As a keen photographer I upgraded to the iPhone 6 Plus mainly for the camera. And specifically the Plus for the optical image stabilisation that the standard iPhone 6 doesn’t have. This improves its low light performance significantly. And since smartphones generally don’t have decent flashes this is even more important.
My other camera was Canon’s Prosumer 70D. And whilst the camera on the iPhone is very good, it’s unsurprisingly no match for the 70D. The only trouble with the 70D is it’s just too heavy and bulky as a take anywhere camera, for me at least. So I was after a camera with the quality of the 70D but in a compact size. The choice really comes down to two cameras: the Canon G7X and the Sony RX100 III. These are compact cameras but have a large 1″ sensor which makes a substantial difference when it comes to image quality. The larger sensor also improves low light performance. The sensor size on the iPhone 6 Plus in comparison is 1/3″.
I went for the Canon G7X because I find the touch screen very useful for focusing, especially when filming. It also has a bigger zoom and it’s cheaper too, but I’m sure I would have been happy with the Sony too. It’s a great camera and I’d recommend it highly. But the first big question is how the quality compares to the 70D – short answer – it’s not as good! And the more important question is how does it compare to the iPhone 6 Plus, which is always with me?
Without trying to do any scientific comparison my initial impression was that the G7X wins hands down. The dynamic range (effectively the camera’s ability to capture the full range of tones from black to white) appears better and the photos have better contrast as a result. The larger sensor also means that you can isolate the foreground (blur the background) with wide apertures (all the way down to f1.8) unlike with the iPhone which just has too much depth of field due to the small sensor size. This is fantastic for video too. You can take a look at some comparison shots taken with both cameras throughout the remainder of the article. Please feel free to download the full resolution files from Flickr if you’d like to examine the differences more closely.
In addition the Canon has complete manual control, a 4x optical zoom, a proper flash, the ability to shoot RAW, a tripod mount, a flip up screen for selfies and of course you can use memory cards so you don’t have the limit of the iPhone’s built in memory. But when it came to writing this article I unscientifically tried to demonstrate the differences between both cameras. And this is where it gets difficult, because in real use both cameras take excellent photos! Even in low light the iPhone does surprisingly well, although not a match for the Canon. And apart from the big advantage the iPhone has that it’s always with you, there are other advantages to the iPhone 6 Plus. The greater depth of field means you’re less likely to mess up focus. The iPhone also has better slo-mo modes, all the way down to 240fps in 720p mode (which is stunning). This compares to just 60fps in 1080p mode on the the G7X. And the range of apps on the iPhone extend the camera’s functionality hugely. My favourites are Pro HDR for huge dynamic range HDR shots and Lapse It for timelapse movies. Plus the iPhone has built in GPS and there’s easy uploading and sharing which require a further WiFi syncing step with the G7X.
Overall it really comes down to what you want a camera for. Cameras like the G7X do offer a step up in quality and although not huge in most well lit situations, it’s still significant (more so in low light). But perhaps more importantly it handles so much better than an iPhone – it’s a proper camera! There’s a real shutter button with focus lock. There are dials for setting exposure compensation, aperture, shutter speed and ISO. And although we all cope without optical zoom on our smartphones, I do really appreciate it on the G7X. If none of these last few points matter you’re probably be better off with just your smartphone. But for me, the handling, optical zoom and depth of field control alone means for the time being, the Canon G7X wins.