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%)

Closing Statements

DSLRs are now niche products

Jason Perlow

We obviously have a very passionate group of hardcore photography enthusiasts in the crowd that have made it known that under no uncertain terms, that they'll only let go of their DSLR when it is pried out of their cold, dead hands. While I took the unpopular side of this argument, you can also include me in this crowd of DSLR adherents as well.

However, in a debate, one of us has to take an opposing or unpopular viewpoint. In the context of this debate, thinking about the evolution of the photography equipment industry (as a former employee and continuing loyal customer of Canon) I examined it from the perspective of industry maturation, the DSLR's relevancy in current market conditions, current customer use cases and whether or not Smartphones have been and still are a disruptive influence on that market.
My conclusion is that the health of the DSLR and dedicated prosumer camera market is analogous to the "Post-PC" situation that the computer industry is experiencing. We are now, like it or not, in the "Post-DSLR" age of Digital Photography.
While the DSLR or similar interchangeable lens/body systems will always be the camera of choice for true professionals, it really is no longer needed for the balance of its original target market, which includes everyone looking to buy a camera. The same could be said of the powerful desktop PC workstation and "homebrews" where tablets and ultrabooks are eating away the balance of PC market share.
Yes, many amateur photographers used to buy SLRs. But how many of them really bought a full complement of lenses, external flash accessories, etcetera, or even used these to their full capabilities? 
I think we can all agree that not many did and many still do not, where a smartphone like an iPhone 5, a Lumia 920 or a Samsung Galaxy will do far more than an adequate job at a substantially lower price point. And consumers with stressed wallets have now wholly realized this.
Despite our resident pro photographer's insistence that smartphones produce inferior photos, I will stand by the smartphone and its qualitative merits because I take thousands of food photographs a year with them for my blog OffTheBroiler.com, many of which have been requested by restaurants and food publications and other media outlets around the world for re-use. 
No matter how good or how inferior a camera you have, a skilled photographer will use whatever is at his or her disposal and still make the best of it. And smartphones have so many advantages that I am willing to compromise print reproductive quality for very nice web images, which is what most people use their cameras for today.
That being said, I have no doubt that companies like Canon and Nikon will continue to produce true professional-level SLRs. That much is a given.
But as cameras in smartphones continue to advance in terms of picture quality and incorporate superior sensors, shutters and lenses (Like those in the new 41MP Nokia Lumia 1020 that is being released shortly) as well as the manual and semi-manual controls that entry and mid-level DSLRs have today, these companies will have to cannibalize their entry and mid-level DSLR lineups because there will no longer be a healthy market for them. 
And while it pains me to say it, if you're not Canon or Nikon, or even Sony, then you probably want to get out of the camera business entirely.
If we redefine "Kill the DSLR" as total disruption of its market and forced consolidation of products and manufacturers by more than good enough smartphone cameras, and reducing its use to a niche product for professional and semi-pros for the foreseeable future -- much as mobile devices have "Killed" the need for high-performance PCs -- then we have to agree that the DSLR is also on the endangered species list.

Do we want small and ugly photos?

Michael Krigsman

My ZDNet colleague, Jason Perlow, is a wise and respected member of the community. For that reason, I feel awkward because words cannot express how deeply misguided and wrong are Jason’s opinions on the smartphone vs. DSLR issue.

Yes, smartphones are everywhere – in our pocket all the time – ready and willing to take our photos. But, do we really want photos that are small, ugly, filled with noise because the sensor just sucks? No, friends, we do not!

For people who care about life, family, and capturing true moments in the world, photographs do matter. DSLRs are the best way to capture important memories and situations. These stalwart cameras are reliable, offer the best quality, the greatest amount of control, and are easy to use.

Friends, please vote NO to send a clear and decisive message to the corporations, and anyone else, who would keep us down. We want great cameras and that means DSLRs rule!

DLSR has little to fear

Jason Hiner

It's fitting that this edition of the Great Debate is wrapping up on the day that Nokia announced what is arguably the most capable camera we've ever seen in a smartphone (the Lumia 1020). I'll admit that this debate is a tough one, because a lot of it depends on how we define "kill." Are DSLRs going away any time soon? Certainly not. Is smartphone photography going to soon turn DSLRs into highly-specialized gear that only the most avid professionals and photography enthusiasts will use? That's the question.
As Michael pointed out, DSLR sales are actually still rising, despite the fact that the majority of consumers are now using smartphones in place of point-and-shoot cameras. However, I do think Michael underestimates the quality of photos that can be taken with smartphones, and Perlow is right that they have gotten good enough to keep the DSLR in the bag for more and more things. Nevertheless, it's also possible that the easy availability of cameras in smartphones is going to make even more people fall in love with photography, and once they feel the limitations of their smartphones then many of them will still graduate to DSLRs. So, while the smartphone camera could threaten to kill off the DSLR a decade from now, for the moment the DSLR still has little to fear.


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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