Smartphone camera vs. DSLR indoor photo shootout

Here we go: smartphone camera vs. DSLR.  More precisely, smartphone cameras vs. a Nikon D7100 with PC-Nikkor 28mm f3.5 and Nikkor 16-85mm zoom.  The smartphones tested: Samsung Galaxy S7, Samsung Galaxy S6, Nexus 6P and HTC One m9.   The situation is a dingy, dusty room full of junk, with typical indoor light, all shots handheld.  Let’s see who wins the day.

Without showing spoilers, here are the web-sized versions
(Click on the images for original, full resolution)

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Aaron Segaert: Smartphone shootout &emdash; DSC_1782

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Aaron Segaert: Smartphone shootout &emdash; 20160414_174837

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Aaron Segaert: Smartphone shootout &emdash; IMG_20160414_174851

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Aaron Segaert: Smartphone shootout &emdash; 20160414_174918

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Aaron Segaert: Smartphone shootout &emdash; DSC_1787

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Aaron Segaert: Smartphone shootout &emdash; IMAG0024

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And here are the sources of each image:
1. Nikon D7100 Nikkor 16-85mm VR zoom
2. Samsung Galaxy S6
3. Nexus 6P
4. Samsung Galaxy S7
5. Nikon D7100 PC-Nikkor 28mm f/3.5
6. HTC One m9

Now let’s look at one-to-one crops from each:

1. Nikon D7100 Nikkor 16-85mm zoom lens (with Vibration Reduction)

Even with VR and ISO 2500, I was not able to hold the camera steady enough to get a sharp image. There is some noise, and some pretty bad reddish noise on the thickest guitar string.  Color is a bit oversaturated, contrast is quite good.
Aaron Segaert: Smartphone shootout &emdash; d7100-16-85

2. Samsung Galaxy S6

Quite a bit sharper than the DSLR, but we can see that it has been digitally smoothed. Still, the smoothing removed most of the noise. Color accuracy is better than the Nikon and there are no color artifacts.
Aaron Segaert: Smartphone shootout &emdash; s6

3. Nexus 6P

This camera uses HDR by default, but still has worse contrast than the other samples.  Color artifacts are apparent, especially on the bass guitar strings.  There is also quite a bit of noise.  Overall the photo is a bit dark, and the color is oversaturated.
Aaron Segaert: Smartphone shootout &emdash; 6P

4. Samsung Galaxy S7

There is a bit of motion blur, but it’s fairly sharp.  There is some smoothing apparent, like with the S6, but the result is overall pretty good.  This is the most accurate color.  There are no color artifacts and the contrast is quite natural.
Aaron Segaert: Smartphone shootout &emdash; s7

5. Nikon D7100 PC-Nikkor 28mm f/3.5

As with the other DSLR sample, there is less depth of field due to the longer distance from the lens to the sensor.  I could have solved this by stopping down, but then it would have been really blurry.  This is slightly darker than the other Nikon sample, so noise is a bit more apparent.
Aaron Segaert: Smartphone shootout &emdash; d7100-prime

6. HTC One m9

This one has motion blur and problems with digital sharpening and smoothing.  The only thing it has going for it is the more natural contrast and color (although the color is on the cool side)
Aaron Segaert: Smartphone shootout &emdash; m9

Digital photography is all about processing, and modern smartphones have far more processing power than DSLRs. Capturing the image with the sensor is only the beginning, the magic is in creating a pleasing image in terms of color, sharpness and dynamic range.  This is where smartphones excel.  I’m only being a little bit unfair to the DSLR.  On the one hand, the lighting was not ideal.  But on the other hand, this is the same lighting you would have taking pictures of your family during holidays or a birthday party.  If I put the Nikon D7100 on a tripod, I could have used a low ISO, and it would have taken perfect tack-sharp images with no noise and no motion blur.  But that’s not the typical situation for an indoor photo, they need to be quick.

Conclusion

There is no question which produces the most pleasing result.  If I had to use one of these devices to photograph my daughter’s birthday party or gymnastics, I would choose the Samsung Galaxy S7.

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