Over the last several years, cell phone optics have made a significant leap forward. What wasn't even a consideration just four or five years ago has professionals collectively rethinking their positions. I would have laughed if someone had told me five years ago that we would discuss this topic. I mean, a cell phone as a tool for producing professional-level pictures, GTFOH. Cell phones should not be able to deliver the quality pictures they do. Everything we know about what makes a good picture is precisely why cell phones should not be a part of the discussion. The sensor is too small, light gathering ability sucks, and the lens elements are too small to produce separation from the subject and the background. So none of this has changed, but what has?
What has changed? We had no way of seeing the advancement in digital processing that would improve the useability of cell phones as viable camera replacements. The cell phone has gotten so good that the compact camera has been extinct for a few years now. The cell phone cameras' digital processing has achieved levels we could not have imagined. Advancement in digital processing creates an overlap between what is naturally caught in camera and what is produced after the image has been captured.
While it's primarily true that the tremendous power unleashed by advancements in digital processing has given general consumers power to create images that were previously thought impossible, the fact that you still need advanced knowledge of photography still holds. These cell phones' abilities still require advanced knowledge of photography for that power to be unlocked. Think about it in these terms. Hand a five thousand dollar camera with a three thousand dollar lens to a person without knowledge of photography. Your results will be only what the camera in auto mode can deliver. Same results you get from a cell phone, great images under ideal situations.
Due to the popularity of cell phone photography, companies have been putting out some exciting products to enhance your experience while using the cell phone camera. This market is booming, from lenses to flashes controlled by your phone., and everything in between. The cell phone camera accessories market is booming. I recently stumbled upon a product that has completely changed my position on using my cell phone for photography. That product is called a Progrip. Made by a small startup company called Shiftcam, this nifty device allows me to handle my phone like it's a professional camera. This relieved one of my most significant issues with using a cell phone for photography, ergonomics. Professional photographers are creatures of habit. We like our buttons in a specific place, we want our hands in particular locations, and we don't like to change as different devices get utilized. The Progrip is a device that makes the cell phone an option for leaving my professional cameras at home while on vacation.
Note I said on vacation. Significant and incremental improvements have resulted in picture quality strides in cell phone photography that was once thought impossible. However, those strides have not equaled or bested that of professional cameras. I would argue that professional cameras have widened the gap significantly. This discussion occurs because the casual consumer compares cameras based on what they see (picture quality). This way of rating cameras is inefficient because most images are being consumed via a 6-inch or so screen (cell phone). This method of viewing photographs and the reduced photo quality of social media platforms has made reviewing cameras based on photo quality a moot point. Quite frankly, they all look the same.
The area where professional equipment shines and why cell phones will find it difficult, if not impossible, to surpass the performance is the area of performance. Cell phones have just about maxed out the sensor size they can fit into those devices. Sensor size determines the size and quality of the pixels and the ability to capture quality images in low-light situations. So that gap between the cell phone and the professional camera will likely never be bridged. The other issue revolves around the creativity advantages that professional-level cameras have over cell phones. The control you have over every aspect of image reproduction is something that will not be attained by a cell phone for decades. The ability to control those factors in a camera allows for photo manipulation that cant be achieved with the cell phone.
So, can you use your phone to produce professional-level photoshoots? Absolutely. You can work under ideal situations and get professional-level results if you have a professional-level skill set. A Professional is primarily determined by what they know, not the equipment they use. Now, just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Professionals are defined by their ability to get great results in any situation. That is just not possible with a cell phone. The limitations of the cell phone render it unviable for professional use. So again, yes, you can achieve professional-looking photoshoots with your cell phone, but don't expect consistent results.
(All photos taken on iphone 13 Promax MUA: @Anna Copp Creative Director: Shakeema Cochrane Creative Services)