My iPhone Has Me Convinced I Should Leave My DSLR At Home

Filed Under: Travel, Travel Technology

The type of luggage you travel with and what you pack in it has been an ongoing topic of discussion here at OMAAT. I am with Tiffany in support of the spinner bag. They are particularly helpful when trying to get around with little ones.

My last few trips, however, have had me wasting space and carrying more weight than necessary because my bulky DSLR camera has been used less and less.

In fact, my family spent about a month in Southeast Asia this summer and I lugged my camera everywhere only to take it out and use it twice.

Fewer than 5% of the images I took on the trip were taken with the DSLR.

Weighing my options between a 3+ pound camera with a single purpose and a phone that does many things and weighs less than 7 ounces, it’s sort of a no-brainer. And that doesn’t even factor in the charger, batteries, additional lenses and everything else that makes the trip because of the DSLR.

But, it’s hard to imagine a trip without the camera that my wife says I treat like it’s my security blanket.

The more I thought about it, though, it became more and more clear that my iPhone is my best option for travel.

It can be used when things are wet or muddy.

It’s a better option for discreet images when the people tell the story as much as the place.

It’s easier to slip into a pocket when hiking around (like with these elephants).

It’s easier to quickly get candid shots of my kids while traveling.

It’s more readily available when taking a quick selfie while a thieving monkey rummages around in my backpack.

It’s easier composing shots to avoid crowds at busy tourist attractions with a full-size screen.

And portrait mode was made for monkeys!

So, I think I’ve finally convinced myself to rip the bandaid and leave the DSLR at home when Tiffany and I go to Dubai with our spouses later this year.

I’m curious what you all use for a camera on the road and if anyone else has made the move to leave a DSLR at home?

  1. One word: Go Pro (two words actually). The night time pictures are fantastic, I can just clip to my body and take shots or film and forget. I don’t need to be afraid of it getting wet. I can snorkel with confidence because it’s attached to my mask, helmet, cap, car, airplane window, bicycle and so on. Its super easy to use, very durable and super light. And if I loose it, well, it’s just a camera, it doesn’t have important documents and my contacts and gps and credit card information and all the other stuff that makes modern life possible.

  2. Yes.

    Once upon a time, the extra weight would not have mattered to me. After many years of schleping my trusty Canon all over the place (and road miles a-go-go)…I too am iPhoning these days. Traveling lighter is just better. The pictures are decent (if not outright good) and the phone is much less hassle. On top of that, storage in planes is getting smaller. In my midwestern market, you connect everywhere, usually on smaller jets. If you arent at the front of the queue, the bag gets gate-checked. In this case, I’ll take the downsides of the iPhone over checking my gear.

    The only thing I wish the iPhone had was removable storage. I do still take my Canon on the odd trip, but that is getting rarer these days.

  3. I’ve had the same thought on a few occasions. My Pixel 2XL takes some decent shots, and I love the ease of a photosphere. But for anything that I want to zoom in on, the pixelation on my Pixel (pun intended) is atrocious. Plus I like to play with long exposures and the processor on my cell doesn’t hold a candle to my 5D. So for now, I’m still toting my 4 lb monster haha

  4. I don’t carry a DLSR, but rather a Mirrorless SLR. It saves a ton of space and is much lighter than a normal DSLR. While phones are getting closer and closer to matching what modern cameras can do I find it convenient to have a dedicated camera that I can take out and quickly snap photos and not have to worry about things like draining my phone battery or damaging it if I am taking a more difficult shot

  5. I carry my Leica Q on all the trips. The quality on the phone is just not comparable at all, esp vs the Leica lens even in the best situation outdoor, not to mention indoor low light.
    Most mirrorless these days aren’t too bulky or heavy. If you have the means to invest in a good ($2k+) mirrorless, it’s just worth the extra weight to bring it.

  6. I have an iPhone X and my 10 year old DSLR takes way better pictures. For a blog, the iPhone is fine, but for familly pictures the DSLR is still my go to.

  7. The big camera comes out for special trips. I bought one for a Serengeti safari and have started to use it more as the pictures are much better than iPhone quality. If I don’t need long range pics then I’m taking them with my iPhone though.

    New Zealand and Australia were also trips I took the big camera for.

  8. Don’t worry, I’m sure my husband will be bringing his standard 40+ lbs of camera gear, so if you start having withdrawals he can spot you. 😉

  9. I’ve converted to Sony mirrorless from DLSR long ago. However, I find these days that I am in same situation with you where I don’t even use it to take most pictures. My Oneplus 6 is good enough to do the duty for most so I won’t even carry the mirrorless unless I know that I need a specific lens for the trip. Even a mirrorless could take significant portion of your baggage space if you are taking multiple lens, accessories, etc. I think higher-end late model of phones take good enough pictures that you don’t even need to carry mirrorless for most type of photos, especially with photo editors and filters available with current phones.

  10. It depends on what kind of trip I’m on. Last time I went to London I left the DSLR at home, but this time I’m bringing it. The type of photography I plan to do determines what I bring and/or use. For this upcoming trip to Japan and London, I’m bringing my D850 and two to three lenses and a tripod because my main focus on this trip will be photography, specifically night photography. iPhone quality simply doesn’t come close to DSLR quality, especially when zooming or in low light. Plus shooting in raw means I can rescue photos that might be a bit off.

  11. I’m about to do a trip to SE Asia & Japan. I’ve recently purchased a Sony RX10 M2 for the trip. This mirrorless camera is has a built-in 24-200 2.8 lens, shoots 4K video and delivers a pretty good RAW file. Have been using the camera in lots of different situations, mostly for stills. Feel comfortable with it & seems to be the walk-around / do-all camera I’ve been wanting. So I think I’ll leave my Nikon DSLR gear home on this trip as I want to be mobile & light. Will also take a compact Canon G15 as back-up. But even with these 2 small cameras, you have to have chargers, extra battery (especially for the Sony), small shotgun mic (for Sony) & MacBook Air. Would be nice to just do a trip with iPhone, but for me, to go far away without even a small camera would be weird. And then of course there is also the tripod question – bring or no bring.

  12. It depends what kind of photographer you are and how much you like photography. If you take pictures like 99% of people then any iPhone is probably better than a camera. If you’re the 1% it cannot compete with a good lens.

  13. Would be good to note which model of the iPhone you’re talking about. The reviews have noted some pretty significant advances, especially under challenging lighting conditions, with the XS/XS Max compared to the X/8/8+. The supposed “beautification” effect (which appears to be an overly aggressive smoothing) should be fixed soon in software.

  14. agree with the above – mirrorless cameras. I can carry an OMD EM5 + a 14-150 tele lens and its on my wrist and I barely know I have it. I’ve walked 20,000+ steps in a day running around the streets of Barcelona with that set up attached to my wrist its so light. EM5 + 14-150 are also weather sealed so you can use it in the elements (to some degree) and its fine in a light rain, dust, sand, etc.

    When I go backpacking or if im wearing cargo shorts when traveling to visit a city I toss in the 9-18 which weighs as much as 1-2 candy bars so I can easily toss it in a backpacking pack or my cargo shorts pocket and know its within quick reach.

    Pixels also do not always tell the story, so does the size of the sensor, and camera phones have a smaller sensor. you start getting capped when you want to print larger or higher resolution photos as well.

  15. Mirrorless all the way for me. I carry an Olympus OMD EM-1 with the kit lens plus one prime and a telephoto. Significantly less bulky than a full frame and even with a tripod, it all fits inside my daypack. I have a Pixel that I’ll occasionally take quick photos with (e.g. beer and wine labels), but I still much prefer the feel of an actual camera body in my hands.

  16. I bought my Fujifilm X100F for exactly this reason. DSLR was so bulky and heavy that I stopped bringing it on my travels. My X100F is perfect for traveling. It is much smaller and lighter, and it takes amazing photos. Would highly recommend it.

  17. The iPhone really has a good camera. If you’re still interested in “photography” (vs just taking pictures) you should look at a mirrorless camera as others have suggested.

    I just upgraded to a Sony A7 III which has a lot of features of Sony’s flagship A9 at a much more affordable price.

    But, I think about this conundrum when I’m lugging that camera around on my trips, too.

  18. A DSLR ir mirrorless are way better than iPhone cameras. The are good bit no way comparable with a good camera. Even iPhone can’t compare to some Android. But even so, Phones are good for easy situations. No zoom, no need of dynamic range, or great sharpness.
    Once my camera stopped working on a Trip and got decent photos, but didn’t match the quality. As cellphones get better, DSLR will get lighter thanks to mirrorless.

  19. Agree that DSLRs are unnecessary added bulk when traveling, but the iphone pics that you posted aren’t very good either. As others have mentioned, a mirrorless camera is a good compromise for photogs not wanting to carry around 10 lbs of camera gear and get some really good shots.

  20. I wanna add another element to the iPhone no one has mentioned. I agree DSLRs are much better at taking more quality shots but one thing I’ve really found invaluable is wih my iPhone pics no matter what type of iPhone is their “live shots” which record a split second or two on top of the photo you took. For me it’s like a short video clip or a GIF that takes me back to that moment more then a really well taken camera photo ever could.

  21. I have a tiny Lumix ZS50 “travel zoom” that I carry to supplement the iPhone. iPhones are generally quite good but the image quality degrades dramatically if you have to zoom in beyond the 2x optical.

  22. @William – It certainly is a unique feature that regular cameras don’t have. It does use a LOT more storage than a single photo and I find it more annoying on photos on the majority of my photos that don’t have any or shouldn’t have any movement.

  23. @Daniel. As someone who isn’t super tech savvy I had no idea there was such a storage size difference for such a short clip. Also you make a really great point about shots that are intended to be still. I suppose the middle ground would be if Apple would allow you to chose either pre or post photo if you wanted that option and if not something in the camera then maybe the camera could somehow allow a higher resolution shot? Idk again I’m not tech savvy lol but I appreciate your information and view point.

  24. I carry my iPhone Xs on every trip and also I alternate between my Leica Q or my Sony RX100 III depending on the trip.

    Love your photos!

  25. @William – You can turn live photo on/off before the shot by selecting the live photo icon at the top of the screen (the concentric circles). You can also turn it off after the shot is taken by selecting “Edit” on a photo you already took, choosing which frame you want to be the main photo with the slider at the bottom, then unselecting the circles and “LIVE” icon on the top.

    Live photos take up about twice the size of a single, “regular” photo

  26. @Alpha Golf – I have an iPhoneX. I’m thinking about getting the Xs.

    @Donna and @Katie C – Have you had any issues with the Leica? I’m really tempted by it.

  27. @Mike – the only issue I had was figuring out how to do the periodic firmware downloads the first time. Batteries have decent charge time, although I bring two extra. I purchased the thumb grip because without it my hand felt a bit small for a good grip. It’s basically a street photographer camera. And with the strap and thumb grip it weighs 1 pound 8.5 ounces – totally manageable and takes up very little room in my backpack. And the best part – it’s a quantum leap in image quality over anything else I own. Although pricey, I purchased on Amazon and was able to avoid California sales tax of 8% and also got 5% cash back on my Amazon credit card ($520 back in total).
    I also put a piece of black tape over the microphone holes on the top of the camera body because I was afraid of getting dirt and dust through those holes which would settle in the back of the lens.

  28. I carried a Panasonic GX8 + 12-40mm (24-80mm equivalent) on my recent trip to Korea and Taiwan. The lens just stayed fixed because it’s wider than a phone lens and zooms in enough for portraits. It tips the scale at just under 2 pounds, it’s lightweight and small enough to stash in a bag, and it’s weather sealed so I didn’t have to worry about getting it wet. In fact, it was raining half the time in Taipei.

    Mirror less aside, if you’re just taking the occasional snapshot and aren’t too worried about long exposures or chasing sunsets, I can understand leaving the camera behind. I brought the camera but used the iPhone when I was taking photos of food because there’s no difference between a 12 MP or a 20 MP photo of beef noodle soup.

  29. There is no way I would sub my mirrorless with a cell phone camera. The difference is way too vast.

    btw, all the photos in this post has plenty of available light so those are easy shots. Do something far more complicated like something with the moon in the background without blowing it out, something fast moving in dark light like concert stage, dancing etc or just the amount of details lost in low light photos, panning an object. There is just so much thats not possible on an iphone.

  30. I usually take my Nikon camera when I travel. It has a 34x optical zoom which comes in handy when needing to zoom in – much better picture quality than my iPhone digital zoom. It’s not overly bulky either – easily fits in my travel bag pack.

  31. I have been a semi-pro photographer for 30+ years.
    I have Iphones, Androids, point and shoot.
    While the images are adequate for a blog with the phones, unfortunately there is “image depth” that the narrow space provided by a cellphone simply cannot give.
    I hate lugging my DSLR around, but, more often than not, I have found myself regretting not having captured some particular images with my DSLR.
    Having said that, amazing images, Mike.

  32. It really depends on my trip. A long weekend trip to a city somewhere, I only have my phone. Going to Machu Picchu this spring my full camera gear went a long. Currently I use a Sony Alpha 6300, which is light years ahead of what a phone can do.

    The point for me is, will I be in situations where I would need or like to have the functionalities that the camera offers. For a lot of trips the answer to that is no.

    When I do bring the camera, I still use my phone for a lot of pictures. My phones killed the need for my small digital still cameras a long time ago, but I doubt they will ever take the place of my “real” camera.

  33. @Mike – One drawback of the Leica Q is it doesn’t have GPS. I do positioning shots with my iPhone prior to each photo shoot just to have the location tag and then I incorporate the information later in Lightroom.

  34. iPhone shoots 4K video at 60fps. There’s no need for anything else for video, unless you want to mount a go pro to your head or something. I take my DSLR (and lenses and tripod) sometimes because I shoot at night (long exposures). If you have a bigger camera and you shoot in automatic mode, you shouldn’t even have a camera. I have found the iPhone is perfect for most travelers for most situations.

  35. One other thing, what I think most people don’t understand is that the quality of a picture doesn’t solely depend on the quality of the camera. A good photographer, who understands light/composition/etc, will take a good photo with any camera.

  36. Same, I gave away my camera a loooong time ago and now it’s all iPhone, best phone and best phone camera in the market, period.

  37. btw when are yall going to Dubai? spending thanksgiving or new years? if yall have never been i have great recommendations!

  38. We use our Samsung Galaxy S9 phone most of the time for taking pictures and they are very realistic although I think DSLR is better at extremely low light..

  39. For most of the pics I take, a smart phone is sufficient. There are those few pictures that I want to use my other cameras. I have my Cannon T6 for general photography, an Olympus TG5 when I am in water, and a Fujifilm 3D camera just because why not. They all take great pics and have fine tuning of settings that most smart phone cameras cannot match.

  40. When you transfer your iPhone pictures to a PC you will regret the DLSR câmera was left behind.

  41. I have the Light L16. Amazing camera… 60 megapixel at most resolutions, and 28 to 150 mm zoom. And it’s basically an oversized android phone, so a wonderfully light and cheap camera for my pocket.

  42. There is no black and white answer on this. For serious photography that require editing and high quality imaging, DSL RAW files are essential. For internet blog and casual usage, smart phones or point and shoot should be more than adequate.

    I have the Nikon Full Frame DSL when I know I am on a photo shooting trip. On the other hand, for my business or family travels, I use a P20 Huawai Leica smartphone that produce stunning images. However, I do carry a Sony Rx-100 IV with me if all the sudden I get in the mood for something more serious during the trips.

  43. Re: Leica Q – It’s an impressive piece of kit, but I never really got used to the focal length. For a fixed lens prime, it was a bit too wide for me. A 35/40mm version would be perfect.

    It’s also (I would say) objectively overpriced. That’s not to say that it’s not a great camera, or that you shouldn’t buy it, but it’s undeniable that there is a huge Red Dot premium.

  44. I only travel with carryon so haven’t used a dslr for years. I have been using the Panasonic lumix zs50 compact camera with 30x zoom. Fantastic travel camera especially in daylight. Also got good enough shots in some quite dark churches in Europe.

    I make photobooks and the photos from my Panasonic lumix are good enough to blow up to fill a whole page.

    However thinking of upgrading to the Panasonic zs100 with bigger sensor even though the zs50 is perfectly fine! The iPhone 7 camera is also really good too.

  45. I carry my big DSLR and backpack full of gear for certain trips but I’m happy to leave it at home when I’m going for water/tropical places. I know from experience, that I don’t use it a lot at such places and take smaller bridge camera and phone is just addition. I wouldn’t be able to travel without any camera, phones are better and better but are still phones.

    The only regret I have from tropical trip, is that I couldn’t take shots of Milky Way when staying near Equator. Sky was beautiful and bridge camera wasn’t good enough.

    I also tend to carry tripod for most trips. Always, when travelling by car.

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