DSLR vs iPhone! This can be a tough choice, especially if you love cameras. And, believe me, iPhones are cameras! But there’s one place where your DSLR (or mirrorless camera) is the clear winner. And that’s when it comes to focusing. Here are some examples to help you make the choice.
- Quickly choose a specific focus point.
- So why does my DSLR do a better job of this?
- DSLR vs iPhone: Speed is of the essence with hummingbirds.
- Birds don’t pose and wait for the photographer.
- Some subjects are too small and might flee.
- DSLR vs iPhone when your subject is hiding.
- Sometimes you want to frame your subject.
- DSLR vs iPhone: The lens counts!
- Now it’s your turn:
Quickly choose a specific focus point.
When it comes to focusing, your DSLR is faster and more accurate.
I rarely use manual focus on my Canon DSLR. Instead, I almost always use auto-focus. (Macro shots on a tripod are the exception.) But this doesn’t mean I’m letting my camera choose what it focuses on. I look at the scene and decide what I want to be in focus and tell the camera. Then, it auto-focuses on that spot.
When I’m shooting with my iPhone, I don’t have the option to turn off auto-focus, but it doesn’t matter because I usually do the same thing I do with my DSLR. I choose the place in the scene where I want the focus to be and select it by tapping and holding on the screen.
So why does my DSLR do a better job of this?
I can choose one focus point in my camera menu and always leave it set this way. Then, when I’m shooting, I can place that focus point on the exact spot that I want in focus. It takes no time at all. The camera quickly auto-focuses on that spot and takes the photo.
DSLR vs iPhone: Speed is of the essence with hummingbirds.
Manual mode, f/2.8, 1/3200 sec, ISO 2500, 200 mm
Capturing photos of hummingbirds is a challenge! First, they visit the feeder early in the morning when the light is lower. That means a slower shutter speed. But they move at an incredible pace!
To get this shot, I used my Canon DSLR with a 70-200 mm lens and set the lens to 200 mm to make the bird larger in the frame. Selecting an aperture of f/2.8 helped to bring in more light and allow a faster shutter speed. It also helped blur the background trees.
I set the mode to Manual so I could choose the shutter speed: 1/3200 second. Since the light was changing quickly, I set the ISO to auto, and the camera chose ISO 2500. Then I placed the focus point on his eye and took the photo.
The entire process had to be almost instantaneous! Tapping on my iPhone screen to focus would be too slow and inaccurate. The size of the focus area would be too large to choose his head specifically.
Birds don’t pose and wait for the photographer.
Aperture mode, F/2.8, 1/400 sec, ISO 100, 185 mm
When Skip was teaching a workshop at a resort on Lake Naivasha in the Rift Valley, outside of Nairobi, Kenya, I had lots of time to study the wildlife around me, and my camera was never far away. One day, I glanced out the window and saw this gorgeous bird! I wanted his eye to be in focus, but his head kept moving as he surveyed his surroundings. My iPhone couldn’t have focused on him fast enough, if at all! So, I was lucky to have my camera close by.
Some subjects are too small and might flee.
Aperture mode, f/2.8, 1/200 sec, ISO 400, 200 mm
In the battle of DSLR vs iPhone, the subject’s size and how close you are to it really matter.
During the pandemic shutdown, I spent a lot of time outdoors and discovered wildlife I’d never noticed before. One of my favorite subjects became spiders. (That is after I Googled a certain spider on our deck. She was coming toward me, and I was pretty sure she was going to kill me… 😉 She turned out to be helpful and not harmful, and I developed a new appreciation for her and her fellow arachnids.)
One day, I noticed this large yellow Garden Spider in a bush. I had never seen one like this. Since I had my iPhone with me, I jumped into action, looking for the best angle for shooting.
There was one big or small problem. I couldn’t get close to her, or she would retreat into the branches. As a result, she was very small against the background, and my iPhone couldn’t focus on her! It kept focusing on the bush. I tried focusing on another branch that was about the same distance from me and then recomposing, but the web was moving in the breeze, so the distance changed. I got a lot of out-of-focus shots of nothing!
Finally, I went into the house for my DSLR and long lens. Since I have my camera preset to one small focus point, it was able to focus on the spider!
DSLR vs iPhone when your subject is hiding.
Aperture mode, f/2.8, 1/200 sec, ISO 250, 200 mm
I love this shot of a laughing baboon in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. Mind you, he had just reached into our safari truck and stolen the lunch! Then, he leaped into the nearby trees to watch us and chuckle at our chagrin.
Looking closely, you might think I was shooting through a thin, white veil or a smudged lens. He was hiding in the branches, and I had to shoot through them. I could see him, but not well, so I focused on another branch that was about the same distance away and then recomposed to take the photo. It’s magic. The branches between us almost completely disappeared, and I had the perfect mug shot of the thief!
DSLR vs iPhone? The DSLR was the clear winner.
Sometimes you want to frame your subject.
Aperture mode, F/2.8, 1/160 sec, ISO 320, 200 mm
As we were enjoying lunch at Selati Camp in the Sabi Sabi Game Reserve in South Africa, these two wrestling elephants appeared in the distance. They were in a field and across a ravine from us. I wanted to frame them with the trees that were close to us. It would have focused on the trees if I had used my iPhone. I could have tapped on the iPhone screen to focus on the elephants, but they were moving around.
My Canon DSLR made a quick job of it. I placed the focus point on their trunks and shot.
DSLR vs iPhone: The lens counts!
One last detail that all these photos have in common is that I shot them with a long telephoto lens that ranges from 70-200 mm. The iPhone 14 Pro has a maximum optical zoom of 77 mm. I chose to shoot at 200 mm in every case except the Superb Starling. This allowed my subjects to appear closer and larger. It also helped narrow the depth of field. When I shot the elephants and the baboon through the trees, I wanted the branches to appear out of focus or completely disappear.
Now it’s your turn:
I love my DSLR and iPhone, but sometimes, the DSLR can accomplish things that the iPhone can’t. That’s a good reason to always have both with you when you are going out to shoot intentionally.
If you wish you knew more about how to choose the settings on your DSLR or mirrorless camera, I have the answer! My online workshop will teach you everything you need to know without leaving home to do it! Better yet, you can learn at your own pace. You can finish it in a weekend or as slowly as you’d like! https://www.carolinemaryan.com/camera-mechanics-workshops-info/
I give more examples of why you still need your DSLR in this blog post: https://www.carolinemaryan.com/sell-your-dslr-no-heres-why/.
But don’t leave your iPhone at home! The geotags can help you identify where you were when you took your award-winning shots with your DSLR: https://www.carolinemaryan.com/using-your-iphone-geotags/.
Finally, here’s an article from Apple about how to adjust the focus on your iPhone: https://support.apple.com/en-mide/guide/iphone/iph3dc593597/ios