ‘real’ camera, not because of image quality or sensor technology, but because of the shift in society that has transformed what it means to capture and share a moment in time.


My photos on 500px and Flickr

Mostly phone pics shared on Instagram

Shanghai on foot: Photographing Shanghai

I just returned from 10 fantastic days in Shanghai, China. The primary purpose of the visit was for an educational conference, but I decided to stay another few days thereafter to photograph as much of Shanghai as I could. I ended up basically walking for 12-14 hours a day with 30lbs of gear strapped to my back. Way to travel light!?

A few locations I managed to get to: Suzhou, Pudong, French Concession, the Bund, Nanjing Rd, Xintiandi, People’s Square, and the rest maybe you guys can recognize.

I took around 40GB worth of photos with my Canon 6D and Fuji X-E1. Love those cameras! I’ll be posting photos from the trip in upcoming posts. I really wish I had another week to cover even more of the city, as I found that the more I explored, the more I wanted to see. I definitely need to return again in the near future. More to come soon.

More frequent photo updates may be seen via my other accounts:


Smugmug (for purchasing prints)

Shanghai by train

Shanghai bullet train

The future is now

Fuji X-E1 Review and Sample Images

Fujifilm X-E1

After observing the progress and continual advancement of “mirrorless” cameras (also referred to as “compact camera systems”), I finally jumped in with the Fujifilm X-E1 and the 18-55 f/2.8-4 zoom. This fantastic camera sports a DSLR sized 16 MP APS-C sensor, interchangeable lenses, fantastic high-iso results and the excellent image quality that Fuji is known for.

It’s not without its quirks, of course, but neither is any camera. Autofocus speed seems to be the biggest complaint, but such was also the case with my Canon 5D Mk II. It’s certainly acceptable for my personal use, and I was fully aware of this potential drawback from the beginning (and it’s not nearly as big of a deal as I thought it’d be). The pros definitely outweigh the cons in my own opinion. I also heavily considered the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the Sony NEX-7. However, in the end I chose the Fuji for reasons I can explain in more detail in another post, but one major factor is the excellent prime lenses that Fuji has planned.

At any rate, the image quality of the X-E1, again in my own opinion, simply trumps any downsides at this point and time. This is a newly developed sensor unlike other cameras. I’ll save the technicalities of this design for the experts. A much more in-depth explanation is available on


Sample Images From the Fuji X-E1

Whenever I (obsessively) research new camera equipment, one thing that helps the most is to find sample images or links to full sized images taken with the particular equipment I’m searching for. With that in mind, I decided to do a couple of quick walk-arounds with the Fuji X-E1 in order to give back to the communities which have provided me with countless hours of assistance and advice. Please make note of the fact that these are very basic shots lacking in any sort of creative drive, handheld and captured in haste. I was simply walking the dog and trying to capture a few quick shots to share. Most of these are full-sized jpegs and if you click through, can be downloaded as you please. If you end up utilizing these in some capacity, I’d appreciate credit given.

Most of the following images are taken directly from the jpegs without any editing. However, a couple were cropped and obviously the black and white was edited. I used a combination of a trial of Phase One’s Capture One software, Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CS6. All were taken in the Fort Bonifacio region of Manila, Philippines.

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High ISO Comparison

To give you a rough idea of the potential of this new sensor technology, let’s take a look at some shots from DPReview’s camera comparison tool. I’ve referenced the Fuji X-Pro1 in this case, but since it uses the exact same sensor, the results are essentially identical. I’ve chosen to compare the Fuji to some heavy-hitters such as the Leica M9, Nikon D800E and the Canon 5D Mark II. I believe the resulting images from these RAW images speak for themselves.

Fuij X ISO 6400 RAW

Fuji X ISO 3200 Leica face

Fuji X ISO 6400 face


Fuji X ISO 3200 Leica

Fuji X ISO 200

Fuji X ISO 6400 NEX-7

Fuji X ISO 6400 RAW 2


The newly announced Fuji X100s may have an improved autofocus system that could trickle down to future versions of the X-E1 (and hopefully some aspects may be improved with firmware updates). However, my belief is that you can only compare and obsess over the details and specs for so long before you should simply choose a camera that speaks to you and allows you to capture the images that define your vision and creativity. You’ll never find the perfect camera if you are always waiting for the next upgrade. With the advent of digital cameras, technology simply changes too quickly to ever stay on the cutting edge for long. (cries my Canon 5D2)

If these images prove helpful, I’ll further define my experience with the camera and the subsequent lenses that I’ll pick up in the future. (23mm is next). In the meantime, I’ve also purchased an adapter to use Canon EF lenses on the Fuji X-E1. I’ve already tested it with the 85mm f/1.8 and will shortly try out the 35 f/1.4L and the 135 f/2L (my two fav lenses for full frame) and will post images with these lenses soon.

Cheers from Manila

Stanley Kubrick’s New York: Incredible Photos of Life in the 40s

Stanley Kubrick—who wrote and directed Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange and The Shining—was one of America’s most influential filmmakers. Directors ranging from the Coen Brothers to Tim Burton paid visual homage to his works in their own films, and no less than Steven Spielberg said: “Nobody could shoot a picture better in history.”

In fact Kubrick’s special skill behind the camera and his ability to create visual intrigue were evident long before he was a Hollywood icon.

See the full post on TwistedSifter with many more photos.


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From Chase Jarvis’ blog:

“Robert Rodriguez is a special breed of filmmaker, a breed that we’ll continue to see more and more of as filmmaking technology becomes increasingly accessible and affordable.  The do-it-yourselfers who are so technically savvy that they can oversee and drive every aspect of their production.  Since his first DIY breakout film “El Mariachi”, Robert has been able to maintain total creative control of his films mostly due to one thing:  the dude knows how to stretch a dollar.”

View more on Chase’s blog