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Techilicious by Rajiv Makhni: Camera phone vs DSLR: Part 1

Smartphones are breaking the rules of phone photography at an astonishing pace. How do actual cameras compare?

brunch Updated: Jun 23, 2019 00:34 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times
The image quality difference between DSLRs and camera phones was huge. Not anymore!

Just about a year ago, this debate would have been dismissed as ridiculous. While camera phones had been improving by leaps and bounds, even an entry level DSLR was so far ahead in every department that even starting this debate would have been a dead end. Over before it even started!

Not anymore. The improvement in camera phones in the last few months suddenly went nuclear. Bigger sensors, rock steady optical image stabilisation, optical zoom, a serious number of lenses, lower aperture (if all this techie jargon is making your head spin, bear with me for a few more seconds – it’ll all fall into place), 4K video taking capability and some real innovation in how the front camera either popped or swung into place. So are the new camera phones actually good enough to rival a DSLR? I can hear the sceptics and DSLR users already shouting from the rooftops. Here’s how we will settle this. Over the next two columns I will state my case using a few phones as examples that have made this incredible giant leap possible. We can hit the flaming and the brick bats right after. Let the optical games begin.

Unravelling the jargon

Let’s break the whole holier-than-thou-jargon-filled-complicated-as-hell-big-confusing-words of photography into one simple sentence. A great picture is nothing but the amount of light that can be captured successfully by a device. Every convoluted piece of hardware and feature associated with photography is just a tool to make happen. That’s why a good DSLR continues to be big, bulky and unwieldy and why it is near impossible for a slim phone to replicate all that a DSLR can do. Note, I used the term ‘near impossible’.

The Asus 6Z. A world first

Asus 6Z phone is world-first in which the back cameras flip around on a motorised axis system to become the front cameras

Let’s seen an example of how camera phone technology has accelerated. Asus recently revealed its 6Z phone. They have a world-first in which the back cameras (rear cameras are always better in quality and images produced) flip around on a motorised axis system to become the front cameras.

Asus 6Z with large sensor and laser focus

But then they also dramatically moved the needle on the optics. They were able to put in a Sony IMX586 48MP large sensor, F1.79 aperture, laser autofocus, excellent low light modes, 3 Axis image stabilisation, a 125-degree ultra wide second camera and 4K UHD video recording. Plus the motorised flip camera can take auto panorama shots on its own (it can shoot the Burj Khalifa automatically) and lock onto and auto motion-track your subject in a video. Try doing that on a DSLR.

Why we take pictures

Let’s understand why 99.9 per cent of this world shoots pictures. Photography is a form of time travel. You shoot to create memories, you capture images to relive a moment in time (I am not counting staggeringly stupid selfies here). Thus a camera that isn’t with you at all times isn’t the best option. Another element of shooting pictures today is that we all post and share images. On a phone, it’s a one-step process.

For most people, it is near impossible to believe that a slim phone can replicate all that a DSLR can do

On a DSLR, you have to remove the memory card, insert it into a laptop, download the picture to the laptop, edit it on photo software, send it back to your phone and then share it on the messaging and social media apps. Not exactly convenient. Till now some people would take all these steps just because the image quality difference between DSLRs and camera phones was huge. Not anymore.

More to come

The Asus also adds top-of-the-line specs like a Qualcomm 855 processor, a 3D-curved Gorilla Glass notchless all-screen display and a 500 mAh battery. The point is that phones like the Asus 6Z are adding incredible features that a DSLR can never have and then fortifying it with optics that we couldn’t even have even dreamt about a short while back. When you can get an incredible image on a device that is always with you and it gives you the added convenience of jaw-dropping features and one shot sharing and posting, then I’m afraid that the last bastion of the DSLR seems to be crumbling fast.

Part 2

Let’s not jump the gun, though. We still have a lot left in this debate. In my next column, I will take you though more phones that are breaking the rules of phone photography at an astonishing pace. I will also compare some of the most important optical features of a DSLR versus the current generation of smartphones. Only then will we have the final answer to that eternal question: have camera phones finally been able to equal and beat DSLR? Wait for that before you start the brickbat onslaught!

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

Techilicious appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, June 23, 2019

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First Published: Jun 22, 2019 21:45 IST