Why You Should Put Down the Phone and Pick Up a DSLR

March 28, 2017

We get it. Your smartphone’s camera is easy. It’s hard to resist. Whether it’s a must-have selfie with a parked exotic car, a quick shot of the dog jumping on the counter, or a picture of an awesome cake in a bakery window, everyone reaches for their phone.

And wanting to take a quick shot of a spontaneous moment is totally understandable. Your phone is right there in your pocket. The picture results aren’t perfect, but they’re mostly good enough — and they’re so easy to share. With your phone’s internet connection, family and friends are a swipe and click away. But then you finally see the photos.  Suddenly that special moment you thought you snapped turns out to be a dull, unfocused mess.

While smartphone cameras are fine for outdoor shots where there’s plenty of light available, when shooting inside, phone pictures are grainy and mushy in low light. And forget about taking a picture of something in motion—your phone will turn it into a blurry smudge across the screen.

Photo Credit: Eric Stoner

If you want photos that are as clear as your memories, you need to put the phone down for a little while. The right DSLR can have all the convenience of a smartphone with the image clarity of a professional camera...and today there are many high-quality, easy-to-use options to choose from.

Upgrade to a DSLR

If you’re frustrated with the quality of photos from your camera and long for those frame-worthy shots, you need to upgrade to a digital single-lens reflex camera, or DSLR. Today, modern CMOS image sensors in these cameras take photos with the precision and quality of a professional-grade film camera. But unlike film, digital images can be viewed instantly and uploaded wirelessly.

More Options Means Better Photos

Have you noticed that all of the photos on your cell phone look the same? Because DSLR cameras have interchangeable lenses, you have a lot more options (and they're much more powerful than those silly clip-on phone lenses). The camera on your phone adjusts automatically to light, but with a DSLR, the photographer has the option of changing the camera’s exposure to adjust for different light levels and lighting types. Matching the correct lens to the right environment and subject brings out details that would be impossible for a smartphone camera to capture. It might be a while before you're fine-tuning your shots with manual settings, but in the meantime, you'll still be taking great pictures.  There’s a learning curve with any new camera, but with today’s DSLR options, getting started is easier than you might think.

Canon EOS M Series Technology

For a smooth transition, you’ll want something lightweight and compact. So let's talk M — for mobility.

Traditional DSLR digital cameras offer great image quality, but at a high cost in terms of weight. They rely on a series of angled mirrors inside the camera to bounce the image in the lens through to the viewfinder, and finally the photographer’s eye. Canon’s EOS M Series cameras no longer rely on this conventional setup — and save a lot of space and weight as a result.

In an EOS M Series camera, the lens captures the image digitally, then displays it digitally on a screen built into the back of the camera. Without the viewfinder, the camera body is compact and lightweight — with the similar functionality of a traditional DSLR.

The affordable Canon EOS M3 and the new EOS M6 are entries into the world of high-quality cameras. They offer the resolution and frame rate to match the quality of many high-end DSLR cameras, plus user-friendly options like wireless uploading (see below). One of these options will be very familiar to a smartphone shooter: a touchscreen. The camera's 3-inch display has an intuitive touch interface. The fold-out screen tilts to make overhead shooting and high quality selfie-shots easy.

Like many smartphones, the Canon EOS M Series cameras have autofocus options. But unlike the barebones function on the phone, the Canon autofocus system is a convenient way to control the image. It chooses a logical focus point immediately, even when you’re shooting something in motion. The EOS M6 uses highly advanced Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology for fast and accurate focusing, assuring that you won’t miss the action in front of you. The focusing system helps the M6 lock onto your subject even when in motion, for a high rate of successfully sharp images. The M6 can snap shots at seven frames per second when the continuous autofocus is engaged; and nine per second when it’s not. With a familiar interface and quicker autofocus, you can start taking professional-quality photos with a precise and powerful Canon M Series camera, right out of the box.

Bluetooth and Wi-Fi® Ready

With the popularity of internet photo services like Instagram and Shutterfly and an increasingly photo-heavy Facebook, the internet is fast changing the way we share our photos with family and friends — but with the right camera, it’s easy to upload and share photos — with dramatically improved image quality over a smartphone. Many Canon cameras are equipped with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth options, which facilitate the sharing and storing of images. With these cameras and a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection, you can view your photos right on your smartphone or tablet — and even control the camera remotely. Transferring images and creating backups of photos is easy, either on your phone or in the cloud — and it’s all completely wireless.

Depth of Field

Great photos take advantage of the contrast between things close and far from the camera. In the photo below, the men in the front of the image are the main focus of the picture, but a lot of the story is convenyed by the details in the background that are partially out of focus as well.

Photo Credit: Eric Stoner

That depth of field is difficult to capture with smartphone cameras for two reasons. First, the lenses don’t have as wide of an aperture range — an adjustment which allows a photographer to set the depth of field manually, based on the size of the lens opening (think of a closeup on an insect with a blurry background, and compare it to a vast landscape that's completely in focus). Generally, smartphone cameras also have a wide-angle lens, which focuses on everything by default, giving a much deeper depth of field — often making a great scene look flat and squashed.

DSLR cameras give photographers more control over depth of field.  If you’re taking a picture of a person standing in front of a distant background, you can focus with a larger aperture, to set them apart from the background and place more emphasis on their face. An out-of-focus background draws attention to the object that’s in focus, while still giving it context.


Photo Credit: Eric Stoner

To gain control of the depth of field, you need to understand how to use the camera’s aperture settings. The camera’s aperture controls how much of the camera lens opens to let in light and sets the image’s depth of field. Through aperture settings, you can choose how much of your image is sharply focused and how much of your foreground and background are blurry.

Photo Credit: Rudy Winston

Your ability to choose where the viewer’s eye will be drawn increases dramatically with different aperture settings. The concept is simple: the larger you set your aperture, the less the foreground and background will be in focus. If you start with a smaller aperture (large f-stop number), you'll notice that even distant objects behind your subject are in focus, while a larger aperture (small f-stop number) will create a shallow depth of field.

Low-Light Scenes

Have you ever tried to take a picture of a sunset with a phone? Your eye sees a wealth of rich blues and sparkling gold, but on your phone, those gorgeous colors are replaced by washed out, watery greys and thin shades of yellow. What happened?

Camera phones take acceptable photos in sunlight or well-lit interior spaces, but not every photo opportunity occurs in places with ideal lighting. Everyone knows the disappointment of taking a nighttime photo with a camera phone where the image you wanted to capture was replaced by something grainy and shapeless — even after you turn off the phone’s automatic flash functions. With a range of digital camera sensitivity (ISO settings) options, which determine light sensitivity, and superior internal image sensors, DSLR cameras are more adept at shooting images in low light than camera phones, so you don’t need to switch on every lamp in a room to avoid getting a shot that’s 90 percent shadow.


Here’s the dirty little secret about your phone’s zoom: it isn’t really a zoom at all. It just seems like one. When you’re zooming in on an image with your phone, you’re not getting a better look at objects in the distance. You’re really just cropping a part of your image and expanding the center, which is why zoomed images on a phone look pixelated and blurry if you try to print them at larger sizes.

DSLR cameras use optical zoom, which means that you can sit comfortably on the back bleachers and still shoot all the highlights on the field without compromising image quality. With a true zoom lens, your camera can focus on distant subjects without cropping the image and losing any resolution.

Photo Credit: Rudy Winston

You Can Still Travel Light

Don’t worry about lugging around a ton of equipment — many DSLR cameras and lenses are more compact and lightweight than you might think. Take a look at this list of essentials, complete with a few tips for taking great pictures on your next vacation. Enjoy!

The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.


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