iPhone 5 vs. Canon 5D Mark 3

Chase Jarvis said the famous words, “The best camera is the one that’s with you.” The iPhone has become the most popular camera on Flickr, because there are like a hundred million billion iPhones, and it takes a very good picture. There have definitely been times that I wanted to take a picture of something and only had my iPhone with me, and it’s obviously better to have gotten the picture with something. The iPhone’s camera gets better with every generation, but can it replace an SLR yet?

Just about every picture I post on the blog comes from my DSLR — currently the Canon 5D Mark III. My current go-to lens is the new Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II. Is it worth hauling it around when I go on a trip, if I could just use the iPhone? “Hauling” is precisely what the Canon demands. This body + lens combo weighs 58.7 ounces — more than 3.5 pounds. That’s heavier than some laptops. The iPhone 5 weighs 3.95 ounces.

Then there’s the price difference. A 64GB iPhone 5, out of contract, costs $849. That’s a lot of money. With a contract, though, you can get the 16GB model for $199. The Canon 5D III ($3459) with the 24-70mm f/2.8 L II ($2299 – assuming you can find one in stock anywhere) = $5758. In a word: WTF? (Is that one word or three?)

So comparing the two is a little silly. One is a camera phone. The other is a dedicated professional-level camera. But even if it’s silly… let’s compare! I like to be silly – like when I talk in my cockney accent. (“Top o’ da mornin’, guvnah!” I’m afraid it’s even more embarrassing in person.)

To make this as fair as possible, I didn’t post-process the images. The Canon’s shots are from the JPG files, not the RAW files.  (Processed RAW images would have more color depth, and better white balance, among other differences.) The trickiest thing was to produce similar framing between the cameras, with the iPhone having a different height-to-width ratio, and seeming to adjust its perceived focal length on the fly. Also, keep in mind that these are all JPG files resized for web viewing, so we’re not comparing a 2.38MB iPhone JPG with a 26MB Canon RAW. Still, the differences are striking.

Let’s start with food.  Here are some cookies that I got from a local bakery today. (That top cookie, the “junk food cookie,” contains pretzels, chocolate chips, peanut butter cups, and Cheez-Its. I’ll let you know how that is. I predict: AWESOMETASTIC.) iPhone 5:

And the same cookies, shot with the Canon:

Another angle of the cookies — more of a macro shot. iPhone 5:

The Canon:

Here’s my favorite baseball hat. iPhone 5:


Heading outside… This is the iPhone 5:

The Canon (this is the closest I could frame the shot, since this is not a macro lens – but there’s no denying that the color is truer, and the shot much more detailed — and this is not even comparing full-size crops):

You’re probably thinking, “that’s not fair! You’re shooting at, like, f/2.8, but the iPhone doesn’t let you set the depth of field.” True, but that’s a benefit of an SLR. To compare more closely, here’s a shot from the Canon at f/6.3. (This is also just a good general example of the difference between f/2.8 and f/6.3.)

Here’s a tree across the street from my house. iPhone 5:


Those are pretty similar, at least at this small size. The iPhone seems to do its best work when it has a lot of natural light (but so does every other camera).

What about actual macro shooting? Here’s the iPhone:

And the Canon:

The background is much prettier with the Canon. And okay, I cheated. That’s a different lens: the Canon 100mm f/2.8 L IS Macro. (The IS stands for image stabilization.) If you need that lens to get that shot, you just added another 22 ounces — and $929.

Let’s give the iPhone another try with a macro shot. Here’s the iPhone 5:

And the Canon (again with the 100mm lens):

Not surprisingly, professional camera gear costing nearly $7000 does a superior job when compared to an $850 camera phone (or, $199, base model, with contract), but the DSLR also weighs — if you have both lenses I used here — over eight pounds. The iPhone takes a damn fine photo, too.

This blog post is kind of like comparing a single apple to a huge semi full of lead-plated oranges, now that I think about it, so… never mind.


Kevin Wadsworth says

Thanks for the comparison - I find it interesting even if it is a strange comparison.

I apsire to that 24-70mm someday. I have the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 for low-light and recently the 70-200mm f/4L.

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