Cell Phone Cameras Are Like Speakers: Size Matters

Cell Phone Cameras Are Like Speakers: Size Matters

If you are documenting a moment, cell phones are the best camera hands down. But if you have a choice and care about quality, stop pretending they are equally effective.

There is an old saying I like to use. Good from far, but far from good. This applies well to photos taken with cell phones. They all look pretty snazzy on a backlit six-inch screen. They don't look quite as good on a larger computer monitor. And if you happen to actually practice in the ancient art of printing, you will quickly see that the tiny lens and sensor crammed into your smartphone are simply not in the same league as a full-size camera.

The same can be said for speakers. We have a Bose Soundlink Bluetooth speaker. It is heavy and built like a tank. The sounds is impressively loud for a battery operated portable speaker, but in no way would I argue that it sounds just as good as my Dad's old Radio Shack Realistic speakers hat come up to my hip.

Now I know a number of you are ready to tell me how wrong I am because I haven't tried this phone or that phone. I have tried them though. They are all toys. They may be quickly getting more capable and impressive, but space constraints will always limit the quality at the end of the day.

I recently fell in love with the Google Pixel 3 camera but I have to admit a lot of the fancy processing is far from perfect. The blurred background technique often has edges that look like they were done poorly in Photoshop with the magic wand tool with some subtle feathering thrown in. I understand this is done on the fly and presents very well on small devices, I'm just not believing the hype that cell phones have replaced real cameras.

The good news is that all of this engineering and tech making things smaller will have to eventually translate to lighter and more advanced professional tools without the restraints of racing to be exponentially smaller and thinner.

Lead image by Callie Morgan.

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12 Comments

Harry Callahan's picture

Size matters.

JetCity Ninja's picture

if you’re buying a phone based on its camera, you’ve missed the point.

David Penner's picture

I bought my phone based on the camera. Me and one of my buddies will sometimes get promod food and drinks when we go out just to post some photos and videos to our instagram stories. I'm not about to bring out thousands of dollars worth of camera gear with me when we are out having fun.

Andrew Lodge's picture

Good article :)

Michael Comeau's picture

"But if you have a choice and care about quality, stop pretending they are equally effective."

No serious person believes this.

Except all the iphone articles about how great they are for photography and will replace large cameras soon that I see here once a week.

My favorite article ever here. Thanks for saying it. Now just have the other guys stop posting iphone crap.

Heratch Ekmekjian's picture

Most people view pictures on that "backlit six-inch screen", not as a print on a gallery wall. Knowing that a camera produces a better quality picture than a phone is not relevant to those people. Just a fact.

Jonathan Brady's picture

Is anyone who views images on a large monitor or in print pretending that cameras in phones are as good as a dedicated, large sensor camera? I think not. Strawman...
The ACTUAL argument is that the output is GOOD ENOUGH for most people and the way they view the images they take. And that's a true statement. And as AI continues to improve (and it will), that statement will become more true for even more people.

David Pavlich's picture

Exactly! It's 'good enough' and until this person realizes good enough isn't good enough, this person will be happy with a phone camera.

It’s interesting that most photographers understand this concept but then a disconnect happens with “real cameras” and sensor size.

Kyle Medina's picture

An article meant to be directed towards consumers but published on a photography site that the majority of the readers understand camera tech (read the comments). So with that, you're overlooking the most crucial reason why people use their phones more than any other camera, ease of use.