The Weekly Stat: DSLRs and Pocket DSLRs

I truly feel there is something happening as we give consumers better and better pocket cameras. Whether it is because I have many friends who buy tech early or the iPhone 7/7 Plus is selling better than many expected, I’ve noticed a distinct upgrade in photo quality on my Facebook and Instagram feed by those taking them on the new iPhone 7. Whether it is pictures in lower light, landscapes, family, pets, or food, it honestly seems like the pictures are of higher quality.

I am close friends with a number of professional photographers across the globe. With those folks, the quality of the photos they post were unquestionably magnitudes better than the general ones I see from non-professionals. I’m convinced, over the next few years, all of that is about to change.

Let’s talk specifically about the DSLR trend for a moment. We knew consumers were purchasing DSLRs because of the upgrade in picture quality. What most missed in this trend was consumers were buying DSLRs to be better versions of their point and shoot cameras, which typically were slower and underperformed compared to a DSLR with an interchangeable lens. The vast majority of consumers who purchased DSLRs were buying a product that vastly overserved their needs, yet very easily yielded high quality, high-resolution photographs.

I did a quick poll with a small sample of one of our panels and found 30% of consumers in this representative panel owned a DSLR. However, the vast majority of them only owned two lenses (often, DSLRs come with two lenses, one telephoto and one short range 18-55mm kit lens). What is most interesting to me about what the new iPhones offer over these DSLR kits is the f/1.8 aperture fixed length lens. In many ways, the new iPhones are bringing a signature tool of professional photographers known as a prime lens.

Having taken many years of photography in HS and college, I am a prime lens shooter with my DSLR. I have apertures as large as f/1.4 ranging from 28-80mm. These are what I take many portrait photographs with and the new iPhones have brought the capability of prime lens shooting to me at all times. This gets enhanced even more with the new portrait mode on the new iPhone 7s, which is nothing short of amazing technologically.

In the poll I mentioned above, I asked those who owned DSLRs what was the largest aperture lens they owned. I used f/2 as the benchmark and asked if they had a lens with a number that was lower than f/2 (assuming most would have no idea the smaller the number, the larger the aperture). Only 10% of those who owned a DSLR had an aperture lens of this size. Which suggests to me that 10% were the more professional of the audience. Fascinatingly, 22% did not know if they did or not. That’s very telling of a segment of the market who bought a DSLR just to be a glorified point and shoot. 70% said they did not have a lens with an f-stop larger than f/2. Knowing how most kit lenses come packaged, it is unlikely the vast majority of DSLR owners have lenses with an aperture larger than f/2.8.

What all of this means is, not only do the new iPhones basically do all the jobs regular consumers have been hiring DSLRs to do the past few years, but it also gives them an aperture size they have never had access to with their DSLR. Which, I would argue, means for these DSLR owners, the iPhone 7 and all subsequent iPhones will, on average, yield for them a greater number of more quality photographs. As Apple makes things like bokeh (shallow depth of field) techniques easy and acceptable, I’m even more inclined to stand by this prediction.

The amazing thing is Apple still has a lot of room to grow. We could see them get to an aperture size of f/1.4 in the near future but also add more advanced software techniques and effects which bring professional capabilities to any and every consumer who needs no more training than simply how to frame or compose their pictures better. That’s something that can more easily be learned than having to adjust ISO, WB, shutter speed, f-stop, and do many things manually like I had to learn.

We have this odd family tradition where each family stand in front of the Christmas tree and has their picture taken by nearly every other family there with a DSLR. Usually it is three of four DSLRs all snapping photos and flashing us blind. I’m yet to ever see any of those photos make their way to me via email, Facebook, Instagram, or any other sharing medium. Our family probably has years of Christmas photos all sitting PCs or memory cards and none get shared. The ones from these events that do get shared are the ones taken by the smartphones. Let’s usher in this era of DSLRs in our pocket.

Which leads me to this last point. Perhaps the biggest difference here between where the iPhone, and smartphone cameras in general are going, is that these great photos will get shared. I’d wager more often than not all those wonderful photos taken by consumers rarely leave the PC they get loaded onto, if they get loaded onto a PC to begin with.

I told my wife this over the weekend as we were hanging out in Santa Cruz taking pictures at different locations. Thanks to the vastly increased capabilities of the iPhone 7, this next year will undoubtedly be our best year in both quality and quantity of our family photographs.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

4 thoughts on “The Weekly Stat: DSLRs and Pocket DSLRs”

  1. Excellent point about photo sharing. I have an Olympus ‘point and shoot’, and whilst I can see it takes superior pictures to those shot on my iPhone (6 Plus), I have to take the SD card home, put it into my iMac, import the shots into Photos and only then am I able to edit and share them.

    With my iPhone, not only are the photos immediately shareable, but they are *also* immediately available for edits (eg. with Snapseed).

    That’s why the camera on mobile phones are ‘sticky’. There are fewer steps to take to reach our ultimate goal, which is (in many cases) sharing memories.

    I only hope that future software iterations of the Photos app on the iPhone can be expanded to the same levels as third party photo editing solutions.

    1. You’re obviously a much better photographer than I. After over 45 years of taking photos, I still struggle to shoot anything other than snaps with a phone level (pinhole) camera, while I can get a nearly 50% hit rate of shots (those that I consider adequate or appropriate to share) with an SLR with any lens. I have the 6s+ and the pic quality barely approaches my 2005 pocket Canon, so l tip my hat to all those included in the Shot on iPhone campaigns.
      I can take worthwhile pics with an iPhone, even the 3G, but it’s challenging and I’m lazy. The iPhone is great though for a pictorial diary and documents.

  2. I’m a DSLR shooter and have a high quality set of lenses. However, it is always a conscious decision to bring my kit as it bulky and heavy. In addition, the work flow is another major inconvenience (shoot, download, process, upload, etc).

    My mobile phone is good enough in many cases and the work flow and software are fantastic. Computational photography on multi sensor phones is about to take photography to places where Canon, Nikon and Sony are unable to follow. In addition, with the help of a little bit of AI, it won’t be long before the phone may be able to help with the composition of photos.

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