iPhone 6 Plus vs Galaxy Note 4 vs DSLR camera comparison: strengths and weaknesses of phone cameras vs DSLRs


Earlier this month, we did a blind camera comparison where the cameras on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the iPhone 6 Plus competed against a dedicated camera – a Canon EOS 650D. It was a race that Samsung's phablet dominated, collecting twice as many user votes as the iPhone and the Canon camera combined. Yes, as surprising as it sounds, the 16MP camera on the Galaxy Note 4 beat an 18MP DSLR with its photos. The iPhone 6 Plus also had a higher number of votes than the DSLR. It doesn't make sense, does it? Aren't dedicated DSLR cameras supposed to be better than any cameraphone? Well, it is one of those seemingly simple yet difficult to answer questions as there are quite a few variables involved. Let's examine the full-resolution photo samples and seek answers. 

Warning: The galleries below contain full resolution images that might take a while to load due to their large size. 

Scene 1 - Indoor, average light strength


Here's one of the scenes we included in the said blind camera comparison. In this case, the Canon DSLR took a very faithful image with accurate, neutral colors, very little digital noise, and details that are neither too sharp, nor too soft. Yet it came in second place for this particular scene. It was the iPhone 6 Plus that received the most votes here even though its image was far from accurate. As it tends to do, the iPhone has produced an overly "warm" photo with pumped up color saturation. The Galaxy Note 4 did not perform any better – its photo is "colder" than it should be, as evident from the blueish tint on the white wall behind it.


Scene 2 - Outdoors


The second scene in our comparison demonstrates one of our DSLR's signature traits – when you zoom in, it becomes apparent that details in its photos look... different – details are much softer compared to what we see in the phones' images. But that's not exactly a flaw. The "softness" is due to a number of factors, one being that there are no sharpness or detail enhancements added artificially in software. In contrast, we're pretty sure that the iPhone 6 Plus and the Note 4 add a fair amount of sharpness to their images, which makes them pop-up more. These sharp details are probably why the Galaxy Note 4 got 88% of the users' votes for this scene, while the Canon camera got less than 3%. 

Now, you might be wondering what would happen if we do boost the sharpness of the Canon's image. Well, wonder no more. We loaded the RAW image in our favorite image editing software and fiddled around with the sliders until we got the desired result. With the enhancements applied, the camera's image looks better from up close compared to the photos from the Note 4 or the iPhone 6 Plus. 

You see, that's one of the things making a DSLR and a smartphone camera different – the former is capable of providing you with a raw, untouched image which you can tweak to your liking, while the latter silently does plenty of fine-tuning for you, whether you like it or not.


Scene 3 - Close-up


Now we've come to the third scene, where another trait of our Canon camera becomes apparent – at wide apertures (f/2.8 in this case, the lens's widest), its images have a shallower depth of field compared to what the f/2.2 cameras on the iPhone 6 Plus and the Galaxy Note 4 produce. In plain words, the DSLR creates a blur effect in the background and foreground, thus making whatever's in focus stand out more. Also known as bokeh, it's the exact same effect some smartphone cameras emulate in effort to produce more stunning images. 

Our readers, however, aren't much into bokeh. Or at least that's the assumption we can make after seeing that 84% of the votes in the scene were in favor of the Note 4 and its sharper images. In comparison, the Canon camera got under 14% of the votes.


Scene 4 - Outdoors


Another easy win for the Galaxy Note 4. It got 92.5% of all votes vs the DSLR and the iPhone 6 Plus, which received only 1.3% and 6.2%. And it is clear to see why – the Note 4's image looks bright and detailed. In contrast, the iPhone's photo seems to lack fine detail, while the Canon camera's image looks dull and lifeless. We have to admit that the latter isn't quite as pleasant to look at because of this. But its lifeless presentation can be rectified with a few post-processing tweaks. The missing brightness and sharpness can all be added in a matter of minutes by anyone with the right skills and the right software at their disposal.


Scene 5 - Outdoors


Speaking of editing, here's a scene we did not include in the blind comparison. These photos are ideal for demonstrating what can be achieved through enhancing a seemingly poor image using software. Below you'll find the untouched images from all three devices along with their manually enhanced versions. To no surprise, editing the RAW image from the DSLR camera produced the best results as it gave us the most data to work with, although the edited images from the Galaxy Note 4 and the iPhone 6 Plus don't look bad either. Unless you take a close look, that is – digital imperfections are more visible in the photos from the smartphones.


Scene 6 - Indoors, low light


This low-light test demonstrates that while a Canon DSLR can snap a presentable image in low light, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the iPhone 6 Plus are not bad at it either. Images from the two handsets are high on details and low on noise, all while lacking motion blur. However, the DSLR has one key advantage over them – speed. Its image you see here was taken at a shutter speed of 1/30, with OIS enabled. In comparison, the iPhone 6 Plus set its exposure at 1/4, which is 5 times longer, and the Note 4 required even more time to expose the image. That's not an issue if you have steady hands and/or if your subject isn't moving, but in any other case, a faster DSLR would be more suitable for the situation than a cameraphone. 


Scene 7 - Flash performance


Every great camera should have a great flash to go along with it. That's why we feel obliged to test the built-in flashes on all three devices. Fortunately, they all performed well in our impromptu test, filling the frame with plenty of light. For those who need a refresher, the iPhone 6 Plus has a two-tone LED flash while the Note 4 packs a single LED flash. The Canon EOS 650D relied on its built-in xenon flash for this shot.

Overall, we are happy with the results from all three cameras, although we do notice a few differences in the way they performed. If you take a closer look at the DSLR's photo, you'll notice that it has softer details compared to the smartphones' images. However, the Canon camera's image has the most natural-looking colors. Moreover, the DSLR is once again faster as it shot the frame in 1/60 of a second, while the iPhone 6 Plus set the exposure time at 1/17. The Note 4's exposure time was even longer. 


Scene 8 - Night


And finally, here's the night scene from our camera comparison. The image from the iPhone 6 Plus didn't stand a chance against that from the Galaxy Note 4 – the latter got 58% of all votes, while the iPhone collected less than 11%. As for the DSLR, its 31% rating ensured its second place. We can see why the Galaxy Note 4 topped this scene as well. Its photo is brighter than the iPhone's and more detailed than the Canon camera's image. Yet once again, the DSLR stood out with its faster shutter speed. 


Conclusion


A DSLR is kind of like a sports car – it packs a serious punch, but the amount of fun you can have with it proportional to your driving skills. The camera on a smartphone like the Note 4 or the iPhone, on the other hand, is akin to a limousine – it can't win a rally, but it rides with grace and in style; all you have to do is lay back and relax as your driver takes you to your mansion. 

Metaphors aside, DSLR cameras excel at taking photos faithfully, but the quality of the results usually depends on the abilities of the photographer – on their skills to take a pleasing image and to edit it afterwards, thus making it look its best. In contrast, a smartphone like the Galaxy Note 4 or the iPhone takes care of image fine-tuning behind the curtains. What you get is an image that isn't always accurate color-wise or with the greatest details, but in most cases is pleasant to look at nonetheless. That's why the Note 4 dominated our camera comparison – its photos looked more appealing than the unedited images from our Canon camera, thus people voted in the Note 4's favor.

Due to these key differences in how a DSLR camera and a smartphone take photos, it is tricky to say which one's better at it. It all boils down to what the user needs. Some require nothing but a device that is straightforward to use, easy to carry around, and capable of shooting decent images – a description that a smartphone fits in perfectly. To them, a smartphone's camera is the best camera. But you don't see pro photographers shooting with smartphones, do you? These are the "race drivers" who have the skills needed to take full advantage of a DSLR's power. Smartphone cameras are great, there's no denying that, but when it comes to serious photography, it will be a while until a DSLR's capabilities are matched by a cameraphone.

Related phones

iPhone 6 Plus
  • Display 5.5" 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Camera 8 MP / 1.2 MP front
  • Processor Apple A8, Dual-core, 1400 MHz
  • Storage 128GB
  • Battery 2915 mAh(24h 3G talk time)
Galaxy Note 4
  • Display 5.7" 1440 x 2560 pixels
  • Camera 16 MP / 3.7 MP front
  • Processor Samsung Exynos 7 Octa, Octa-core, 1900 MHz
  • Storage 32GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3220 mAh(20h 3G talk time)

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65 Comments

1. tiara6918

Posts: 2263; Member since: Apr 26, 2012

who needs a dslr when you have a note 4, samsung has done an amazing job except for low light, hope to see more amazing photography with the s6

5. TyrionLannister unregistered

'who needs a dslr when you have a note 4' A photographer. Being said that, the Note 4 has an awesome camera for a phone. S6 will be even better no doubt.

11. anasnazeer

Posts: 16; Member since: Jul 11, 2014

A lot of photographers tend to use phones for capturing quick pictures. And by phones I mean iPhone. They're far more popular among photographers who use dslr.

19. penguinbelly

Posts: 162; Member since: Dec 27, 2014

I know another group of people who exclusively use iPhones: Exotic dancers. iPhones are like a status symbol for them.

27. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

High resale value can cut both ways when the iPhone you just bought arrives and it smells of pungent perfume and is covered in body glitter.

56. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Many people confuse what's popular vs what is best. Sure the iPhone is popular, look at the sales; but so is a McDonald's hamburger. Neither which are the best. I personally have never seen a pro use a smartphone for a shot. They typical have a Canon or similar.

29. jaytai0106

Posts: 1888; Member since: Mar 30, 2011

Clearly not for those people who only take "quick" pictures. I would love to see all the photographers use the "so-called" iPhones to stand on the sideline of sport events and take game pictures. Then you can tell me how sh*tty those pictures will look. Please don't give me bs about how photographers use iPhone to take pictures now a day. Yes, I'm sure they do when they are walking down the road and see something they want to capture. Let's see how fast they'll lose all their clients when they actually are using their iPhones for photo shoot.

31. elitewolverine

Posts: 5192; Member since: Oct 28, 2013

Yes because the iso speed of either note 4 or iphone will do 'well'.

8. Ashoaib

Posts: 3309; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

Samsung has done amazing job and this is the reason apple is taking samsung's talent away with higher saleries

12. justsayit

Posts: 256; Member since: May 09, 2013

definitely not for person who use "intelligence auto" yet think they also can be a photographer

23. iCameToBashYou

Posts: 16; Member since: Feb 26, 2015

Please, no phone out compares to a decent DSLR. At least with someone that knows what the hell they are doing. Take the SOB out of A mode, put a decent piece of glass on it and there is no comparison.

44. jasrockett

Posts: 128; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

My $20,000 setup, 1Dx and 200-400mm lens, is better than my Note 4

45. jasrockett

Posts: 128; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

My Note 4 is a bit lighter and cheaper though.

46. jasrockett

Posts: 128; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

Smart assness aside though, yesterday for the Avalon Airshow I did make the scary decision to leave all of my wide lens's at home and just take my big lens and Note 4. I didn't die and I think it marks a new future. Mind you I was shooting for me not a client.

53. tuminatr

Posts: 1179; Member since: Feb 23, 2009

I read somwhere that most of the consumer DSLR's use a 1/3" image sensor. I also read that some of the new higer end point ans shoot cameras use a 1/2" sensor. I think that why we are seing o differance in the Note 4 it uses a 1/2" image sensor. So I agree with you its not going to be the quality of your professional gear but its a very good cell phone camera.

54. Clownstrike

Posts: 3; Member since: Feb 18, 2015

No, you didn't read that DSLRs use a 1/3" image sensor. DSLR sensors come in two basic sizes, but even the smallest is more than 10x the size of that 1/2" sensor.

47. downphoenix

Posts: 3165; Member since: Jun 19, 2010

yes but 200-400mm lenses are meant to take photos at larger distances than phones are, which are pretty much in the 35mm range only

60. Chichochic

Posts: 1; Member since: Mar 09, 2015

You can get a Nikon D3100 + 35 or 50mm f1.8 for about 550/600$ and get a 20 times better image than the Note4/Iphone6

65. shaolin95

Posts: 9; Member since: Oct 14, 2013

Obviously you have NO idea what you are talking about but good try at a "joke"

37. GeorgeDao123

Posts: 432; Member since: Aug 20, 2013

Your comment does not sound good. In this comparision, the DSLR is a model launched in 2012. If you compare Note4 and a 2014 DSLR camera, I doubt that Note4 will have difficulties to be the winner. Anyway, Note4 is better than iPhone 6Plus in overall. LOL

41. medtxa

Posts: 1655; Member since: Jun 02, 2014

well duh, but you admit note 4 better than 2012 DSLR.

52. GeorgeDao123

Posts: 432; Member since: Aug 20, 2013

Yes I do.

51. llamaruns

Posts: 1; Member since: Feb 28, 2015

Im using the Note 4. But this test puts the iphone in disadvantage since it includes the zoomed pictures. The iphone's photos apparently can't compete with the Note in pixels. Overall Note 4 is still superior (mostly)

2. Finalflash

Posts: 4063; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

That comparison and subsequent conclusion is retarded. No one cares about the DSLR taking auto photos. Everyone asked for there to be a DSLR so it can be used as a control group. It should have been clearly labelled as DSLR in the comparison and it should also have been used by a "pro" to produce the best possible picture. Then, everyone should have referenced the mystery smartphone cameras with the DSLR photo to select the one that did the best job on auto mode. The conclusion wastes precious time defending the DSLR when it wasn't supposed to be the focus of the whole article. I mean come on, why is it always amateur hour on this site?

15. nebula

Posts: 1009; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

I agree. If DSLR was tweaked before shot it would have all that sharpness and focus.Mind you somehow focus on DSLR looks bad. Could be faulty lens too. I mean c'mon DSLR to be beaten like that there is virtually no chance for the simple reason better sensor and glass and every photographer knows why DSLR is better than a smartphone camera.

24. Macready

Posts: 1830; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

It's there in the way how they are used most. Most DSLR's (which in turn are predominantly the entry level models) are used with their respective kitlenses and mostly in auto mode. A sad but true statistic. Thus there are 2 approaches, yours and the one used here. Neither is wrong, but they test different things. The current approach shows that many people using their DSLR's could as well use a good smartphone, unless they need the zoom. Clearly, they will never replace manual control on a DSLR, nor better optics.

3. mawhob2222

Posts: 219; Member since: Mar 22, 2014

Hhhhh Samsungarena

4. irellemot

Posts: 109; Member since: Nov 29, 2012

PA, do you understand how to focus a camera properly? My Canon T3i produces pictures with much better details than this, as long as I'm manually focused on the bloody object I want to zoom in on. This is especially seen in the last photo, you should have zoomed in on the camera's focus point or used a lens that provided a much shallower depth of field.

6. mistercarter

Posts: 360; Member since: Sep 01, 2011

the iPhone is a beast at taking night shots... wow

10. Ashoaib

Posts: 3309; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

You should say "iphone is a least at taking night shots"

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