Over the past few weeks I've been selling a bunch of stuff on eBay so I could break even on a new camera. Now I'm a huge proponent of smartphone cameras, especially those in the iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4, being good enough for basically everything these days, but for me, there apparently still is room for a dedicated camera. Why? Let me explain.
Quality in the Details
First, let's get this out of the way: the iPhone and Pixel take great photos, but neither of them are perfect. They do great when looking at photos from afar, on a phone, and often even on a desktop monitor, but when you zoom in, they cut some corners. Here's a close up of my quarantine stubble:
Those were each taken in my kitchen with medium lighting, and while they both look good, the iPhone clearly approximates some of the data in my facial hair, while the Sony captures it quite well. You can also see some visible "liquefaction" in the bokeh behind me on the iPhone shot while the Sony camera has a "creamier" quality to it.
Next up, let's look at some selfies. Here's the iPhone 11 Pro front-facing selfie camera:
Looks pretty good, although the sun got a little into the lens and washed some stuff out, but we could improve this in post. Also, since this is a fixed focus lens and has a pretty high aperture, the whole scene is in focus. Fine, but not always what I want.
Here's the same shot with the back camera on the same phone:
The quality difference is pretty stark, and this is clearly better in my opinion. I have far more detail and the background has a bit of softness to it. I'm quite happy with this photo, but let's look at the Sony:
Now this was shot in RAW, so I edited it a little to make the colors more in line with the iPhone photos, but the quality is clearly higher basically all around. My face has less sharpening applied so it looks a little more natural, and the background has a lot more bokeh happening, which I like for this shot. Of course, I could close the aperture a bunch on this camera to get it to not be blurred if I'd prefer. Also, the sky is a little blown out in this shot, but I could reclaim that data if I wanted (RAW 🙌), I just liked the blown out look over there.
Better Depth Overall
And depth overall is just nicer on the Sony camera. Here's an attempt to get a photo of a single leaf on a bush on the iPhone:
And here it is on the Sony:
I cranked up the bokeh to show the difference, but again, since I control the aperture, I could make the background more crisp if I preferred.
The iPhone is Still Better in Some Ways
Shooting on a normal camera again has made me appreciate some things on the iPhone and Pixel cameras more than I did before.
First, almost every photo I take on my iPhone or Pixel are good. Some of them are great, but 95% of them are at least good. You literally just point your phone at anything and it will get a good shot. The Sony can take better photos, but it also requires more work from you to get them. That shallow depth of field I love? That also means that I have less room for error when focusing, lest I miss focus and have a bad image.
Second, night mode is really something else. Now, the Sony doesn't do horribly here, but it's definitely not as good as either Apple or Google's current offerings.
And third, there's something really magical about taking a photo and having it instantly be uploaded to your online photo backup, or be able to share it within seconds. Having to plug the camera into my iPad and import the photos is annoying, and the wireless sharing option is not any more convenient unless I want to do it when I've only got my iPhone with me.
Wait, What Camera Are You Talking About???
I'm using a Sony RX100 Mark 3, which is a 6 year old camera which still retails for $600. Yeah, this isn't the latest and greatest DSLR, and there have actually been 4 more revisions on this exact model since it launched in 2014, but it's still a great camera. Here's a couple requisite Sherman pics I got with it in the my first day.