For the past several years, manufacturers have repeatedly blamed smartphones as the reason why the camera market has collapsed so spectacularly, and a recent experience made me fully understand this.
Last weekend I attended the Southport skate jam, and because the weather in England is unusually great, I decided to bring my camera: a Canon 5D Mark III. I also brought my friend Paul, who is not a photographer, but he owns a Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra.
It was a great day out and I had a 24-105mm f/4 attached which I sometimes swapped out for a ridiculously wide 8mm fisheye. I moved around quite a bit looking for good angles while my friend Paul mostly stood by our bags.
However, he whipped out his Samsung phone and took some videos, but he also took a picture. In fact, we both got pretty much the same shot of roller skater Kai Simpson performing an incredible stall on a narrow piece of vertical metal.
Simpson was wearing a green T-shit, which contrasted beautifully with the blue sky, and his daredevil antics made for an excellent photo opportunity, one that Paul also noticed.
After the day ended, Paul sent me the photo he took of Simpson and I was blown away. Using the Snapseed app to add some blur and vignette, he had taken a stunning photo that had taken him “a minute or two” to edit.
I was shocked at how good the image was compared to what I was shooting, especially considering I was using a dedicated camera. Sure, his photo had been subject to some artificial intelligence-driven (AI) editing that smartphone photos rely on, but that and the minor Snapseed edit perfectly adjusted shadows and highlights to create an image that had a particularly good dynamic range.
I had exposed the sky and left the shadows dark, which is something I tried to take care of when I ran it through Photoshop and was able to do it after some work.
But that’s just it: Paul had taken a photo that looks incredible, especially when viewed on a phone – where most photos are viewed these days – and it even looks pretty good blown up on a computer screen.
And to reiterate, Paul does not consider himself a photographer.
Looking at what he captured with his phone, I wonder what the point of me bringing my gear was. I might as well have shot it on my phone and saved the trouble of taking the photos with my camera and going through the standard editing process. Could I get a similar picture? Sure, but it would take me a lot longer to get there.
Paul sent me another picture, this time it was actually a screengrab from a video he had taken. In this image, the quality is clearly worse, but what the AI had done with the dynamic range still really impressed me.
Again, I also got a shot of the same scene where I exposed for the sky, and once again the shadow area isn’t great. In fact, the whole picture feels a little flat. Maybe I should have pushed the image more like the AI has done on the Samsung smartphone because apparently that’s what people want.
I know the Galaxy S22 Ultra was helped by the nice weather. Had it been an overcast day or we were shooting at night, I might have easily bested what the smartphone could do by using strobes, which would have elevated my images to a place smartphones can’t quite reach.
I also realize that a 5D Mark III is not the “latest and greatest” iteration of a full-frame camera. But it is still a full-frame camera and I’m sure there are many photographers like me who still use it and cameras like it everyday. The idea that a phone that a non-photographer is capable of taking photos that rival it is incredible.
Given the sunny weather and the hassle of lugging my DSLR around and then later having to edit the images through Photoshop, I can’t shake the feeling that there wouldn’t have been a huge difference in the images if I had used Paul’s phone in instead of.
Looking at how close Paul’s photo is to mine really highlights to me what is going on with the camera industry right now and how we as camera enthusiasts are in just as awkward a position as the companies that make cameras. Point and shoots are dead thanks to how good smartphones have become, proving without a doubt that they are capable of punching way above their weight.
I’m a big fan of owning a full-frame standalone camera, but this experience really shook me. The gap between smartphones and cameras is closing, and I’m not sure we photographers are ready.