I’m sure it has been done a thousand times (or maybe a million), but I just had to do it for myself. I’m comparing my iPhone camera to my Nikon D5000 with Tamron 18-270mm lens. So here’s the set up–I was asked by the jazz ensemble that’s affiliated with my employer to take pictures of them during our holiday performance. So I got permission from security (photography is normally prohibited) and from facilities (to mount remote flashes on a bridge over the lobby area), and got to work. I spent about an hour shooting the performance, attempting to incorporate the lobby area, decorations, crowd, etc. When I went up to the bridge to remove my flashes, almost as an afterthought, I pulled out my iPhone (4s) and took a picture, assuming that it would be darn tough for it to perform in the very low light. When I looked at the image on the phone, I was very impressed. But I thought that was the end of it.
When I downloaded images from my D5000, I noticed that I had taken an ambient only image from the exact same spot on the bridge. So here was a chance for a perfect comparison, and at first glance, I wasn’t happy–the images are a bit different, but there isn’t a significant change in quality. Above is one of the images, below is the other. Can you tell by looking at them which is the iPhone and which is the DSLR?
To be fair, I’ve cropped them exactly the same, to the aspect ratio of the iPhone. And ignore the color differences on the performers–they had color-shifting LEDs on them. Also, I had the D5000 set to save “RAW+Basic” which saves the native sensor format data plus a heavily compressed JPG. Since I don’t want to introduce post processing bias in the RAW file, I’m using the JPG for this comparison. So, yes, the FULL capabilities of the D5000 will likely be better, but I really thought the differences would be more dramatic, even using a small JPG from the D5000.
So, can you tell which is which? OK, check this out: here’s a close-up crop of the bass drum.
At this level, it starts to become clear to me which is better, but only barely. And in all honesty, I can see slight differences in the larger images, and the DSLR produced the better result. But still–this is incredibly impressive for such small optics and such a small sensor.
The D5000 took the top image, and left drum, the iPhone the others. As many others have said, amazing, simply amazing. I’m not saying that I’ll dump the D5000 because it has a lot of features that the iPhone doesn’t. But for “spur of the moment” shots, I will definitely not regret that I’ve left the D5000 at home. I’ll proudly whip out the iPhone and be a happy snapper.