December 4, 2022


Capturing Magic Moments

iPhone versus DSLR: The ultimate practical test

7 min read

Every year mobile camera technology improves, and every year I see more articles comparing phones to professional cameras. I decided to do my own comprehensive test to finally decide which device is better, the phone or the DSLR.

It’s fair to say that cell phone cameras have become very impressive imaging devices. Modern phones produce high quality images and often use computational photography to compensate for the relatively small sensor sizes. As phone cameras and image processing software improve, every year I see more and more articles comparing cell phones to dedicated cameras, either to prove that cell phones are now superior to dedicated cameras, or to prove that small sensors never can match the performance of a full-frame imaging device. Regardless of the conclusion in the articles, there is always a disagreement in the comments as to whether anyone would be interested in pixel peeping or whether you would have trouble getting a sharp, large picture out of a cellphone recording.

I decided to conduct an exhaustive series of real-world tests to definitively determine which device is superior: the cellphone or the DSLR.

For my testing, I use my own devices, an iPhone 12 Pro Max with a 12-megapixel sensor and a Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR with a 30.1-megapixel full-frame sensor. And that’s all the specs I’m going to compare as this is a real world use test.


First of all, what do the pictures look like? I was very impressed with the photo quality of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, but the files just don’t have the same level of information for highlight and shadow recovery.

Here are two different images taken with the DSLR:

Both images were captured in relatively low light and show how well the full-frame sensor handles images captured at high ISO. The second image also used an off-camera flash, which I struggled to work efficiently with the iPhone. So far, the DSLR has got off to a strong start.

Here are two different images taken with the iPhone:

The first image shows an excellent feature of the iPhone and that is the front-facing selfie camera. Although the image is a bit muddy due to the low light and small sensor combo, being able to easily take selfies with the 6.7-inch screen is incredibly handy. Many modern cameras, especially mirrorless cameras, have moving screens that allow for unnecessary selfies to be captured with cameras that cost thousands of dollars. The second picture was taken last summer at a picnic by the river at sunset. The light available allowed for a fast enough shutter speed to capture sufficiently sharp images of the birds in flight.

The competition is tough: the DSLR produces large, detailed raw files that leave a lot of leeway in post-processing. The iPhone, on the other hand, produces perfectly acceptable images for posting on social media, with often only marginal losses in quality due to filters and in-phone image processing.

Winner: DSLR


This one seems like a no-brainer. The iPhone fits in my pocket: it is 7.4 mm thick and weighs 228 g. The 5D Mark IV is 75.9mm thick and weighs 800g without the lens attached! I very rarely leave the house without my iPhone, but I do need to specially pack the DSLR and a lens or two in a bag, charge batteries, and format cards before use.

It’s often said that the best camera is the camera you have with you, and I usually have my phone with me.

Winner: iPhone


The iPhone features 5G connectivity, as well as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, which are easy to set up using a simple touchscreen menu system. The 5D Mark IV also has Wi-Fi support for file transfers, but unfortunately there’s no browser to read the news or check your email on the 3.2-inch touchscreen.

Winner: iPhone

app support

The iPhone comes pre-installed with the Apple App Store, giving access to thousands of third-party apps for immediate download. Unfortunately, the Canon DSLR does not have an integrated app store. I was able to download software updates as well as third party firmware like Magic Lantern, but these required using a computer to save files to an SD card and use them in the camera.

Winner: iPhone

ergonomics and appearance

It is fair to say that the iPhone was designed for photography while the DSLR was mainly designed for photography. The DSLR has all the controls at my fingertips that I need to change the exposure and adjust the image I want to capture. However, it is not difficult to take a photo or control the imaging on the iPhone. It just doesn’t feel like it was built with photography as its primary function. The DSLR also looks a lot more like a camera than the plain glass top of the iPhone. In professional shoots, the client generally expects the photographer to arrive with a special camera. You’re likely to impress your customers a lot more if you have a camera instead of just using a cell phone.

Winner: DSLR

Now for the real world tests. I went with these real world situations that I regularly encounter using these devices to finally decide which is better.

portrait painting

Despite having a portrait mode on the iPhone, the artificially blurred backgrounds and lighting effects just don’t match a large sensor with a proper portrait lens. While the iPhone is a bit easier to set up and shoot, the DSLR really wins in this category, not least because of its compatibility with a range of off-camera flashes. Whenever I’m booked for a portrait shoot, I always use the DLSR.

Winner: DSLR

This is a very common real-world application that I’m sure we’re all familiar with. I’m at home, my partner is in the store and she texts me and asks what products we need to buy. With the iPhone, I can quickly take a picture of the product and send it to her right away. With the DSLR I had to take the shot, then connect to my laptop and process the image before sending the image back to them. I found that in most cases she had left the store before receiving the picture, not a DSLR strong point. I was able to streamline this method a bit by tethering the DSLR to my iPad and then sending the JPEG from the iPad to Tasha.

Winner: iPhone

post on social media

Another very common use for the DSLR and iPhone is to post content on social media. In a world where people measure their worth as a person by how many likes and followers they have, being able to quickly publish quality content to your favorite social media platform is incredibly important. While many people still aim to produce high quality social media content using professional gear, I’ve definitely noticed a shift towards quantity over quality. There are some amazing creators out there who don’t seem to get as much credit as they could if they just took more selfies because they “feel cute” (can be deleted later). I find it shocking that Canon still hasn’t added a dedicated Instagram app with filters to their old cameras. The iPhone really is the winner here when it comes to posting heaps of pointless content to satisfy the insatiable appetites of social media users.

Winner: iPhone


As mentioned above, there is no Instagram app, Twitter, Facebook or YouTube on the Canon 5D Mark IV at the time of writing. While we can hope Canon fixes this in a future firmware update, I’m sure pretty sure they won’t be implementing the phone feature, due in part to the placement of the mic and speaker and the lack of any cellular connectivity. Since I use my iPhone for both communication and imaging on a daily basis, I’ll take my iPhone out every time I leave the house until Canon allows voice calls and texting from their line of interchangeable lens cameras.

Winner: iPhone


DSLR 3/9

iPhone 6/9

There we have it, the iPhone is clearly the best of these two devices in my extensive field tests. There’s no further argument, despite some minor compromises in image quality, the iPhone is absolutely a better device than the Canon 5D Mark IV.


While researching this article, I found many articles comparing different cell phones to different professional cameras. I was very surprised that the other articles focused almost exclusively on image quality, videography and photography when the mobile phone is such a versatile device, which prompted me to create my list of real-world scenarios.

As I was doing my testing and writing this article, it occurred to me very briefly that maybe these two devices were built for completely different purposes, then I thought that can’t be possible since so many tech journalists are desperately trying to explain them to compare again and again to each other.

What are your thoughts? Are you throwing away your camera gear and buying an iPhone instead? Let me know in the comments.

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