Smartphones are convenient and come with increasingly sophisticated features – so much so that some people shoot all their photos with a smartphone. If that’s you, you may already have noticed the limitations. You don’t have to splash out on a DSLR or mirrorless camera, either, even a compact camera will take your photography up a level and give you the kinds of photos you can treasure for a lifetime. It can massively expand your potential, helping you achieve shots you thought only professionals were capable of. Here’s what you’ve been missing… 

1. Optical zoom

This is probably the biggest difference between a mobile and a compact camera. Mobiles have a fixed lens and they can only zoom by digitally expanding the shot the lens sees. This inevitably reduces the quality of your photo and, with extreme close-ups, you may even see pixilation creeping in. Compact cameras, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras all come with optical zooms so the lens moves, magnifying the image and giving you the very best quality.

2. Low lighting

Mobiles have a tiny light sensor, making it hard for them to correctly expose a shot when the lighting is anything but perfect. As smartphones become more technically adept, programmers are learning to compensate for some of these issues – but in low light conditions, shots from a smartphone will always be inferior to anything you’d get from a dedicated digital camera.

3. The flash

How many people use the flash on a smartphone? The images you get are usually washed out and the colours look flat. Generally, smartphones have very poor flashes, plus they’re aimed directly at your subject, bleaching out colour and detail. Dedicated cameras usually come with their own (much better) flash. They can also be integrated with standalone flash units so that instead of lighting a scene from the front, you can light it from the sides, giving a more realistic feel and a far more interesting composition.

4. Dark nights

Here’s where your smartphone will really struggle. With a dedicated camera, you can either beef up the ISO or use a tripod and long exposure time. While smartphones can automatically adjust the ISO to try to provide correctly exposed images, the reality is that their weaker sensor doesn’t have the ISO range you get with a dedicated camera. As a result, they’re never going to give you the same, perfectly exposed shots unless you use a tripod.

5. Long exposure

Have you seen those dreamy long exposure shots of waterfalls or waves? These are only possible with a tripod and long shutter speed. While you might be able to fake it with software, nothing compares to doing it properly with a dedicated camera. Although the iPhone can’t do proper long exposure photography, there is software that can mimic the effect by overlaying a series of shots. If you’re determined to stick with your smartphone, take a look at an app called Slow Shutter Cam. When it comes to keeping your phone stable, 3 Legged Thing sells a cradle that attaches to a regular tripod and costs under a tenner. Alternatively, try the Joby GripTight Pro Video Mount with GorillaPod. Not only is it dedicated to smartphones, it also looks the business with its funky design.

6. Experiment

Unlike smartphones, compact cameras come with heaps of special modes to automatically handle situations such as night shooting, sports, portraits or snowy scenes. They set the camera to the optimum settings for that particular shooting scenario, taking the guesswork out of it – perfect for the beginner. Then when you feel confident enough, it’s easy to step away from these auto settings and give manual a go. Maybe you want to experiment with depth of field, try out different long exposure settings, or just get to know your camera better – compacts, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras all give you the freedom to experiment. Things like auto-focus are usually faster and better in a dedicated camera, too. For example, focus tracking can follow your subject across the screen and even maintain tracking if the subject briefly disappears.

7. Made for the job

Because dedicated cameras are made for only one task, they are good at it. They won’t waste your battery doing other things and, because images and video are stored on memory cards, you need never run out of storage space. Best of all, they usually have a higher resolution (more megapixels) than a smartphone, giving you a bigger image with more detail.

Shoot like a pro

If you want to shoot photos that will stand the test of time, start with a compact or DSLR camera and you’ll be shooting like a professional in no time. Photo by William Bout.

Read more about Compacts

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