We talked about this many times before, but a few days ago I chanced upon a Flickr discussion where members were discoursing (again!) about weaknesses and merits of mobile cameras vs DSLR cameras. There were especially a couple of members negative about using mobile cameras in most instances. One of them said, “I never use my iPhone camera to take pictures, unless I want to take a random snapshot to share with my family. Because let’s admit it, the final quality of iPhone photos is pretty bad.” The other’s comment was along the same lines, “While you folks take badly lit pictures at concerts, with my DSLR I always take great images of which I will be proud also in a few years from now.” I was kind of bothered by such preposterous statements, not because I am a mobile shooter — I am a DSLR shooter as well — but because the whole notion that you need to compare things all the time is frankly annoying and devoid of any sense of imagination and actual understanding of photography as a form of expression.
So yes, a DSLR is a sophisticated camera that lets you perform all sorts of incredible tricks of photographic virtuosity by controlling all those fancy settings — the various aperture, shutter speed and ISO, and all that jazz. We can all agree on that. On the other hand, you cannot be serious or well-informed about how photography really works if you expect to take the same photo with a DSLR and a mobile camera. But you know what? Every camera is different and will let you make different pictures. There are always aspects you need to consider when bringing the right camera with you and there are things that a mobile camera can still do better than a DSLR. Here are some examples.
- Simplicity – A mobile camera is very simple to handle. You have just about the reasonable degree of freedom to muddle with controls, but you do not have to be concerned with switching from a lens to the other or be as detail-obsessed as perfection dictates. You can spend more time on composition and on finding the right idea. The shooter next to you, the one with the DSLR, is fumbling with his knobs and levers and trying to get a technically correct picture at all costs, while you are thinking about getting as close as you can to your idea and for the rest you are just tapping on a button and having a good time. How can you beat that?
- Discretion – Waving a huge camera at someone who is not your model is not the best way to make them feel comfortable. Also, there are times when a big camera can be distracting for people around you and disrupt a special atmosphere, ruining the mood of the moment — unless you are one of those rare photographers who can be quick, discreet and efficient in any situation, that is. A mobile camera — OK, not an iPad’s perhaps — will be a minimal hindrance in these cases.
- Immediacy – You and your friend with a DSLR go out together; both of you take dozens of pictures, then part ways and go home. While your friend with the DSLR will be home with the sole company of his massive RAW files in need of editing for hours, you will be out sipping Bloody Marys and perhaps shooting more.
- Connectivity – Let’s assume you are at a concert, like Dude in above statement no. 2 envisioned. You take a photo of your favorite band and you immediately make your friend X, who is also a fan of the same band and living on Easter Island (not really, but you got the point), part of the experience. The guy with the DSLR is also totally immersed in the music; not only that, he is also taking the greatest shot ever! However, before he will be able to show it to anybody, all the excitement will have worn off. Even if you are a professional and care about the technical side of things, there are times when you want to stay in touch with your follower base and to visually inform them timely. A mobile camera will let you document an event in real time when needed.
- Flexibility – This kind of sums all of the above up, but it is also about much more. It’s about enjoying a workflow that allows you to shoot, edit and print anywhere, anytime. It’s about taking your pictures, and with them your complete set of favorite tools, with you wherever you go. It’s about being able to know right away your actual place and choices when taking a picture, to move around without being encumbered by items you do not really need and about talking vision instead of equipment.
Every single camera has limitations. Not necessarily technical limitations like file size and poor noise handling are worse than others. It all depends on how you intend to use the camera and what the photo you create with it should communicate; you know, you are the one in charge, not the manufacturer who made the best camera on the market. You are the photographer: in order to make photographs you first have to make decisions and creating is also a matter of being brave enough to cut out superfluous possibilities. Limitation can be freedom, it’s not that hard to understand why. The clever photographer knows that limitations can be used to an advantage and knows how to make the most of them creatively. The geek photographer instead is thinking too much about why his camera is better than yours and rather than being creative with his instruments, he is taking forgettable pictures with perfect exposure and great resolution.