Point-and-shoot camera series: comparing to phone & DSLR photos

by lisacng / 43 comments / Read comments or add one!

Comparing point-and-shoot to phone & DSLR photos |

Hope everyone is feeling healthy. We DC metro-ers got our first real snow of winter spring. Yes, it came on Monday, at the end of March, but I was excited nonetheless. Too bad our 2.5-yr (J) and I were both too sick to go outside and enjoy the fluffy white stuff. Boo! Oh well. Guess there’s always next winter spring. Oh, and we’re feeling better :).

Today I want to compare photos taken with my Canon Elph (similar current version) point and shoot (P & S), iPhone 4S, and Canon EOS Rebel T1i DSLR with a 50 mm f/1.8 lens. I’ll talk about some of the advantages and disadvantages of shooting with each. If you missed it, in the first post in the “P & S series”, I introduced features of my P & S and shared Japan photos all taken with my P & S. Thanks for all of your kind words on those photos!

Shooting indoors

The only successful shot I took indoors with my P & S was of our new Beta fish. The light above the tank really helped. All other photos taken indoors with my P & S were blurry, as you’ll see later.

You’ll notice that both the P & S and DSLR captured bokeh, or blurry areas, whereas the iPhone captured everything in-focus. Nevertheless, in my opinion, I think that the photo from the iPhone is the crispest of them all. The colors also seem more vibrant from the iPhone. These differences are more apparent when the photos are larger.

As I mentioned already, all other photos taken indoors with my P & S were blurry because the camera doesn’t have a “shutter priority” to freeze motion. See how parts of J’s face are blurred?

Point and shoot example - no motion allowed

Even this photo, where J is standing relatively still, is blurry.
Favorites from point and shoot - shadow

Conclusion: For shooting any action indoors (low-light), the iPhone and DSLR beat the P & S.

The close-up

These are successful indoor photos because J’s slippers did not move. The photos taken with the P & S and iPhone are similar, except that the iPhone photo, again, seems crisper and bolder than the P & S. This could certainly be attributed to the age of the P & S (over 7 years old) and the fact I haven’t cleaned the lens in over 7 years. In contrast to the fish photos above, only the photo of the slippers taken with the DSLR has bokeh.

The following photos show how close you can shoot with the P & S, iPhone, and DSLR with 50 mm lens. The iPhone gets the closest. Second is the P & S, shot with the digital macro feature, and the 50 mm is the farthest. Of course, if I had an expensive macro lens on the DSLR, I could have gotten much closer.

Conclusion: For shooting really close-ups, the iPhone beats the P & S and is an affordable alternative to an expensive macro lens for a DSLR.

Wide shots

Standing at the same spot, the P & S and iPhone take the same photo. You can see the entire tree in the photos below. Standing at the same spot, the DSLR with a 50 mm lens takes a tighter shot and much of the tree is cropped-out.

Conclusion: Standing at the same spot, you’ll get the widest shot with the P & S and iPhone. You’d have to take many steps backwards to get the same shot with the DSLR 50 mm lens. Of course, you could switch DSLR lenses.

Overall conclusions

Personally, I wouldn’t choose to shoot with my P & S after comparing the photos with my iPhone. Shooting with both actually gave me a deeper appreciation of my iPhone, haha. That said, I wouldn’t give up the control I have with my DSLR and also the bokeh. And that said, not being able to rely on DSLR bokeh, shooting with my P & S and iPhone forced me to try to take photos with other visual interest. Not sure I succeeded since I only have one other P & S shot. I think it’s interesting because of J’s curious expression.

Can a two-post series still be called a series? Haha. I had higher hopes for this series, but just couldn’t find my groove with my P & S, as I did in Japan. Also, I now focus my picture-taking of my son, and as I learned this month, the P & S isn’t great in low-light conditions (i.e., inside our house where we’ve been stuck since it’s been cold) and capturing action (i.e., a toddler who moves a lot).

What do you shoot with?


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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle March 27, 2013 at 9:43 am

Love the picture of J at the inlet. Juliet has to do that for every inlet we see. She wants to see the water. #lifewithengineerparentproblems (did I hashtag right? I’m a dork)


lisacng @ March 27, 2013 at 10:24 am

You hashtagged right! Go girl. So in-touch with social media ;).


Zi @ March 27, 2013 at 10:49 am

I love your comparisons of the same picture with all the different cameras, definitely the engineer in you =)
Too bad I don’t have an iphone because those pictures are really nice! We usually use our P&S to take videos of the kids because the video sizes are just too big from the DSLR.


Angie Mizzell March 27, 2013 at 11:28 am

I also appreciate the comparisons. I ditched my point and shoot a while ago, because most of the shots of my moving kids were blurry, or they had completely walked out of frame. But with THAT said 🙂 I really loved the p & s version of the fish! I really want to learn how to get my DSLR out of automatic mode. I use my phone camera when I’m out and about and I know I’ll want to share the photo on social media. In a perfect world, I have both with me at all times. When I need simplicity, I’m usually happy with my phone shots.


Anika March 27, 2013 at 11:39 am

Great comparisons!!!! I take LOTS of pics with my iPhone – since I have it with me ALL THE TIME. I need to take my DSLR with me more often.. and this also gives me inspiration to pull the old P&S out of the bag too. It’s a lot easier to take with than the big DSLR, too. The warm weather and longer days will definitely help me with all of the above. 🙂


Alan March 27, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Hmm… the comparisons might not be necessarily fair and square in all cases in my opinion. Let talk about megapixel at first. P&S = 4MB, iPhone4S = 8MB and the DSLR is 18+ MB. So just that alone the DSLR should win by default on resolution and picture clarity.

Next, lets take your fish tank photos as an example. I think you might be able to do just as good, if not better picture with the DSLR if you switch your option to “frame” (green rectangle) instead of aperature priority. When it is in aperature priority, two things happened:
1. Your shutter speed is limited (and depended by your f stop)
2. The light will now determined by the focal point of your camera

For shooting indoor with a P&S, unfortunately you don’t have many options compared to a DSLR. If I remember correctly, the shutter speed of the P&S is determined by the camera itself. i.e. low light situation, longer shutter speed. So to compensate it, you need to “trick” the camera by turning on the flash, which will shorten the shutter speed. Or you’ll have to try using a tripod (or set it to 2 sec delay) to avoid the movement of the camera when the shutter button is pressed.

All in all, a P&S isn’t that bad and I feel it should deserve some props, it’s suitable for taking short-mid range non-protrait style photography and its definitely more convenient to carry around then a DSLR.


Oh to Be a Muse March 27, 2013 at 2:16 pm

I like the iPhone photo of the fish and the p&s did a good job with the wide shot outside, but I love the bokeh that’s provided by the DSLR.

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Devon March 27, 2013 at 3:18 pm

This is really interesting. The iphone photos really have nice color and are typically better or the same quality as the P&S. I use my iphone when I don’t want to lug around the DSLR. The iphone is a suitable replacement as long as the lighting is good. I don’t even consider taking out my iphone for low light or night time shots. Red eye, blurry, grainy. Bleh. Have you experienced this, too?


lisacng @ March 28, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Hi Devon! I completely agree that under low light or night time shots, the iPhone takes pretty grainy shots. I guess one could use a self-timer and stable surface if you wanted a sharp photo at night, but I’m too lazy ;). I would say red eye is only an issue if the flash is on.


Nilsa @ SoMi Speaks March 27, 2013 at 4:12 pm

I wonder if newer point & shoot cameras are more compatible with the iPhone in terms of quality of photos?

Also, did you know that your 50mm lens really acts like an 80mm lens? Have we had this discussion before? My wedding photographer schooled me a bit on this a few weeks ago. Full frame cameras versus ones that crop (I think that’s the right terminology). If I had known that, I probably would’ve opted for a 35mm fixed distance lens, rather than a 50mm one.


lisacng @ March 28, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Hi Nilsa! I’m sure that the age of my P & S has something to do with it. Also, technology has changed so much since I got that camera 7 years ago.

As for the 50 mm “acting” like a 85mm, yep, I knew. We never talked about it. But you’re right, our entry-level DSLRs have cropped sensors on them (I think the ratio is 1.6) so that the focal length feels longer than it actually is. Personally, I wouldn’t have bought the 35 mm right off the bat because the 50 mm is just so affordable and has been a great “practice” lens for the last year or so. That said, I am in the market for a zoom lens that is in the 15 mm to 85 mm range.


Mandi March 27, 2013 at 4:29 pm

I love how you show the same picture with different cameras. Cool idea! I shoot with an iPhone. 🙂 But I would love a REAL camera.


Henry March 27, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Are the pictures of J’s slippers the same slipper? I don’t know if it’s just me, but the colors on all three pictures look different!! Hrmm .. I might be getting old~ LoL .. btw, your beta fish looks lonely .. you should buy another one to keep it company!! kekekeke


lisacng @ March 28, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Hi Henry! Your eyes are fine. The colors will come out differently between the 3 photos because each sensor is different and also how the camera process the image will be different. You know you can only keep one beta fish in a tank at a time. Otherwise, they just fight!


Nothing on my mind May 17, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Don’t worry you’re just fine! The reason for the different color comes down to the quality of the cameras as well as white balance, dynamic range, and latitude. With post-process color correction it is possible to get the colors closer. As for the loss in detail, well, there isn’t much you can do since the dslr performs like, well, a dslr!


lisacng May 17, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Agree, the quality of the camera has everything to do with it :). Certainly could change the outcome post-processing! Thanks for reading!


Aki! March 27, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Really awesome post. I actually made the unofficial switch to taking photos with my Iphone over my point and shoot a while ago. I always carry my phone, but the P&S is extra. Also, the phone seemed to get better pictures than the point and shoot, especially in low light situations. It’s nice to see that my feelings are face and confirmed though.

On top of it all, my P&S is a few years old and my iphone shoots better video with it.


Always Maylee March 27, 2013 at 8:35 pm

We pretty much never use our P&S anymore. It just doesn’t compare. Although, my iphone camera never seems to take photos as crisp as yours. I think it’s mostly because I have shaky hands.. unless there is a secret that I’m missing!?

xo, Yi-chia
Always Maylee


lisacng @ March 28, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Hi Yi-chia, You’re so nice about the crisp phone photos! I don’t think you’re shaky. You probably just need more light!


Stephanie March 27, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Interesting and informative post, Lisa! I love my iPhone camera and this makes me love it even more. I rarely use our P&S anymore… I always have my iPhone with me so it gets used the most by default, and when I’m at home I use my DSLR. Love those blue slippers… so cute!


Sandra March 27, 2013 at 11:43 pm

I don’t know that much about cameras and their functions, so I found this post very helpful, and makes me glad that I now own an iPhone! I love my cameraphone! I do find that our P&S works better than the iPhone in some situations, though, such as when there are moving objects (children) and lower light. It’s interesting that the colors came out all differently! I do like the iPhone color the best in your samples. Thanks to my phone, I take way too many photos for my own and computer’s good. 🙂


Jane Yoo March 28, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Wow. Really informative post! I mostly shoot with my canon 7d but sometimes i’ll take my rebel xsi. my iphone doesn’t focus right and slow to load. it’s really frustrating sometimes. i think it’s just really old. lol. i do have a canon powershot as well but i don’t take much pictures with it even though i make sure to carry it around me everywhere. i guess the phone is just too convenient – being able to share right away, etc.


sewpetitegal April 1, 2013 at 2:18 am

I hope you and J are feeling better! It’s no fun to be sick especially when the weather (I hear) is finally starting to warm up out east. Fantastic post – love how you organized everything and now I don’t even have to experiment myself – I’ll just refer here for the situation, use that camera, and move forward 🙂


3guys1movie April 1, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Cool post, At this point I find myself mostly using my Iphone to take pics with. It is so much easier to grab spur of the moment shots. If I am planning ahead I will use my Nikon Coolpix L120.


3guys1movie April 1, 2013 at 2:05 pm

I posted this on Reddit for you


Sam @ Thrive 360 Living April 2, 2013 at 12:22 am

So cool to see the picture comparisons. I pretty much always use my iphone for taking pics of my son Jake. The biggest reason is because I can easily pull it out of my back pocket while at the park or on the go. With 2-year olds as you know, you have to think fast to capture the moment. I only use my “borrowed” DSLR for shooting blog pics. I have no clue how to use it but auto seems to be my friend :). I think you need to do a series on taking pics of kids on the go. I love that last photo!


Tania April 8, 2013 at 6:05 pm

I think there are some really good p&s out there but they aren’t cheap. Some photographer friends I know have at least one that they use when traveling. Has manual settings and they don’t want to carry all their gear.

I bought a new p&s (cheap) with manual settings recently and was very disappointed. The white balance on the body viewer looked much brighter than it really was so I was ending up with shots that were too brown once I loaded the card into my laptop. I gave it to my dad since he’ll shoot mainly outdoors (& isn’t loading his shots on a blog I might add!).

I agree about the iPhone, it is more than adequate for on the go shots. I just received my ollo clip. It is a set of three lens for the iPhone (that clips together as one unit for easy carrying). It has a macro, fish-eye and wide angle lens and is about $50. My friend who is an artist and had his iPhone shots featured in galleries (for real!) offered to give me a tutorial in iPhoneography and that’s what he uses.


Tania April 8, 2013 at 6:06 pm

OOOH, I forgot to mention I’m dying over the black and white walking shot of J. I so wish I had a little muse. I love that shot.


rooth April 9, 2013 at 12:16 am

That picture of J looking at the grate is TOO cute. And thanks for doing the compare / contrast for us. My sis is looking at getting a ‘real’ camera but it looks like her iPhone can do a pretty bang up job if she knows how to use it


Jessica May 6, 2013 at 12:41 am

such a great post! I love my DSLR but always wanted to see the comparison!


lisacng @ May 6, 2013 at 9:14 am

Hi Jessica, Yep, I’m STILL in love with my DSLR and wouldn’t trade it for the world, but it’s good to know that the iPhone ain’t so bad when that’s all ya got. Thanks for leaving comment love!


Kev June 20, 2013 at 6:25 pm

There is a saying which applies here. ” A little knowledge can be dangerous ” . You need to stop spreading these subjective posts as facts. There are so many factual errors with your post that I can’t even begin to comment on it. Please just look up any real photography sites and learn about mega pixels, relation between shutter and aperture, depth of field, cropping, in camera settings, camera sensors. There is no way an iPhone can take better pictures than a real dslr or a decent brand name point and shoot camera.


lisacng June 21, 2013 at 9:07 am

Hi Kev, Thanks for your honest critique of my post. You are right, there are A LOT of aspects of a camera that go into making a photo (besides a great photographer) and I did not point them out in the post. Also, point and shoots are getting better and better, as are cell phone cameras. As for my point about iPhone being better, it is strictly for my case only since my point and shoot is almost 10 yrs old and my phone is only 2 yrs old. Thanks again for the feedback!


Jonathen June 24, 2013 at 8:35 pm

This is stupid. You clearly do not now how to use a camera. I am appalled by this comparison.


lisacng @ June 25, 2013 at 8:57 am

Hi Jonathen, Thank you for the criticism. Please share with me any articles that could teach me how to use a camera appropriately.


Kelly June 25, 2013 at 11:13 am

Thank you for this comparison! I just sold my DSLR as I rarely used it because I hated dragging the huge bag along everywhere. I instead got a new P&S camera and was very disappointed in the photo quality. I knew I wasn’t going to get DSLR quality, but was thinking it would at least be better than my iPhone. Well I was wrong and after searching google to see if I was the only one w/this opinion I found your blog. For the price I spent on a P&S (almost $200) it was totally not worth it! Luckily Amazon has a great return policy so I guess I’ll be sticking to my iPhone until I have a need for another DSLR!


lisacng @ June 25, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Hi Kelly! Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I commend you for knowing your needs when it comes to cameras. I’m so sorry that the point and shoot you bought didn’t work out for you. I hope you find a great replacement (or go back to a DSLR). Until then, the phone is fine by me too. Good luck and keep shooting!


Amy of while wearing heels June 27, 2013 at 9:48 pm

How did I miss this post? I appreciated your comparison. I have all 3 cameras BUT I’ve never used my i phone to take pictures I consider capture worthy. I might just have to attempt to use my i phone a bit more. I didn’t give it enough credit before.


lisacng June 28, 2013 at 11:09 am

Hi Amy! Tks for going back to read this post and commenting! I agree that photos from the phone aren’t “capture worthy” and I usually only use those photos for Instagram. Nevertheless, if it’s what you got or you want to take a a close up or landscape, the phone ain’t bad.


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