Can You Tell the Difference Between Phone Photos and DSLR Photos?

CNN recently published a pop-quiz with 10 photos and a simple question: was the photo taken with a phone or DSLR? The test is meant to open the public’s eyes to the fact that phone cameras are getting to be just as good as expensive DSLRs. It’s misleading though, and Neal Krawetz over at Hacker Factor has a great explanation as to why:

The implied rational is that, with the correct technique, you can take pictures on your cellphone that are just as good as an expensive SLR. However, they do it by showing you thumbnail images that were created using Photoshop. At thumbnail size, even crappy pictures will look good.

Next time, CNN should do a speed comparison between a bike and a car… while they’re both at a standstill.

Phone or Fancy Camera [The Hacker Factor Blog]

  • Mike W

    8 out of 10

  • zf

    It doesn’t shows how a phone camera can be good. Of course phone cam can still be good, but not this.

    However, it amazingly shows DSLR camera can be suck. And it’s a fact.

  • Daniel Fealko

    This article demonstrates nothing more than that DSLR photos can look as bad as those taken by phone cameras.  Surprise!

  • Merv Wignall

    8 out of 10 also.
    Main giveaways are DOF and tonal range, couple of the phone ones are very noisy even at the small size.

  • will hall

    9/10. The sensor size will always make a difference to the DOF (and therefore ability for subject isolation) and low light performance. Try taking some images in bright light with the SLR stopped right down and then the difference might be a bit harder to see.

    While some people clearly enjoy the images produced by smart phones, and i have seen some nice ones, they are very different to SLR images. Without something like that seen in a recent article ( ) It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Both are quite nice, both are fruit, but you don’t really use them in the same way.

  • Daniel Austin Hoherd

    9/10.  DoF was the main giveaway, angle of view was too.  The colors in many of these could have come from a phone, but phones don’t take raw images.  For people who just want to take casual photos for Facebook, phones are the way to go.  For those who want a more composition and development options, DSLR still rules.

  • Gregor Gresak

    Phones have a greater depth of field which makes photos where such feature is desirable better. They’re especially good for macro.
    However some pictures can’t be done using a phone especially when you have great light contrasts, multiple light sources, uncentered objects etc …

  • jim

    I may just give them a call on my DSLR

  • Dave

    Try the link guys, it’s 5/5 split!

  • Avaviel

    Can you tell when it’s printed and framed – as in a few feet wide? It makes sense if it’s only shown small that you can’t tell where it maybe from. This proves that the ability lies in the person shooting, but equipment could be thought of as a force multiplier. In the right hands, the effort put into creating with the equipment increases the quality of the work; in the wrong hands creating with the equipment decreases quality.

    Anyone here ever heard the term ‘art coefficient’? I think Duchamp coined it, it’s the difference between what the artist wants to do and what they actually create. I believe the more a photographer knows their equipment, the smaller this becomes.

  • Dean W. Thompson

    As this comparison does suck. We can’t just flat out say that phones take crappy photos. Because they can take some good ones! 

    Side note. My D40 takes sharper photos then my D7000.

  • Chris

    Krawetz is certainly correct that if I wanted to show that a DSLR can’t outperform a cell phone (or a cardboard box camera, for that matter) I’d use thumbnails of crappy photos to skew the test towards equivalence.  But like most other posters here I got 9/10.  The cell phone pictures had terrible DOF and several were noticeably noisy even in the thumbnail.

  • ry

    If I make my video player window as small as possible on my computer screen my iPhone video looks just as good 4K cinema shots!

  • rj

    this is a terrible quiz, i got 7 out of 10……
    most of the slr pictures are mediocre at best, out of focus, and badly composed. and just because its an slr doesn’t make it a good photo (i feel like cnn was trying to imply that) and secondly they make the pictures so small you can barely see them

  • Anonymous

    I see the point of the CNN pop quiz.
    Is to find if the equipment makes you a better photographer. yes, a DSLR will have more pixels and manual control etc, but what about the pictures? will they be any better? will a camera phone give you enough freedom to  take the picture the way YOU want? and as always, the best camera is the one you have with you.

  • Nienke Nijenhuis

    Me too. The last one appears to be edited in a really bad way though, that’s why I knew it was a phone photograph..

  • Grungebob

    9 of 10
    Have to say, couple guesses because it’s hard to tell the difference between really crappy slr photos to okay phone photos… or was this to show that the average CNN iReport photo is just crappy either way?

  • photonut

    CNN must be smoking some good s@#t to think that phone photos are as good as DSLR’s

  • luftweg

    why doesn’t CNN then use cellphone cams to shoot their TV ‘news’ shows, and save all that money spent buying/leasing the expensive HD cams?