Professional Photographer vs Amateur Face Off: Cellphone and DSLR
01 July 18
This little experiment was actually not my idea but my roommate’s. He’s expressed some interest in learning photography for some time now and, in his words, he just likes to take pictures. The concept is simple; a DSLR camera against a cellphone camera. At first we were going to do this the obvious way of having me (the experienced one) take photos with a DSLR while he (the amateur) would take photos with his phone. But that seemed too easy for us. . .So, we changed it up a bit and I would use my phone and he would use a DSLR.
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Auto mode only. Neither of us could use special settings (other than turning flash on/off) on either camera to.
We cannot help each other. Although I did (of course) have to show him how to use the basic functions of the camera (how to turn on/off the flash, how to use live view, how to review your photos, etc) I did not give him any instructions on how to meter the light, how to compose a photograph, or any other information that did not directly effect the actual usage of the camera.
We cannot edit the photos (other than resizing the images for web use) because this would cause an unfair advantage and would not properly show the difference between the DSLR and the phone images.
We cannot use any photography tools such as tripods, reflectors, speedlights, etc.
For this challenge we used a Nikon D5500 and a Samsung Galaxy S9 respectively. The Nikon D5500 is considered to be Nikon’s “advanced entry” level camera and is a light-weight compact DSLR which is sold at an affordable price range (for a DSLR anyway). The Samsung Galaxy S9 is the latest in the Galaxy series and is (arguably) the second most popular cellphone brand on the market below the iPhone. My roommate, whom will henceforth be referred to by his gamer tag Valknar, will be using the Nikon while I (Bella Vie) will be using the Samsung.
For this particular challenge we agreed that we would not have any specific subject matter to shoot. We did agree, however, that we would do this over the course of 24 hours so that we could utilize both night time and day time. We wanted to offer a real life experience of someone who may be on vacation, blogging a day out, or even just taking pictures around town. But before I unveil all the pictures we took, let me give you a brief background of our respective photography related experiences.
No formal or informal photography education. The only source of photography experience he has is from his work as a lineman in which he had to photograph the locations of a job site for surveying. “I just clicked and moved on” ~Valknar
Began learning photography informally at the age of 5 from her grandfather (a hobby photographer). Began taking part in seminars and formal classes at the age of 14. Studied photography while in college and became a freelance photographer 3 years ago.
Let’s begin with the night time photographs taken in downtown Cleveland, Ohio after midnight. Please do bare in mind that the native sizes of these images will be different and because of our agreement not to edit the photos, they will remain with their set dimensions so as not to distort the images.
Okay, let’s take a moment to discuss the night time photos. In Set 1 we both took a picture of the Rock Hall from the back-side of the building. Valknar’s photo has a lot of interesting lines and shadows, however there’s also a lot of distractions. The redeeming quality of the photo I took is the rays of light pointing your eyes towards the building and away from the distractions in the background. Also, there is more negative space behind the building providing a natural contrast for the white building against the dark sky.
In Set 2 we both wanted to play with leading lines a little bit. While I took the time to crouch down and center myself as best as I could to get the perspective lines, Valknar remained standing and zoomed in shortening those lines. Even though we both have the doors fairly centered, without the length of the walkway it might seem like just a set of doors.
For Set 3 we both made sure to capture am obvious tourist image of the city. These types of photos are popular while traveling because they give the image a story without needing context. We stood in almost the exact same spot and we both knelt down for the image to capture as much of the skyline as we could. The biggest difference between our pictures is the use of lighting. Valknar’s photo uses more lights and has a couple of lens flares going on, featuring a very bright one in the middle of the “v” in Cleveland. I, however, chose to avoid attempting to obtain the symmetry with the lights and allowed the shadows to provide you with more depth. Though, I did leave the end of half a bench on the left side which is distracting. With this set, it is more of an artistic call on which photo is better I think. In general, the artsy lens flare is considered out-dated but that’s not to say that it doesn’t have its place where desired.
Set 4 is a tough call. Even as Valknar was taking this photo I told him it was going to be an interesting image. Truth be told, this walkway isn’t anything spectacular and when we arrived it was not only crowded, but there was also a fight between a large group of people taking place (which the police responded to very quickly). There was a lot of distractions and the scenery around it was kind of dull. But by changing his level and choosing to focus on the flowers and the light, pulling the attention away from the center of the image, Valknar captured this otherwise uninteresting path and made it seem like a magical place. As for myself, I am a details kind of person. I happened to notice a mayfly on one of the flowers, and even though they kind of creep me out, I decided to take the focus away from where we were and show what was happening. Both images were shot with purpose and a clear thought in mind, and while technical flaws may exist (there’s no such thing as perfection after all) both pictures stand alone rather well.
With Set 5 I wanted to show one of the biggest differences between a “pro” and an amateur photographer and that is mindfulness. Many popular locations are full of distractions and mess. There’s always going to be that one chair in the way, or that really ugly truck to the side, or something else that just ruins the image which you cannot change. The difference between a snapshot and a photograph is, in my opinion, the amount of consideration given to the finished product. In Valknar’s images he kept his mind on the angles of the picture which, while always a good thing, allowed him to overlook how well the finished picture would translate to a viewer. For my photos, even though some of the “Long Live Rock” sign gets cut out, I made sure to leave whole words in tact giving context to where we were. That being said, I really could have walked a couple feet to the left to get more of the Rock Hall building in the picture, however that would have put the food trucks that were parked outside into the frame.
Now, let’s move on to the day time images.
For these daytime photos we took a trip to Chagrin Falls, Ohio; a cute little suburban town with a couple historic sites. In Set 6 you can once more see another example of how eliminating distractions in the background can help improve the picture, even if it’s a very “busy” area. And in Set 7 we show you how simply moving a couple inches can help you frame a bit better. Valknar’s photo shows the parking lot and a drainage pipe which, sadly, the angles of the falls leads your eye right to.
With Set 8 we see one of the cons of using your phone, and that is the limitations of your framing. With camera phones, the more you zoom in the worse the image gets. Most phones use a digital zoom which sort of works like enlarging a smaller image; it doesn’t get a better quality because that’s all the resolution you have (no matter what television says). So, even though I managed to frame the image to remove the car, I have a lot of what is essentially blank space in the foreground.
Set 9 is another example of intent and mindfulness. Once more, Valknar likes angles and perspective which is great, but we have this huge dumpster in the middle of the image and some orange barrels. Even though Ohio is known for either being frozen or under construction, it’s not exactly what you want to share with your family and friends. While surrounded by things I didn’t want in my image, I managed to find these two spider webs. Details. It’s all about the details.
Set 10 I really just wanted to use to share a harsh reality. If we were doing this little challenge with editing involved you can bet that I would have posted my image from the same angle as Valknar. In fact, we both took pretty much the exact same image when we came upon this historic police vehicle. But that damned crane was just such an eyesore with the historic car and builds around it. Given time to edit, I probably would have removed it from the photo as well as the sign and parked cars in the background. . .however I posted what the image looked like from the opposite direction and that background is not any better. Sometimes, you are going to stumble upon the perfect subject but you’re just going to be stuck with obstacles. This is where a photographer’s experience in editing can help save a photo. Now, it can’t always make it perfect, but it can help.
For Set 11 we see the same building from two different sides. Valknar wanted to capture the cannon in his image however, I did not feel that the cannon (while neat to see) added anything to the picture. The difference in these two images is once more mindfulness. I was more focused on the finished image, while Valknar was focused on what piqued his interest at that moment.
If you haven’t guessed by now, the moral of this post is not about what kind of camera you use, it’s about who’s taking the picture. Even though Valknar was given a camera with higher megapixels, a better zoom, better sensor, and more capabilities we can still see some areas where the images are a bit lacking. Many of his pictures were blurry due to him moving too quickly after pressing the shutter button. He went into this challenge with some great basics in mind and a love of just shooting pictures.
I don’t see pictures the way others do. I just shoot what I like. I see something I like and I take the picture. I’m not all about the end results.
Don’t get me wrong, I love this mindset. I think people should always just shoot what they like and live in the moment. However, I do want to show the difference between someone who shoots for fun and someone who shoots as a profession. The amateur is, of course, going to get a great shot at some point. This is, in fact, part of learning photography: the more you shoot the more good shots you’re going to get. Eventually, you will begin to learn how to increase the chances of a better shot in less time with less shots.
I will say this in terms of the technical use between the two cameras; if you are not looking to learn how to use a DSLR to its full potential than I would say that this cellphone did a great job keeping up with photos. It is much lighter weight than any camera and it has some great features available to use. The noise reduction is visibly better on the Samsung S9 than on the Nikon D5500 (by direct visual comparison). I have to admit it was a relief to walk around the past 24 hours taking pictures without having a bulky DSLR weighing me down or having to adjust my settings every time the lighting slightly changed. However, if you are more advanced with your photography or are looking to dive much deeper, then I would for sure recommend a DSLR. Had we done this challenge with the use of tripods and manual settings, that DSLR could get much better photos in the low light than my phone (and it would have a much higher resolution).
It’s not the tools that make the photographer. This is something I think many photographers forget over time regardless of if you’re a hobbyist or if you’ve got 20 years in the business. It’s very easy to become envious of those who have the latest gear and produce some amazing photos. However, it’s not what they are shooting with that makes their photos so beautiful, it’s their experience, time, dedication, knowledge, and creativity.
The technology at your fingertips right now surpasses anything that would have been used by even the greatest photographers of the past. The magic comes from within you.
Valknar and I have decided that we will be making a follow up to this little challenge, with a little twist of course. . .but more about that later.