On Photography,  Tutorials

Phone vs Camera – For travel photography?

Here is a battle: phone vs camera. Most of you on this site must think I must be biased. Am I going to say mobile phone is the winner?

The following is my unbiased, objective view. Let’s be honest. There are some features that your camera phone cannot beat a traditional camera (especially a DSLR). But yeah, there are aspects that your phone is better than a camera, too.

Your phone is better in…

1. Portability

Photo by Mikaela Shannon on Unsplash

Your phone is smaller, weighs lighter. Most phones can be put in your jeans pocket.

Traditional cameras, on the other hand, are often associated with bulkiness. Professional SLRs look professional, but they are big too. Back in the film camera era, some people tried to pursue portability. That was the reason why some manufacturers created “pancake lenses” and rangefinder cameras. They are much smaller and lighter than the professional counterparts. Yet they are not small enough to be considered “pocket-sized”.

2. Ease of Editing

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Go to your Photo Roll, press “Edit”, play around with a few sliders, DONE!

The default Photo app on most mobile phones these days are powerful enough. Exposure, Contrast, Brilliance, Black Point, White Point, Highlights, Shadows; plus Saturation, Cast, and a few Black and White sliders. If you get the settings right you should be able to get a decent photograph most of the time.

Want something extra? No problem. There are so many apps in the market that will give you extra functionalities, like simulated film presets, double exposure, etc. Check out Snapseed and VSCO.

3. Ease of Sharing

Photo by Le Buzz on Unsplash

Sharing your photos has never been easier. With a camera phone, there is no need to worry about the trouble of importing and exporting, file compatibility and what not. Just hit the share button and share your wonderful works with your family and friends. You can share by email, Airdrop or bluetooth; or post onto social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest… I can just name all day long.

Your traditional camera is better in…

1. Resolution and Dynamic Range

Photo by Jose Chomali on Unsplash

In simple words, your camera is able (or should be able) to deliver clearer photos with greater details. This is because of the limitation of the sensor on our mobile phone – it is smaller than the traditional camera. Some of the moderner camera phones like the Huawei P30 do provide a bigger image sensor, but nonetheless it is still more than 4x smaller than what we called “full frame” (36 x 24mm), which is the size of a frame of film back in the old days.

Whether we need such high resolution is another question, though. And it is subject to one’s personal judgement. It really depends on usage – Are you planning to make a big canvas print? Or are you just planning to share your photos on Facebook? For the latter case, (too) high resolution is probably not needed.

For your reference, photos on this blog are 960 x 720px or less.

2. Higher Flexibility

Photo by Marine Leclerc on Unsplash

Thanks for the abundance of accessories, creating your work using a camera is much more flexible. Backlight? Not a problem, flashlights and reflectors could help. Nightscape? Let’s do a long exposure. Got tickets to a game but they are nosebleed seats? No worries, a tele lens will do its job!

Yes, our mobile phone, after all, is just a mobile phone. They are not designed to take super tele photographs from a mile away. Using digital zoom on your phone and you will just see large Minecraft-like pixels. But let’s take a step back. Knowing the limitations of our equipment and learning how to make full use of them are very important too. If they cannot do tele, then take something else? Again, think about point-and-shoot cameras back in the old days. You could not change lenses at all. So think about, what you are going to photograph if you were given one of those cameras?

By the way, if you think our phone cannot take long exposures. You are absolutely wrong.

3. Bokeh

Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash

Aka the soft, dreamy, blurry out-of-focus background of a photograph.

In our daily lives, we always see portrait photographs were taken by a “portrait lens” – a lens with large aperture. Because of this, the depth of field is shallow, leading to a blurry background.

But do we always need bokeh? Does bokeh always lead to good pictures? Or it can be counterproductive sometimes?

Again, this is a subjective matter. But here is my view. For travel photography, if you are taking a photo of a person, do you think the person is more important? Or the background? Or both are equally important? I would say the last one. If the background is so, so blurry that you cannot tell whether it is Taj Mahal or Eiffel Tower, then what’s the point of taking a photo there? Again, this is entirely my personal opinion.

By the way, with the advent of technology, some dual-camera (or even tri-camera) mobile phones these days can simulate bokeh effect in the portrait mode. They are not perfect but at least you have a taste of the effect.


After all, it depends on what you need, and what you are going to do with the photographs. If you are a professional travel photographer, who is going to produce stunning photographs for a corporation, then of course you would go for a big camera. But if you are just a chill dude going on a holiday, then perhaps you should pack light and bring only your phone, because for most occasions it should be more than enough. That is what we advocate here as well.

Any other words or suggestions? Do let us know by commenting below!

Thank you for reading!


Note: Featured Photo by Dmitrii Vaccinium on Unsplash

Administrator of TraPhoner. Based in Asia. Traveller-photographer with just a phone.

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