Side by side: Canon cameras versus smartphone cameras

During our recent Munich City Surfers shoot, we asked a keen amateur photographer to help us compare shots using the latest Canon cameras and leading smartphone cameras, the Apple iPhone 6S and Samsung Galaxy S7. Check out the results below.

To ensure a fair challenge, each photo was taken within minutes of one another, in the same lighting conditions, using manual settings and with a camera and smartphone rig (as shown below). We used a range of the latest Canon consumer cameras to make the comparisons.

camera and smartphone rig

Zooming in

Here you can see the benefits of the PowerShot G3 X’s optical zoom versus the tested smartphone cameras’ digital zooms. When you pinch to zoom in using a camera with a digital zoom (like both of the tested smartphones), you are simply cropping what’s in front of you. This can result in a lack of detail or blurriness. You may not be able to see your subject clearly and the photo may not capture a scene as you want to remember it.

As you can see from the image shot on the PowerShot G3 X, a quality optical zoom lens offers greater detail, clarity and sharper colours compared to the smartphones’ digital zooms.

Zooming in - Canon PowerShot G3 X

Canon PowerShot G3 X

Zooming in - Apple iPhone 6S

Apple iPhone 6S

Zooming in - Canon PowerShot G3 X

Canon PowerShot G3 X

Zooming in - Samsung Galaxy S7

Samsung Galaxy S7

Shooting in low light

The tested smartphone cameras struggled to produce pleasing results in low light conditions. That’s because their image sensors (the part that responds to light to create an image) are less proficient at coping with low light situations than the sensor you’ll find in Canon’s advanced compact cameras, mirrorless cameras and DSLRs. In addition, the tested smartphone cameras offer no control over ISO settings (the level of sensitivity of your camera to available light) meaning images look dark.

These side-by-side images show how a larger sensor and the ability to handle a higher ISO setting allows the PowerShot G7 X Mark II to produce a superior image, with accurate colours, sharper details and visibly brighter results.

Low light - Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II

Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II

Low light - Apple iPhone 6S

Apple iPhone 6S

Low light - Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II

Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II

Low light - Samsung Galaxy S7

Samsung Galaxy S7

Capturing fast action in low light

In this comparison, you can clearly see how the action is sharply frozen in the image taken by the PowerShot G7 X Mark II, while the tested smartphone shots are not as sharp and lack colour. In low light conditions, Canon cameras adjust shutter speed, ISO and other settings to ensure crisp, detailed images you’ll want to print and share.

The aim of this shot was to freeze the action of the river and surfer. The tested smartphone cameras could not achieve a fast enough shutter speed or respond to the available light to produce a satisfyingly sharp image.

Fast action - Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II

Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II

Fast action - Apple iPhone 6S

Apple iPhone 6S

Fast action - Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II

Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II

Fast action - Samsung Galaxy S7

Samsung Galaxy S7

Taking portrait photos

One of the benefits of using a camera with a large sensor, like the EOS 80D used here, is the ability to create shallow depth of field (the part of the image behind the main subject). Here you can see in the EOS 80D shot that the background is beautifully blurred, meaning the subject ‘pops out’ of the image. The shot taken with a smartphone camera looks flatter and darker in the shadow area, as the smartphone is not able to handle the contrast in light as ably as the EOS 80D. The smartphone cameras focus on the whole image so the background is as much a part of the shot as the person is. In addition, the EOS 80D was shot using the zoom of the lens attached. This gives a more flattering perspective and makes facial features look more natural. The tested smartphone lenses are wider, stretching facial features. Using a wider lens like this means you need to be much closer to your subject to capture a great portrait. With a DSLR and a zoom lens you can be further away from your subject. Both photos were shot without flash, using natural light. The DSLR image also has deeper, more accurate and balanced colours.

Portrait photos - Canon EOS 80D

Canon EOS 80D

Portrait photos - Apple iPhone 6S

Apple iPhone 6S

Portrait photos - Canon EOS 80D

Canon EOS 80D

Portrait photos - Samsung Galaxy S7

Samsung Galaxy S7

Comparing the results

As the results show, Canon cameras consistently outperformed the tested smartphone cameras at producing detailed, well-exposed images under the circumstances.

If you’re feeling inspired to improve the photos you share with friends and followers, why not check out our latest cameras and see which one’s right for you?

View our camera selector

Explore our City Surfer interactive experience here.