Compare cell phone to pro camera

You can’t compare a $3,000 digital SLR to a $500 cell phone from Nokia, can you? Well, look at these two photos. Which one was made with the Canon 5D with a 50mm F1.4 lens and which one was made with a Nokia N82 cell phone?

You can visit my Flickr account to see which camera made which images and you’ll see some other comparison photos and other images that I’ve made with the Nokia N82. Make sure you click on the “All Sizes” option to see the full resolution images to really compare.

Yes, if you look closely the images made with the pro SLR are nicer, but that isn’t the point. The point is that photos made with cell phones are getting to be darn good. The worst photo you’ll ever take is the one you don’t take because you didn’t have your camera with you. I don’t know about you, but only photo geeks like Thomas Hawk take their pro cameras everywhere (he shoots with a Canon 5D). I know I carry my cell phone everywhere, but only have my 5D a small percentage of the time, so I’m far more likely to get a shot of something interesting with my cell phone. Speaking of Thomas, he wrote two great posts yesterday. First is on the 10 things he learned from Ansel Adams. The second is about 12 ways to never miss a photo opportunity.

How does the N82 compare to the older N95? The camera is better and I like the phone overall better with one glaring problem: it doesn’t work with AT&T’s 3G network, so doing video on Qik on the N82 isn’t nearly as nice.

Canon 5D beach shots

Beach shot at sunset with new Nokia N82

Comments

  1. in rare cases, like this, the difference is not notable if you’re going to reproduce them in a sub 500px context. but that’s about it.

    also, megapixels are no longer in the way since they can easily put a lot of megapixels in there, and grain/noise will soon go away too since thats just a technical issue. but optics arent going to dramaticly improve anytime soon.

  2. in rare cases, like this, the difference is not notable if you’re going to reproduce them in a sub 500px context. but that’s about it.

    also, megapixels are no longer in the way since they can easily put a lot of megapixels in there, and grain/noise will soon go away too since thats just a technical issue. but optics arent going to dramaticly improve anytime soon.

  3. I take pictures with both my N95 and a “proper” camera. The Noka is certainly great for snapshots but it’s not great for shots where you want a sharp subject and blurred background. Also my N95 camera just doesn’t startup fast enough, especially when I’m trying to take pix of my kids – blink and the moment is gone.

    Having said that I prefer to take my phone camera when I’m out and about on my bike, just incase I see something I like. It is very handy and the quality is pretty damn good compared to phone cameras of just a couple of years ago.

  4. I take pictures with both my N95 and a “proper” camera. The Noka is certainly great for snapshots but it’s not great for shots where you want a sharp subject and blurred background. Also my N95 camera just doesn’t startup fast enough, especially when I’m trying to take pix of my kids – blink and the moment is gone.

    Having said that I prefer to take my phone camera when I’m out and about on my bike, just incase I see something I like. It is very handy and the quality is pretty damn good compared to phone cameras of just a couple of years ago.

  5. I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head here. Camera phones are fast becoming ‘good enough’. With most photos being displayed on monitors with an average pixel density of less than 2 mega pixels, do we really need 10 or 12 million pixels?

    I run a monthly competition over at Nokia Creative, some of the photos taken with the N95 and N82 are quite simply stunning, check it out…

    http://tinyurl.com/69c6qd

  6. I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head here. Camera phones are fast becoming ‘good enough’. With most photos being displayed on monitors with an average pixel density of less than 2 mega pixels, do we really need 10 or 12 million pixels?

    I run a monthly competition over at Nokia Creative, some of the photos taken with the N95 and N82 are quite simply stunning, check it out…

    http://tinyurl.com/69c6qd

  7. This looks like were past the tipping point of thinking that cell phone photography is a gimmick.

    Also with the phonecam your more likely to be thinking and looking photographically (if that makes any sense) more often, not worrying about capturing the grand subject, but looking at everyday occurrences in an aesthetic way.

    I’d prefer to concentrate on the image, and the thoughts or feelings it might evoke rather than the hardware it took to get there, and you correctly point out that you’re not likely to be lugging around a heavy kit of DSLR gear all the time.

    If you check most photography forums, you see that people with DSLRs are always asking for suggestions for a “always-carry” compact camera. It’s looks like the N82 fits the bill for this purpose. Gotta check it out.

  8. This looks like were past the tipping point of thinking that cell phone photography is a gimmick.

    Also with the phonecam your more likely to be thinking and looking photographically (if that makes any sense) more often, not worrying about capturing the grand subject, but looking at everyday occurrences in an aesthetic way.

    I’d prefer to concentrate on the image, and the thoughts or feelings it might evoke rather than the hardware it took to get there, and you correctly point out that you’re not likely to be lugging around a heavy kit of DSLR gear all the time.

    If you check most photography forums, you see that people with DSLRs are always asking for suggestions for a “always-carry” compact camera. It’s looks like the N82 fits the bill for this purpose. Gotta check it out.

  9. Photography geeks are able to tell right away by the size ratio of the photos. The 5D shoots in 3:2 format, and the Nokia shoots in 4:3 format. Plus, when you mouse over the photos, you get their titles, where you included the camera make… :-)

  10. Photography geeks are able to tell right away by the size ratio of the photos. The 5D shoots in 3:2 format, and the Nokia shoots in 4:3 format. Plus, when you mouse over the photos, you get their titles, where you included the camera make… :-)

  11. Samsung’s recent announcement of 8mp CMOS for cellphones will begin to narrow the gap significantly.
    Your flickr photos are great, particularly the boats. Nice sharpness and at this resolution no loss of detail.
    If Canon doesn’t come out with a successor to the 5D soon, I may have to get a Nokia :)

  12. Samsung’s recent announcement of 8mp CMOS for cellphones will begin to narrow the gap significantly.
    Your flickr photos are great, particularly the boats. Nice sharpness and at this resolution no loss of detail.
    If Canon doesn’t come out with a successor to the 5D soon, I may have to get a Nokia :)

  13. I guessed correctly by the rich colours and contrast quality. Phone cameras will always suffer in darker light because the sensor is so small, not receiving enough light to keep it from becoming grainy. But I must admit, these expensive phones are catching up to dedicated point and shoot cameras. Still not there, but getting close..

  14. I guessed correctly by the rich colours and contrast quality. Phone cameras will always suffer in darker light because the sensor is so small, not receiving enough light to keep it from becoming grainy. But I must admit, these expensive phones are catching up to dedicated point and shoot cameras. Still not there, but getting close..

  15. How about the focus of the 5D was made on the sea so the the beach is under exposed and the Nokia, the focus was made on the beach and then the sea is overexposed… Try at least to shoot in the same condition to compare!

    Though you can clearly see the sharpness and contrast of the 5D is superior, the nokia quality is interesting for Cell pics.

  16. How about the focus of the 5D was made on the sea so the the beach is under exposed and the Nokia, the focus was made on the beach and then the sea is overexposed… Try at least to shoot in the same condition to compare!

    Though you can clearly see the sharpness and contrast of the 5D is superior, the nokia quality is interesting for Cell pics.

  17. One important note that you left out is using your cell phone you actually can get the photo uploaded to Flickr or Facebook faster than using your digital SLR. It’s that convenience and ability to connect content to my network which I find extremely helpful.

  18. One important note that you left out is using your cell phone you actually can get the photo uploaded to Flickr or Facebook faster than using your digital SLR. It’s that convenience and ability to connect content to my network which I find extremely helpful.

  19. Your Nokia still can’t do shallow depth of field when you take that same SLR rig and shoot at f/1.4 in aperture priority.

    What most digital cameras have done for the masses is take “good enough” pictures of landscapes and drunk relatives, and the phone is just an extension of that (and too long in coming too, whlie 99% of other phones still suck).

    Good glass and a big sensor still make a difference for people who are into crafting an image and not just capturing a moment. The fact that you can shoot practically in the dark on the 5D with reasonable noise and an IS lens (the 24-105mm f/4 L is the best lens EVAR) makes it an amazing tool. Pocket sized point-and-shoots are better than they were, but they still can’t do this.

    To jcunwired: Don’t wait for the successor to the 5D. Buy one now and stop missing moments. I did in February and I haven’t looked back!

  20. Your Nokia still can’t do shallow depth of field when you take that same SLR rig and shoot at f/1.4 in aperture priority.

    What most digital cameras have done for the masses is take “good enough” pictures of landscapes and drunk relatives, and the phone is just an extension of that (and too long in coming too, whlie 99% of other phones still suck).

    Good glass and a big sensor still make a difference for people who are into crafting an image and not just capturing a moment. The fact that you can shoot practically in the dark on the 5D with reasonable noise and an IS lens (the 24-105mm f/4 L is the best lens EVAR) makes it an amazing tool. Pocket sized point-and-shoots are better than they were, but they still can’t do this.

    To jcunwired: Don’t wait for the successor to the 5D. Buy one now and stop missing moments. I did in February and I haven’t looked back!

  21. I shoot with a five-frames-per-second digital SLR and fast telephoto lens because that’s what I need to capture birds, deer, and other wildlife. Also, I can perform extreme cropping on an image captured with a digital SLR and still get a smooth, yet sharp, print.

    That said, the image is the thing. And often, the best image from a photoshoot is, technically speaking, the least perfect. So if carrying something like an N82 lets you capture images that you couldn’t otherwise, I’m all for it.

  22. I shoot with a five-frames-per-second digital SLR and fast telephoto lens because that’s what I need to capture birds, deer, and other wildlife. Also, I can perform extreme cropping on an image captured with a digital SLR and still get a smooth, yet sharp, print.

    That said, the image is the thing. And often, the best image from a photoshoot is, technically speaking, the least perfect. So if carrying something like an N82 lets you capture images that you couldn’t otherwise, I’m all for it.

  23. Ditto what Jeff and especially Paul said – a good example of high-speed capture at long distance can be seen here:
    http://www.komar.org/faq/dog-versus-coyote/

    Will be a lonnggg time before Cell Phones can do that. Have said that, they certainly do serve a purpose and impressive how good they are getting … plus often times, a so-so picture is better than no picture.

  24. Ditto what Jeff and especially Paul said – a good example of high-speed capture at long distance can be seen here:
    http://www.komar.org/faq/dog-versus-coyote/

    Will be a lonnggg time before Cell Phones can do that. Have said that, they certainly do serve a purpose and impressive how good they are getting … plus often times, a so-so picture is better than no picture.

  25. Second time lucky? I was saying, I’ve been agonizing over this very issue… the cellphone is always with me, a serious advantage I put to frequent use, but apart from the quality difference (mostly related to blur on my older phone), there is the unique user experience of an SLR – digital or not. You see what you’re shooting, you can tweak it with instant responsiveness, you are in real control… Nothing else comes even close in sheer enjoyment and usability.

    Now if they figured a way to make an SLR that would fit in a cellphone ;-)

  26. Second time lucky? I was saying, I’ve been agonizing over this very issue… the cellphone is always with me, a serious advantage I put to frequent use, but apart from the quality difference (mostly related to blur on my older phone), there is the unique user experience of an SLR – digital or not. You see what you’re shooting, you can tweak it with instant responsiveness, you are in real control… Nothing else comes even close in sheer enjoyment and usability.

    Now if they figured a way to make an SLR that would fit in a cellphone ;-)

  27. You make a good point and I agree. Unless you are a professional, I don’t see the point of SLR cameras. Compact cameras, and even cell phone cameras have all the megapixels you will ever need and are much more efficient to carry. Maybe some people just like to be traditional and carry a heavy camera with a big lens around their neck so they look like some type of professional photo journalist.

  28. You make a good point and I agree. Unless you are a professional, I don’t see the point of SLR cameras. Compact cameras, and even cell phone cameras have all the megapixels you will ever need and are much more efficient to carry. Maybe some people just like to be traditional and carry a heavy camera with a big lens around their neck so they look like some type of professional photo journalist.

  29. Good point – I am not very into taking pictures, but a couple of years ago when I got my 3.2 mp Sony Ericsson K800i, I started taking a lot of pictures. The quality was very good and I enjoyed using the phone to take pictures.

    I then heard of the big brother of the K800i – the 5 mp Sony Ericsson K850i. I got that, and instantly stopped taking pictures. The pictures are so poor because it is next to impossible for your hand not to interfere with the sensors (and thus get a black picture). Furthermore the user interface is so poor and the phone’s reaction time is awful. Don’t expect a picture to be taken more than 1 out of 5 times when you press the button. Next to that the voice quality is terrible.

    I now use my blackberry 8800 with no camera- I will start taking pictures again when either apple or rim bring out a phone with 3+ mp. I rate data communication over picture quality…

  30. Good point – I am not very into taking pictures, but a couple of years ago when I got my 3.2 mp Sony Ericsson K800i, I started taking a lot of pictures. The quality was very good and I enjoyed using the phone to take pictures.

    I then heard of the big brother of the K800i – the 5 mp Sony Ericsson K850i. I got that, and instantly stopped taking pictures. The pictures are so poor because it is next to impossible for your hand not to interfere with the sensors (and thus get a black picture). Furthermore the user interface is so poor and the phone’s reaction time is awful. Don’t expect a picture to be taken more than 1 out of 5 times when you press the button. Next to that the voice quality is terrible.

    I now use my blackberry 8800 with no camera- I will start taking pictures again when either apple or rim bring out a phone with 3+ mp. I rate data communication over picture quality…

  31. Re Greg’s comment: I often use a “heavy camera with a big lens”, not because I’m a professional or because I want to look like one. I do it because it’s the tool that gives me the image quality I want — and after 25 years of amateur photography, image quality is something that has become very important to me. If a cell phone could deliver the same quality, believe me, I’d be the first in line to get one. Mind you, the way technology is progressing, I might not have to wait long!

  32. Re Greg’s comment: I often use a “heavy camera with a big lens”, not because I’m a professional or because I want to look like one. I do it because it’s the tool that gives me the image quality I want — and after 25 years of amateur photography, image quality is something that has become very important to me. If a cell phone could deliver the same quality, believe me, I’d be the first in line to get one. Mind you, the way technology is progressing, I might not have to wait long!

  33. I guessed right away based off zoom. I agree with most of what everyone said and fall into the “take shots of drunk relatives and friends” category. Of course, if they’re drunk I usually record a movie of them dancing to songs I’m playing on my N95-4 at the same time.

    I have yet to see a DSLR that can entice drunk people to dance and then record a video of their admirable attempts, so as a feature-creep addict I gotta go with any good converged device over a device that’s outstanding at one thing (taking pics).

  34. I guessed right away based off zoom. I agree with most of what everyone said and fall into the “take shots of drunk relatives and friends” category. Of course, if they’re drunk I usually record a movie of them dancing to songs I’m playing on my N95-4 at the same time.

    I have yet to see a DSLR that can entice drunk people to dance and then record a video of their admirable attempts, so as a feature-creep addict I gotta go with any good converged device over a device that’s outstanding at one thing (taking pics).

  35. Robert Clark did a journey around USA just with a cellphone camera doing very good shots.
    Also I’ve heard a lot of photojournalists are dropping SLRs for compacts (especially olympus ones).

    I still believe an SLR it’s the best way to learn photography and so it’s the road I’ve taken. Then, later, you can probably sometime decide that the big camera it’s not the right tool for the job. But then, you’ll know a bit more about lights, framing, etc

  36. Robert Clark did a journey around USA just with a cellphone camera doing very good shots.
    Also I’ve heard a lot of photojournalists are dropping SLRs for compacts (especially olympus ones).

    I still believe an SLR it’s the best way to learn photography and so it’s the road I’ve taken. Then, later, you can probably sometime decide that the big camera it’s not the right tool for the job. But then, you’ll know a bit more about lights, framing, etc

  37. I have always taken good photos, but when I got my sony walkman cell phone, with 2mp I was getting extraordinary pictures. I have alway been told I have a good eye, but I never pursued it until these photos. I went from starting to get info in August 2007 to having my 1st show in April 2008. I also had an executive producer of a bigger gallery contact me during that show.

    I think that I finally found an area that is worth getting into with my photography.

  38. I have always taken good photos, but when I got my sony walkman cell phone, with 2mp I was getting extraordinary pictures. I have alway been told I have a good eye, but I never pursued it until these photos. I went from starting to get info in August 2007 to having my 1st show in April 2008. I also had an executive producer of a bigger gallery contact me during that show.

    I think that I finally found an area that is worth getting into with my photography.

  39. I have always taken good photos, but when I got my sony walkman cell phone, with 2mp I was getting extraordinary pictures. I went from starting to get into photography in august 2007, to having my 1st show in April 2008.

    Yes they are only 8×10 size, but they are unabelievable.

  40. I have always taken good photos, but when I got my sony walkman cell phone, with 2mp I was getting extraordinary pictures. I went from starting to get into photography in august 2007, to having my 1st show in April 2008.

    Yes they are only 8×10 size, but they are unabelievable.

  41. Yes, the Canon 5D is now obsolete.

    Since it’s a bit too big to be practical for use as a paperweight, I suggest that 5D owners consider donating theirs to a worthy charity (namely me).

    Seriously though, resolution is not the most important factor when capturing images. The N82 has blown out a tremendous amount of the highlight detail. At first glance it looks like it simply used a brighter exposure, but looking at the higher resolution files reveals that it loses shadow detail in the same places where the 5D does, it simply doesn’t ahve the range to also capture highlight details. The N82 appears to have a dynamic range of about 4-5 stops of light vs. 8-9 for the 5D and vs. the 13 stops that your eye can discern.

    The N82 has trouble with color tones too, due to the JPEG format’s 8 bit color. Current DSLRs have 14 bit processing, resolving 16,000 shades of red, green and blue vs. 256 in a JPEG file. That’s 64X more color available to provide subtle transitions in a sunset, or even a blue sky.

    In short, the N82 won’t be producing images like these any time soon:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/23183960@N00/sets/72157603822583160/

  42. Yes, the Canon 5D is now obsolete.

    Since it’s a bit too big to be practical for use as a paperweight, I suggest that 5D owners consider donating theirs to a worthy charity (namely me).

    Seriously though, resolution is not the most important factor when capturing images. The N82 has blown out a tremendous amount of the highlight detail. At first glance it looks like it simply used a brighter exposure, but looking at the higher resolution files reveals that it loses shadow detail in the same places where the 5D does, it simply doesn’t ahve the range to also capture highlight details. The N82 appears to have a dynamic range of about 4-5 stops of light vs. 8-9 for the 5D and vs. the 13 stops that your eye can discern.

    The N82 has trouble with color tones too, due to the JPEG format’s 8 bit color. Current DSLRs have 14 bit processing, resolving 16,000 shades of red, green and blue vs. 256 in a JPEG file. That’s 64X more color available to provide subtle transitions in a sunset, or even a blue sky.

    In short, the N82 won’t be producing images like these any time soon:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/23183960@N00/sets/72157603822583160/

  43. This is not a fair test.Obviously the nokia n82′s exposure value has been increased thats why its images looked washed.My nokia n82 takes far better pictures than that.And for the canon 5D,you used the optical zoom and less light entered the lens thus it makes the images look higher in contrast.Do try and create another comparison.

  44. This is not a fair test.Obviously the nokia n82′s exposure value has been increased thats why its images looked washed.My nokia n82 takes far better pictures than that.And for the canon 5D,you used the optical zoom and less light entered the lens thus it makes the images look higher in contrast.Do try and create another comparison.

  45. Can someone give me an idea whether or not I should go for a smart phone or just use a more stylish phone and wait for some better technology? I am on the Sprint network, and was referred to http://www.sanyowireless.com, but I’m not seeing any options that look like smart phones. I don’t need an MP3 player or a camera, I’d rather have a phone that is lighter and easier to carry. Any recommendations would be welcome.

  46. Can someone give me an idea whether or not I should go for a smart phone or just use a more stylish phone and wait for some better technology? I am on the Sprint network, and was referred to http://www.sanyowireless.com, but I’m not seeing any options that look like smart phones. I don’t need an MP3 player or a camera, I’d rather have a phone that is lighter and easier to carry. Any recommendations would be welcome.

  47. Well, the problem with the N82 and N95 is that their JPG compression overcompresses (and no setting to change it) creating lots of blurriness in places with a lot of detail. Take a picture of a field of grass or trees at a little distance and you’ll know what I mean. It’d only take a firmware update to fix that, but I figure with the N85 coming out soon, Nokia doesn’t really care.

  48. Well, the problem with the N82 and N95 is that their JPG compression overcompresses (and no setting to change it) creating lots of blurriness in places with a lot of detail. Take a picture of a field of grass or trees at a little distance and you’ll know what I mean. It’d only take a firmware update to fix that, but I figure with the N85 coming out soon, Nokia doesn’t really care.

  49. A common misconception: more megapixels = better camera. Do your research. It’s not about megapixels, it’s about censor size. We have the technology to pack 5 million pixels (or photodiodes; the things that sense the light) on a tiny censor the size of your fingernail, but even with a Carl Ziess lens, the image is not as good. Why? Because the image censor is TOO SMALL. As the photodiodes get smaller and smaller, the more errors you get: hot pixels, noise, etc. Our ability miniaturize is not perfect.

    The second thing you need to consider is the physics of the thing. The lens has to be positioned a certain distance from the censor to focus properly. With everyone demanding smaller and smaller phones/cameras, we don’t have the ability to stick bigger censors in them because we’d need a bigger lens and body. This is why cell phone cameras will never be as good as true DSLRs. The cameras are big for a reason: physics demands it.

    Here’s a good article to read if you want to know about censor size and how it affects image quality, lens and body size: http://luxars.com/index.php?http%3A//luxars.com/matrix/articles/sensorsizes/index.html

  50. A common misconception: more megapixels = better camera. Do your research. It’s not about megapixels, it’s about censor size. We have the technology to pack 5 million pixels (or photodiodes; the things that sense the light) on a tiny censor the size of your fingernail, but even with a Carl Ziess lens, the image is not as good. Why? Because the image censor is TOO SMALL. As the photodiodes get smaller and smaller, the more errors you get: hot pixels, noise, etc. Our ability miniaturize is not perfect.

    The second thing you need to consider is the physics of the thing. The lens has to be positioned a certain distance from the censor to focus properly. With everyone demanding smaller and smaller phones/cameras, we don’t have the ability to stick bigger censors in them because we’d need a bigger lens and body. This is why cell phone cameras will never be as good as true DSLRs. The cameras are big for a reason: physics demands it.

    Here’s a good article to read if you want to know about censor size and how it affects image quality, lens and body size: http://luxars.com/index.php?http%3A//luxars.com/matrix/articles/sensorsizes/index.html