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How the Galaxy S23 Ultra and iPhone 14 Pro replaced my DSLR camera

The smartphone camera vs. DSLR camera debate divides opinions rather sharply, and with good reason. Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. However, unless you’re into photography for professional reasons, the phone in your hands is a very powerful photography tool that can run circles around your DSLR or mirrorless camera.

I’ve been exploring the foothills of the Himalayas for the past few weeks and decided to bring along my best Samsung and Apple smartphones, rather than carrying a professional DSLR with me (one that costs around $4,000 in total). My travel check-in companions were the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and iPhone 14 Pro. I’m blown away by what these smartphone cameras can achieve, and the dramatic upper hand that a regular DSLR camera holds in a range of healthy scenarios.

Night mode is the magic mode

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.  and iPhone 14 Pro.
Nadeem Sarwar / Digital Trends

Yes, professional cameras provide much better pictures indoors and in scenarios with insufficient lighting. There is little noise, the subject separation is tighter, and the depth effect is appropriate. But as things get darker, a DSLR camera’s sensor will need external light to bring out the elements in the frame. It’s not possible in a secluded cabin nestled in frozen woods, and this is where tricks like computer imaging work their magic.

Clicked with Galaxy S23 Ultra
Nadeem Sarwar / Digital Trends

I tried night mode with both the iPhone 14 Pro and Galaxy S23 Ultra, but it was the Samsung phone that delivered the most incredible results. Take, for example, the shot above that I clicked with the Galaxy S23 Ultra by getting the viewfinder as close to the plant stem as possible without losing focus lock.

Galaxy S23 Ultra night mode
Nadeem Sarwar / Digital Trends

And here’s the night mode shot with the duration of the photo manually set to its maximum value. Just look at the huge amount of detail I was able to extract from the dark surroundings.

Night mode Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Nadeem Sarwar / Digital Trends

But this isn’t even the most amazing shot I was able to take using the dedicated Night mode in the Camera app. What you see above is a photo I took in a very dark room with night mode disabled.

Clicked on the night mode of the Galaxy S23 Ultra
Nadeem Sarwar / Digital Trends

And above is the same scene captured with night mode enabled with about 6-7 seconds capture time. I couldn’t see a single thing in the entire room with my eyes, but the Galaxy S23 Ultra managed to bring out the subtle colors of a bag lying on the floor. And the best part is, the colors weren’t an oversaturated mess. I’ve never seen a DSLR or any professional camera achieve such a feat.

Optical zoom means business

Close up of the cameras on the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Going on a trip, especially in landscapes such as a mountain valley, means you need to capture the whole view on a large scale. In addition to the magnified views. A standard set of lenses for a DSLR will let you manage the former, but you’ll have to splurge a few hundred bucks on a zoom kit with a 200mm-400mm equivalent lens for long-range zoom shots.

Let’s move the case to smartphones. Now, I would never suggest taking a photo with a digital zoom. However, the optical zoom on the flagships from Apple and Samsung will not disappoint you. The iPhone 14 Pro’s 3x optical zoom may sound disappointing, but the results are anything but. With the Galaxy S23 Ultra, get ready for a pleasant surprise.

Below is a set of photos I clicked at 1x, 3x, 30x and 100x magnification levels using the Galaxy S23 Ultra, with the clock in focus.

Thanks to its periscope-style telephoto camera, Samsung’s flagship 10x optical zoom range is one of the most impressive tricks you’ll find on a phone. It goes even further with a 30x and 100x hybrid digital zoom range. Here’s another sample below to give you an idea of ​​what the humble phone in your pocket can accomplish.

Now, the hybrid and digital zoom shots aren’t the best in terms of sharpness, but it’s surprising how far you can look down the frame—which is impossible with the naked eye—without spending a dollar on any outside contraption as you would with a professional DSLR.

These statuses are no joke

The camera apps from Apple and Samsung are full of cool tricks, both really weird and amazing. Samsung crammed 200 million pixels onto the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s camera sensors, and they deliver some really impressive results. By default, the main snapper clicks 12MP shots, but with steady hands and a little patience, the 200MP mode takes some great photos. Below is a standard 12MP snapshot.

The main camera sample from the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Nadeem Sarwar / Digital Trends

What you see below is an 800% crop from a 200MP shot and the amazing amount of visual detail it can offer:

Zoomed view of a full-resolution sample of the Galaxy S32 Ultra
Nadeem Sarwar / Digital Trends

Next, I turned my attention to the Pro camera mode, which gives you more control over the S23 Ultra’s shots. Now, it might seem daunting when you first enter Pro mode, but unlike a DSLR, you can play around with fewer controls. However, you can still make eye-catching artistic photos by trial and error.

I’m no DSLR photography wizard, but I just adjusted the ISO and white balance slider and was able to capture a sunrise in a completely different color profile. Check out this comparison of Auto mode and Pro mode which tapped with only two basic tweaks.

The best part is that you can replicate similar controls with the video, thanks to the Pro video mode. In addition, these two phones also allow HDR10+, RAW, and cinematic video capture. And trust me, the ultra steady video mode on every phone is a really cool thing. Depending on your level of video editing experience, you can turn out some amazing clips that will wow your friends on social media.

Personally, I can’t get enough of the slow motion videos these two phones can take. Apple in particular has largely solved the problem of banding that plagues slow-motion videos captured by smartphones.

The portrait mode has gotten really good

iPhone 14 Pro camera module.
Apple iPhone 14 Pro Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Look, it’s hard to beat a DSLR camera with a smartphone camera. Why? There’s a huge difference between the fragmentation of the gradient blur you see in a dedicated camera shot compared to the flat bokeh in a smartphone Portrait. But the situation has really improved over the years.

The Galaxy S23 Ultra and iPhone 14 Pro both do an amazing job of separating the subject, but it’s Apple’s flagship that leads here. The iPhone does a much better job of preserving true skin tone, even against a challenging background, and offers a cleaner depiction of skin blemishes and other fine details.

I’ve also noticed that iPhones have gone a long way in detecting edges, while tricks like Deep Fusion lend a hand in preserving an amazing amount of detail. This does not only apply to humans. But also pets.

I focused the iPhone 14 Pro’s lenses on dogs during my recent trip, and regardless of whether I’m using the wide or telephoto lens, the results are consistently impressive. Selfies were no different either. I’ve also shot some portrait mode videos and have been blown away by the execution in terms of bokeh accuracy, color depth, and general stability. This round definitely falls in Apple’s favour.

You’re good to skip the DSLR

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and Apple iPhone 14 Pro
Nadeem Sarwar / Digital Trends

It doesn’t seem logical to argue about smartphone supremacy when DSLRs offer benefits such as significantly better sound quality, a relatively higher degree of image adjustment controls, the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, and more. But smartphones answer these DSLRs with their huge set of features.

To start, phones are much lighter and more pocketable than DSLR cameras. While pocketability is one of the biggest advantages, the durability and ingress protection offered by the phones is another practical area where smartphones are far ahead of the expensive camera suite. In addition, solutions such as Gorilla Glass and Sapphire keep the phones durability enhanced with each passing year.

Speaking of practical advantages, smartphones make it very convenient to take high-quality photos even with their automatic modes. But what I really appreciate is the ability to instantly share those photos, regardless of whether I’m emailing RAW shots on assignments or just posting them to Instagram. Just take a look at the sample clips I shot with the iPhone 14 Pro without any complicated manual controls or jazzy filters:

Another convenience that I can’t gush about enough is the larger viewfinder and how one can see all the adjustments reflected in real time. Let’s also not forget the elephant in the room — the selfies, aka selfies. Imagine clicking a well-framed selfie on your own with a DSLR! On the other hand, smartphones make it incredibly easy to take high-quality selfies with all the cool filters and amazing photo clicks.

On a comparative note, the Galaxy S23 Ultra proves to be a better holiday phone than the iPhone 14 Pro for several reasons. First, it takes slightly more saturated photos that are better suited for social media than the iPhone 14 Pro’s realistic but slightly muted colors. Second, the Samsung phone’s zoom capabilities are miles ahead of Apple’s best dog, and really come in handy when glancing at distant objects in your vision.

At the end of the day, smartphones provide a lot of versatility without costing you the few thousand dollars that a range of DSLR cameras might cost you. So, are phones like the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and iPhone 14 Pro good enough to replace your DSLR on your next vacation? definitely. In fact, they make the whole process of capturing memories much easier and more convenient.

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