Monday, February 1, 2016

Comparing Cameras: Nikon D7100 vs. iPhone 6s

I was in the local camera shop today, looking for a particular kind of fill light, when I struck up a conversation with one of the salesmen. Once I mentioned that I'd given up using my Nikon D50 DSLR in favor of an iPhone 6s (with the 645 Pro app) for studio shots, he was aghast. Maybe... MAYBE... A 6s could do better than the relatively ancient D50, but there was NO WAY that the image quality of an iPhone could compare to a modern DSLR! ESPECIALLY in low-light situations! He pointed to the counter, where they had a nifty little graphic that showed the relative sensor sizes of phones versus those of DLSRs. "I flat-out don't believe you." he told me, when I described the comparisons I'd seen on the web using $1500 Nikons.

Well... Ok, let's put this to the test then.

Since he was so adamant I decided to go ahead and buy an $800 Nikon D7100 (with the assurance that I could return it if I didn't like it). That camera, BTW, cost about $150 more than an iPhone 6s would be if you bought it straight from Apple without a contract.

So, I took the D7100 home, plugged in my favorite 28mm lens, set up a little scene using a Tamiya "Starship" tank (yes it was a real US tank), plus some Games Workshop miniatures, and did a comparison.

Yeah, there's a typo. Should be D7100, but it's not worth the time to fix. :)

Not bad at all. I had to kick up the ISO to 400 or so in order to be able to take a hand-held shot without blurring, but it was a nice photo. When I pulled it up in Adobe camera RAW, I adjusted the shadow detail a smidgen, but that was it.

On to the iPhone 6s...

Snapped at an ISO of 50 (lower is better) and saved as a RAW format TIFF from the 645 Pro app, I opened it up in Photoshop and then applied the Camera RAW filter to the pic. It took a lot more adjusting, as the iPhone favors a brighter, higher-contrast image, but I was able to get it pretty darn close to the color of the D7100 image, as you can see. There was no loss of dynamic range in either photo, as they both contained far more image data than could be displayed at once.

Detail-wise, both cameras are pretty comparable, with eyes and dust-motes showing up quite well. The iPhone has a greater depth-of-field at this lighting level, which is why the near and far portions of the D7100 photo are blurrier. To fix that, I would have had to kick up the ISO and open up the aperture on the Nikon. But that would have risked some image noise showing up.

The D7100 has a bit more resolution, at 4800 x 3200 pixels to the 6s's 4032 x 3024 pixels. It's also a wider, more 35mm-like image. But since I routinely crop these images down to less than or equal to 2048 x 1536 pixels, these differences really matter very little to me.

So the D7100 is going back to the store, and I'll be taking these images with me on my iPad Pro to show why. 

Don't get me wrong, a DSLR is going to be a lot better in certain situations than the 6s, particularly in terms of ease-of-aim, available zoom lenses, speed, and the all-important professional "look" that would get you taken more seriously at an event where you need to look more like a member of the press than a tourist. You'll also need the 645 Pro app to take photos that aren't horribly degraded by the iPhone's default JPEG compression.

But for a lot of everyday situations, and for controlled studio shots with sufficient lighting, the iPhone 6s (with a pro app) is one hell of a good camera.

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