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We're approaching the moment when the lines between DSLRs and smartphones are blurring

Professional camera makers are moving towards smartphone-like features while mobile phone makers are mimicking DSLR-features.


Photography has always been limited to standalone cameras, until the advent of mobile phones. Mobile phone cameras date back to 2000 when Sharp launched the J-SH04. Today, personal devices have moved beyond their conventional definition. Just when we thought mobile phones were not ‘good enough’ to produce professional-grade results, we entered the era of manual settings, HDR mode, and more recently, dual camera modules for true Bokeh effect. As mobile manufacturers gradually move towards delivering a ‘DSLR-like’ experience, does it mean the end of traditional camera makers in the consumer category?

Smartphones are gradually removing the need to own a heavy and also expensive standalone professional camera. However, in a bid to stay relevant camera manufacturers are now moving towards offering an experience which matches the comfort and ease of a smartphone while maintaining the output quality of professional cameras. Take for example, the recently launched Canon EOS 200D, also the world’s smallest DSLR, which aims to bring smartphone-level affordability while delivering professional results.

DSLR or a smartphone?

One of the features in high-end smartphones such as the Apple iPhone 7 Plus and even the OnePlus 5 is the use of dual camera for DSLR-like bokeh effect. On the other hand, professional cameras such as the Canon 200D come with features such as selfie mode and creative filters. What these manufacturers are aiming to do is offer elements borrowed by each other to meet the demands of the user. As a photography enthusiast, I’m impressed by the phenomenal quality and detailing offered by DSLR cameras.

However, the ease of use is unmatched when it comes to a smartphone. While I still pack the standalone camera every time I travel, I admit to using my smartphone more for quick captures and social media sharing. Reasons are aplenty – I need not transfer images to a system to be able to share it on social media, nor do I need to have a heavy editing software to make them social media ready as almost all of these platforms offer basic editing tools built-in.

However, things are changing with the inclusion of Wi-Fi support, Bluetooth support, and built-in editing tools with newer standalone cameras. Take for example the Canon EOS 6D Mark II; targeted at advanced amateurs, the camera is said to be the world’s lightest full frame camera and offers 4K time lapse recording. The camera not only supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity for seamless transfer to other devices, but with built in creative and movie filters, amateurs can get desired results with minimal post processing. ALSO READ: Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 Review: Fun with a dash of nostalgia

Although there are a number of features which are now fluid between camera manufacturers and smartphone makers, it is to be understood that the target audience is different, albeit shrinking for camera users. Today, with affordable devices and always-online generation, the level of patience expected while using the DSLRs is a lot as compared to the prompt approach for smartphone photography. On one hand, smartphone makers are aiming to drive away the need for expensive cameras, while on the other hand, camera manufacturers are aiming to keep the need for professional cameras alive.

Who does this benefit?

The debate about the purpose of a standalone camera, which only sees the light of the day during vacations for casual users, when a smartphone can deliver ‘similar’ results, boils down to just one aspect – the end need for which the investment is being made. Today, one can purchase an amateur-level DSLR camera at a price of a flagship smartphone and use the images for sharing on social media. On the other hand, smartphone photographers can now capture images suitable for commercial use. ALSO READ: Crazy ‘paper like a digital camera’ can shoot photos, record videos

What also marks as a significant change in the way smartphone photography is advancing is the ability to inject newer methods of experience into the small, personal device instead of offering just one aspect of photography. One of the best examples is the recently launched Asus Zenfone AR or the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro. These smartphones come with technology that delivers an augmented reality-based immersive experience. A similar technology would require a standalone camera to be used with an add-on hardware and yet the experience is unlikely to be as seamless as on a smartphone.

From the consumer’s perspective, the end result is all that matters. Yes, the charm of a dedicated camera can’t be filled by a handy smartphone but as has been the case with Polaroid cameras and SLRs which took a backseat with the advent of DSLRs; the dedicated hardware too will become a more niche product given the advancement in smartphone photography. Besides, while a standalone camera can serve limited purposes, the hardware inside a smartphone aims to address more than one goal; such as 3D facial recognition as expected in the upcoming iPhone 8. ALSO READ: Photographer used 104-year-old camera to capture Formula One, and the images are startling

While camera loyalists will continue to defend the unmatched quality, smartphone technology is currently progressing exponentially and with the right software is poised to become as much a profession and a subject of research as the professional photography. For manufacturers, this development in smartphones is the opportunity for an even more competitive market where pricing will become a dominating factor. As for consumers like you and me, the grass is always greener on the other side. We’d continue to be enthused by the DSLR’s image quality, yet find convenience and practicality in smartphones.

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  • Published Date: July 28, 2017 8:40 AM IST