Camera vs Phone

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Home Forums Off Piste Photography Camera vs Phone

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    H W
    BPL Member


    I need to upgrade my iphone 7. Considering the 13 Pro ($1K) especially since I can shoot in raw. However the Sony RX100 in earlier versions can be had for $200 and less. Anyone have experience with both and can share your insights?

    Kevin Babione
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pennsylvania

    I have two RX100 (m2 and m5) and love them.  I typically carry the m2 on my hiking trips because if I drop it I won’t feel I’ve lost much (I bought the m5 when the flash on the m2 died).  Since I rarely (i.e. never) need a flash on a backpacking trip it seemed to make sense.

    I just went from a iPhone7 to an iPhoneX (I bought the 13 pro for my daughter and she thought it would be nice if she gave me her X).  I took the X on my last trip this past weekend instead of the RX100 and noticed that I didn’t take as many photos as I normally have in the past.  Granted, there were not a lot of views or vistas along the trail we did, but I used to still pull the camera out for snapshots pretty regularly.  I don’t know if it was because I rarely touch my phone while backpacking and I haven’t made the transition to using it as my camera too or what the reason was.  I keep my phone in a shoulder pouch and my camera in a hip-belt pocket so it’s not an issue of accessibility.  YMMV

    Here’s my suggestion:  Get the iPhone 13 Pro.  It is so much faster than the 7 that you’ll appreciate having the upgraded phone day in and day out whether or not you’re on the trail.  Take some photos with it around the house, yard, and day hikes to see how it works for you.  Then take it on a trip that you’ve done before and, if possible, retake some of the pictures that you’ve taken before with your old camera and compare them.  If you’re happy with the 13 Pro (and I suspect you will be) then you won’t have to think about it any further.  If you’re unhappy you can blame me…That, and around $200, will get you an earlier model RX100 ;)

    BPL Member


    Locale: Cascadia

    Sony RX100 is a good camera, but the image quality is not that amazing due to the lens. Those cameras used to be obvious choices over phones, but phones are very good these days, and have 3+ camera lenses on them. For user who know what they are doing, they can get more out of a modern high-end phone. For people who don’t do advanced camera techniques, the camera still offers some help for casual use, but not as much as years ago.

    If you know much about processing RAW images, the phones can shoot bursts of RAWs that can then be combined into low-noise images on the computer. You can easily get a phone image with less noise than a single frame from a full-frame camera.

    I’m an off-and-on semi-pro landscape photographer. I used to have a full frame kit that weighed 7+ lbs. I now have a DJI Osmo Action camera used with my smartphone. Besides longer telephoto shots, I don’t miss anything else. I can get some very highly detailed panorama shots stitching normal-angle RAW images together.

    I find that ultimately, having an imaging device that can be used in any weather conditions is a huge plus. This image below was taken with a junky iPhone 4S in a freak snow burst storm with the sun shining through trees. I would not have got this image using regular camera gear. There were so many snow flakes and ice crystals in the air, the lens was getting covered almost instantly between shots. I only had seconds to get this photo as the scene faded very fast. I literally only got this because of the quick access, weather resistance, and quick cleaning of the lens. If my goal was to get high image quality, the shot would have never been taken.

    PROS to using a phone:

    – Virtually water and dust proof. No “fancy” camera can beat this aspect. Also, since the lenses are small, it takes less time to wipe water clear from them.

    – Versatility in APPs and functionality.

    – Free camera weight.

    – Much larger and better screen for viewing photos while hiking.

    – Fits in pockets easier.

    – Vastly more durable all-around.

    – Fully automated focus stacking and EV bracketing (at same time if needed).

    – Touch screen.

    CONS to using the camera:

    – Not at all weather sealed.

    – Lack of more advanced features and controls.

    – Telescoping lenses often suffer really bad from lens decentering at some focal length or all of them. This causes soft sides or corners in images.

    – Poor optics. Bad chromatic aberrations. REALLY bad purple fringing/blobbing. Lack of details, especially outside of center of images.

    – Poor battery life.

    – NOT free camera weight

    John B
    BPL Member


    Locale: western Colorado

    Johan, don’t know what camera you have used in the past?  I have used an Olympus TG-2 for many years and love it.  I have taken it on numerous 7-10 day backpacks and NEVER had it run out of juice, while taking many pictures.  So, not sure why you indicate a con of cameras is battery life??   Full disclosure–I will not use my phone as a camera, even though I take it on trips for other reasons.

    Bruce Tolley
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    @ HW The best camera is the one you have with you when you want to capture the image.

    You don’t say anything about your style of and goals with photography are so it is very hard to answer the question fully but sounds like your want to stay within a budget and want to know if you should consider taking a Sony RX100 along on your next backpacking trip.

    If you want to do  post processing with an iPhone, the iPhone app ProCamera will enable you to capture a RAW file with any iPhone. I find I get better results taking the RAW file (HEIC)  into Adobe Lightroom for processing that relying on the jpeg Apple presents to me.

    If you want to photograph animals on your trips, you need at least 200mm or 300mm of reach.  You can get 200mm of reach with the more recent Sony RX100 iterations.  If you want depth of field in your landscape images so you have the optical illusion of looking into the distance, you need a high f/number which you cannot get with an iPhone.

    If you want dynamic range, you need to shoot HDR with your iPhone and accept the in camera processing that the Apple presents to you.  With the 1 inch sensor, the Sony sensor will capture more data, and you can decide to do with it if you want to present to the world your vision.

    Yes the Sony RX100s are not weather sealed.  But you can buy a zip lock bag and weather seal it.

    I have the Sony RX100m5.  It has very good, and very fast auto focusing. You can set it up give you jpeg, RAW only, or JPEG plus RAW, you can do exposure compensation, bracketing, etc etc, and with 200mm reach you can get acceptable photos of animals and in wide angle mode with the right depth of field, I can get good landscape shots.


    BTW This is BackpackingLights so I dont think you can call the iPhone free weight. Sometimes I dont bring my phone at all. And for longer trips, you have to start carrying ways to re-charge the phone…


    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    That little Sony reminds me of the Olympus XA2 that was my go-to travel camera for 20 years.  

    I’ll point out that recent iPhones are crazy good in low-light conditions.  I’ve taken to viewing the aurora through them because the colors and details are much more vivid.  There have been times when, by naked eye, I can barely see if there is an aurora happening, but it is quite clear and sometimes spectacular in real-time through the iPhone or when captured as an image.

    H W
    BPL Member


    Yes Bruce the best camera is the one you got. For me that’s been the heavy and somewhat bulky Nikon D750 and 20mm lens. Excellent camera and I get striking panoramas with that lens, but I really don’t need any more landscape images. Just looking to down size without sacrificing too much quality when there is a shot worth taking. In any event I need to upgrade my phone and if I find the Sony at a good price I’ll pick it up and make some comparisons.

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Bob Kerner
    BPL Member


    I think I’m in Johnan’s camp. Having a good phone is a multitasker with no weight penalty and the new phones are very good. I use my iPhone 13 to make short films and pictures at work and the quality (sadly) is comparable to a $$$$$ pro video camera from 10 years ago. I have a very good point and shoot, Canon G7X with specs similar to the Sony, and only take it about 50% of the time. Although not a huge DSLR, it is extra weight and one more thing to strap to the shoulders or hip belt (there’s no point in having it in the main pack because it won’t get used there). I bring it only if I intend to make “nice” photos where I want to use the more creative controls or when I know I want an actual zoom lens. My DSLR hasn’t left the house in years.

    I’m not a fan of buying discontinued models of tech, like a Mark 1 RX100 versus Mark 5. You’ll just be disappointed knowing there’s something “4 Marks” better that you could be using! Finally, the retractable lens vulnerability is real. I had my GX in a bag on my bike, along with a small cook kit and some snacks. The lens deployed on its own in the bag…probably hit a bump just right….it deployed into a banana and then retracted, dragging the banana material into the body of the camera. Unrepairable! Canon was kind enough to sell me a refurb’d newer model for  less than list price….the benefit of buying current models with warranties is that when something weird happens the help desk agent can take pity on you.

    BPL Member


    One issue not discussed is eyesight. I need reading glasses – but they are not on my head when I shoot impromptu images on the go, which is most of the time.

    Using my triple lens phone ticks all the boxes, except I can’t see the screen clearly and thus pretty much guessing about composition, exposure, weighted focus. Basically all the creative stuff  the phone lets you do so fast and efficiently is hit and miss.

    So now I’m looking at compact cameras with an electronic viewfinder. EVF’s allow adjustment for eyesight – so no need for donning reading glasses – and works better in full sun.

    One alternative is progressive prescription lenses. I have these in my work glasses, but they are expensive to make in sunglasses, and honestly, with my eyesight, I prefer to see nature without a vertically graduated prescription in between. They also make the trail right in front of my feet blurry, unless I hike with my chin against the sternum, lol.

    Ah, it’s fun to get old..

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