Have smartphones killed the SLR?

Moderated by Jason Hiner | July 8, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

Summary: SLR cameras have been the top choice of camera buffs for years. But has the ease, quality and convenience of smartphone cameras taken over?

Jason Perlow

Jason Perlow




Michael Krigsman

Michael Krigsman

Best Argument: No


Audience Favored: No (85%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Mobility rules

As the old photographer's adage goes, the best camera is the one that you always have with you.

Since its invention in the late 1950's, the Single Lens Reflex (SLR) pentaprism camera has been the workhorse of the professional photography industry due to its ability to accurately reproduce the view of the lens through the eyepiece as well as for its changeable lens design.

In the early 1990s the SLR got a digital upgrade from its 35mm roots by replacing the mechanical film system with a digitizer back.

Since then, the DSLR has evolved to become the platform of choice for many pros and prosumers as developments in digital photography have also improved with each successive generation, such as pixel density and sensor size, faster autofocus motors, stabilized lenses and more advanced signal processing chips, as well as the ability to shoot video.

However, the introduction of the smartphone has exposed a huge weakness in the DSLR's armor, and that is convenience and size in a world that has prized mobility over everything else.

It has already decimated the point-and-shoot digital camera market as well as the digital camcorder, and in doing so has forced the DSLR to evolve into the "Mirrorless" professional camera, losing its pentaprism for a pure digital viewfinder in order to reduce the size of the camera body and make it more appealing to prosumers.

While there will always almost certainly be a niche market for professional grade cameras for specific applications and works of significant artistic merit, the DSLR's bread and butter market -- the consumer, the prosumer and photography enthusiast -- no longer needs or even wants to carry these beasts anymore.

They already carry powerful smartphones which are increasingly adopting more advanced camera technology originally pioneered in the DSLR. 

DSLRs are still going strong

The simple answer is, “No, digital cameras of all sorts are going strong.” According to BusinessWeek, sales of DSLRs are rising, even though smartphones have caused point and shoot cameras to decline. Although smartphones are an acceptable substitute for point and shoots, DSLRs are another story altogether.

As photography becomes more popular, the limitations of smartphones become increasingly evident. Sure, smartphones are convenient, because they are always at our side, but these devices are awkward to use, offer poor image quality, and just don’t present the same photographic experience as real cameras.

Mobile phones let us document events and take ugly snapshots of our environment. However, most people want a real camera to create images that will withstand the test of time. This is particularly true when speed is required, like sports (and children) or for snapping photos at night.

When image quality matters, which it usually does, use a real camera and leave the smartphone for making calls.


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  • Optical Zoom

    The KEY to good photos is a minimum 10X OPTICAL ZOOM (better with 30X or more)

    You can NOT take decent photos with a flat zoom
    Reply Vote I'm for No
    • The best photographs I have ever taken have been with primes.

      Saying you can NOT take a decent photo with a "flat zoom" is simply simply beyond belief.

      That said, smartphones have killed the P&S cameras but not so much DSLRs.
      Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
      • Exactly, it's the wrong comparison

        The comparison should have been P&S cameras vs smartphone cameras. In that scenario, the P&S camera will lose as the smartphone camera sensors and lenses get better.

        But there is no comparison between a DSLR (APS-C) or even a Micro 4/3 camera and what you can get on a smartphone now or the near future. The size of the sensor and how much light (data) can be captured by it will still be king for the foreseeable future.
        Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
        • A Ti2 tied to a GS4 or NX7 take great photos

          If you know what you are doing...

          DSLR and Tablets/or Cellphones complement each other.

          The Android device is an HMI for the DSLR. And you can take multiple photos only opening the shutter once in the the DSLR (this extends the life of your DSLR).

          Focusing on what you want is easy as well. Setting up the correct aperture for your camera is easy if you know how to calibrate both the Camera and the phone. Using apps like DSLR Controller you can snap some very professional pics.

          DSLRs offer more capability for stills. Android devices (and iPhone's) can take great on the go videos though quality suffers with their tiny lenses, specially in low light situations. Though until the lens in these Cellphones does not inch up to at least 20mm or more and the sensors within cellphone grow in size to at least 25mm.... and have more shooting modes DSLRs outgun any photo with a cellphone any day.
          Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
        • re: Exactly, it's the wrong comparison

          Exactly. There's only so much that can be done optically and electronically with a lens the size of a chunk off the end of a rice grain imaging onto a chip about the size of an ant's tochis. It all comes down to how many photons the lens is capturing and how many electrons the photosites on the chip can accumulate from being hit with those photons. And in both cases, bigger is very definitely better.
          rocket ride
          Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • It doesn't take rocket science...

        ...to figure out why camera shops are closing.

        Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
        • Amazon, B&H, NewEgg...

          That is the single largest factor.

          Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
          • No, idiots with smartphones

            ...have also killed SLRs. The only one's who use them now are professionals and we'll see how many it will take to sustain that market.

            DOH again...
            Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
      • Ya

        I think the reason P&S cameras have gotten killed is because they have not evolved. I blame companies like Canon for doing this because Canon has been dragging their feet in altering the game for fear of losing profits. It's a big reason they have been so late to the M43 game.

        If they can make P&S cameras with built in genuine Instagram filters, wifi, touch screens, GPS, auto Facebook upload, auto Drop box upload, and other contemporary features they would sell a lot better. The way it is now, a smart phone can do a lot more than a P&S can. They need to level the playing field
        Reply Vote I'm Undecided
    • Ignorance is a bliss

      Most professional photographers carry 3-5 flat zoom or Prime lenses and take photographs from them instead of one zoom lens. The quality of prime lenses is on a different plane.
      It is like saying that a Ford van is a better vehicle than Ferrari because it can seat more people.
      it may be for a scenario where you need to carry 6 people but definitely not if you have to drive on Laguna Seca.
      And yes, a smartphone camera is equivalent of a moped. it can carry you from one place to another and can fit in alleys but is useless for racing, just like a smartphone is useless for taking professional photographs.
      Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided