Equipment People and Pets

DSLR proves adequate replacement for iPhone camera!

It was the first day of my visit and I was checking my Instagram and already planning some shots of one of the world’s most photogenic cities, when disaster struck. My iPhone was suddenly knocked out of my hand and — smash! The screen was shattered. I was in New York on a trip that I had won in a mobile photography competition organised by Norwegian Air — how was I going to get any photos to show for my prize on my iPhone now? I was staying at a friend’s apartment in New York and I turned to her in despair. She looked at me with sympathy. In what seemed like a last resort to console me, she said:

“How about you borrow my old DSLR?”

“A DSLR?!?” I repeated incredulously. “Lug around a camera as large and as heavy as a brick all day long? Have to fiddle with the settings on each shot? Wait until the evening to post any photos on social media?”

Oh, it seemed all too distressing. After so many years of travelling around the world and snapping on the go, unencumbered and instantly posting to social media, the prospect seemed grim. But what else could I do? I accepted her offer. And so I set off around the streets of New York with a slightly heavy heart (and heavier camera) but determined to recompense my friend’s kindness with some half-decent photos.

My first fear for my usual iPhone-based photography routine was people shots. With a hefty DSLR in my hand, how could I shoot candid street without people realising? As it turned out, my borrowed DSLR came with a cool across-the-shoulder strap that allowed me to position the camera at the side of my waist and shoot blind quite effectively. It also had a silent shutter setting for intimate situations.

Shooting from the hip with a DSLR

Other times, I just took my photos without shame. Yes, my subjects could see I had a camera in my hand, but getting the shot was worth it and to hell with the consequences (as the New Yorkers might say!).

To hell with the consequences!

They say the iPhone lens length is the DSLR equivalent of around 30mm, which is quite wide, but the actual DSLR that I used had a zoom lens that went as wide as 12mm. This meant I could really cram the skyscrapers into the frame and exaggerate their size. Being a zoom, the DSLR lens allowed me a lot more freedom than the iPhone to decide what I wanted to include in the frame. Like many mobile photographers, I’ve experimented with snap-on iPhone lenses over the years but the quality of their glass always leaves a lot to be desired.

Exaggerate those lines with a DSLR wide angle.

I know the new iPhone 6 has some manual settings, but my smashed iPhone 5S has very few. The ability to set a relatively fast shutter speed on the DSLR and allow it to automatically set the ISO was a big advantage in low lighting situations. Too often the iPhone automatically sets a slow shutter speed for the sake of reducing noise and, as a result, the images suffer from camera shake. Another manual setting I loved on the DSLR is the aperture. Setting it at a super wide f1.4 is not only great for low lighting situations, it also gives you that beautiful shallow depth of field on middle-distance subjects that is only ever possible with the iPhone when the subject is relatively close.

Depth of field not possible on the iPhone.

Low lighting situations were also made a lot more manageable with the DSLR’s flash. Particularly for fill-in purposes the DSLR performed much better than the iPhone.

DSLR fill-in flash fills in.

Of course, posting to social media and any processing I wanted to do had to wait until I got home. For most platforms, I could post directly from my laptop (for Instagram I used a proxy site called, bypassing the iPhone completely. It was actually quite nice not to have to strain my eyes and fiddle with the tiny iPhone screen to post my photos. It did, however, mean forsaking the many iOS photo apps that I have used almost daily over the last few years. But I’m actually a little tired of slapping on vintage filters to cover up the fact that, as Instagram’s founder once said, “iPhone photos suck.” Some of my DSLR photos didn’t suck too much, so I didn’t have to use filters.

So despair not, dear mobile photographer, if you go on a trip and your iPhone camera breaks. Dust off your neglected old DSLR and you may be pleasantly surprised by the results. There is one very useful function, however, that you will always miss if you take only your DSLR, and it’s a function we often overlook with our iPhones: making phone calls. So while your DSLR may prove a good—even superior—replacement for your iPhone camera, it will be difficult to replace completely.

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MasteringPhoto, powered by bestselling Routledge authors and industry experts, features tips, advice, articles, video tutorials, interviews, and other resources for hobbyist photographers through pro image makers. No matter what your passion is—from people and landscapes to postproduction and business practices—MasteringPhoto offers advice and images that will inform and inspire you. You’ll learn from professionals at the forefront of photography, allowing you to take your skills to the next level.