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I love photography, however, I had a 5 years break. I am on budget. I got my old canon eos 500d (standard lens kit) and was impressed how badly it compares with modern smartphones. I wanted to get a new second-hand lens for my canon, but now it looks as not a very smart idea. Mostly because of the sensor. I look at DxOMark, the sensor in 500D is rated at 63, huawei P30 pro at 112! Almost 2 times better.

Is there any chance for a budget of 200€ to upgrade my camera (with a second hand product), or is huawei unbeatable at the moment, and the whole DSLR-technology is out of reach for people like me. I fully realize that big lens can overwrite deficiencies of the sensor, thus in professional segment we will still see guys with huge tele objectives for a while. I am not interested in sport, I want to do just family and landscape photos in a slow pace and low light. Would I be better with a new smartphone?

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    In what way do you find the results compare badly? – mattdm May 27 at 15:55
  • @mattdm As I said, I only have a standard kit lens. I do believe that "really fast 50mm f/1.4" second-hand lens for ~200€ would improve a lot as Tetsujin mentioned in the answer below. However, with what I currently have, my camera looses on all points (I am talking about in-room group photos) against even not the most recent phones. Sad... – yarchik May 27 at 21:55
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    Let me rephrase. Are you actually disappointed about specific images you have taken, or are you concerned about "points" in test scores? – mattdm May 27 at 21:57
  • @mattdm I am disappointed about the images. They are not properly lit (in comparison). I only used scores to somehow confirm and quantify my observations. I even thought my camera is defect. – yarchik May 27 at 21:59
  • Have you tested various picture/color profiles on the DSLR? – rackandboneman May 29 at 15:12
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You could get a really fast 50mm f/1.4 [or cheaper 1.8] lens for $£€ 200 second-hand that will make those fabulous blurry background photos that smartphones can now fake quite well, in low light too.

You couldn't, however, get a smartphone with that capability for much under $£€ 1,000.

Additionally...
..if you got bored of the nifty fifty you could sell it tomorrow or next year for the same price. I just checked the second hand price of the $1150 P30 ... $130.
..your 5-year-old camera is still a decent piece of kit. See how good a 5-year-old phone feels these days.

What pushed me into buying a half decent DSLR in the first place was the hugely annoying wide-angle smearing that phones do to photographs. I've never looked back. I hate smartphone lenses.

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The overall difference in typical image quality between a current smartphone like the Huawei P30 Pro and an older DSLR like the Canon EOS Rebel T1i/500D isn't the difference between the sensors. The difference is about who makes the decisions when shooting and, more importantly, in post processing about how both are done.

Recent smartphones have gotten very good at computational photography. Sometimes they even take multiple exposures and use AI to either select the best of several frames or computationally combine the multiple frames into a single image. To use an older, or even more current, DSLR or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera to do the same type of computational photography requires the user to do things and make decisions that the smartphones are automatically doing under the surface.

One must decide, for example, how many frames to take in quick succession. Should they all be at the same exposure level or bracketed? Should they all be at the same focus distance or bracketed? Should exposure be based upon the brightest highlights in the scene? Or the darkest shadows? The options are multiplied even more when processing the image data from the sensor to produce a viewable image. A highly skilled post processor can get a lot out of even fairly poor, by 2019 standards, sensors if the image was exposed properly. Learning how to expose properly in challenging light is an art that takes a lot of time and effort to learn. It also takes a lot of knowledge, skill, and experience to be able to post process better than modern AI routines included in smartphones and, to a lesser extent, digital cameras.

For most folks who only do casual photography, it's not worth the time and effort to learn how to do it themselves with a dedicated camera instead of letting the programmed routines of a smartphone do it for them.

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DXOmark and DXOmark Mobile scores are not directly comparable, you can only compare camera sensor scores to other cameras, and mobile sensor scores to other mobiles. Therefore your observation that the Huawei scores 112 and the 500D 63, so the Huawei sensor is almost twice as good isn't accurate.

I can't find a site which directly compares all photographic aspects of a given phone sensor to that of a DSLR sensor. However, despite being older, the Canon still has a considerably larger sensor, you can use better lenses, and has better overall versatility and ergonomics for taking photos.

Instead of guessing, why not take your 500D to a phone shop, and ask to take a couple of test shots with that and the Huawei? Take the test shots home, open them on your computer on the highest resolution, biggest screen possible, or make some decent sized prints and look at the relative quality before you sell/buy.

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I still have an old XS camera, which is older than yours. Only 10 Mpx, and with an old 50mm 1.8 lens, and I still use it for a quick portrait or as a backup camera.

The point, in reality, is where do you want to expand your Photography skills.

For me, the way to "upgrade" a camera is off-camera light. I would focus more on how to light a subject rather than "investing" on a new phone.

There are some persons that want results out of the box. Some other persons want to construct the result.

Before buying anything, take some time to take photos and framing in diferent light situations.

Also, take some time to process your images, play with the saturation and contrast. Forget the limitations, and explore what you actually have.

Yes, your camera is worst than a newer camera... And that will be probably worst than one next year... But if you actually practice, you will be a better photographer next year, your phone wont.


Being more specific. You can:

1. Push the Iso to the maximum you are willing to accept.

2. Get a faster lens. The f1.8 50mm or probably a "pancake" one. 40 mm or 24 mm (for interiors) they both are f2.8.

3. Use a noise reduction program like Neat Image.

4. Resample the final image to a "social media size" which is probably half the size of your original image (1/4 total area)

5. Sharpen it a bit.


But honest true... The main reason, in my opinion, to upgrade a camera, is not the Mpx count, but the low light performance.

  • I fully agree with you that practicing makes perfect. I enjoy to construct the result. However, there are circumstances where it is not possible. Last Sunday I attended some event as a guest and the light was not at my disposal. At the end, all my friends boasted beautiful photos taken inside the building with Huawei and Samsung phones and asked me to share mine on WhatsApp. They say, "Please, send us yours, you have a big camera, you must have gotten much better results!". But I was shy and did not send even a single shot. By all criteria, objective and subjective their result were better. – yarchik May 28 at 7:45
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    Ok. That is a more specific case, not the general question. You need good low light results and social media sharing... :o) So probably you need a specific phone, or a newer camera and faster lens. – Rafael May 28 at 7:56
  • I cannot agree more with your last sentence. So true! – yarchik May 28 at 8:57
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    I second the recommendation to use some form of lighting for your first use-case (family photos in low light). Low-light often doesn't look great, especially if your subject falls in the shadows and something else is highlighted. Since you photograph at 'slow-pace', there should be time for supplemental lighting or positioning your subject in better existing light. For your second use-case, low-light landscape photography at slow pace, you ideally want the largest, cleanest sensor you can afford and a tripod so exposure can be longer while keeping ISO at base. Not a camera phone scenario. – Ektachrome May 30 at 14:59
  • One point where phone cameras excel is at identifying various lighting scenarios and setting the color correctly in a much better way than most DLSRs or other ILCs do. Getting the color and contrast right is a large part of the battle to making an image taken with lesser hardware look better than an image taken with much more capable hardware in terms of sensor size, SNR, etc. – Michael C May 31 at 23:03
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Last Sunday I attended some event as a guest and the light was not at my disposal... I want to do just family and landscape photos in a slow pace and low light...

Is there any chance... to upgrade my camera... ?

  • I agree with Tetsujin. Consider a fast prime lens. I'd likely go for 24/2.8 or 35/2. Here are some options:

    • EF-S 24/2.8 STM. Inexpensive and sharp, but not that fast. Good if you want a wider angle.

    • EF 35/2. This is a "normal" lens on crop sensor. Costs more than the other lenses in this list.

    • EF 40/2.8 STM. Inexpensive, reasonably sharp. A bit longer than I prefer for crop sensor.

    • Nifty Fifty (50/1.8). Tend to be inexpensive with good image quality. Longer than I prefer for crop sensor. I wouldn't bother with a 50/1.4.

  • I agree with Rafael. Consider external lighting, such as a flash unit with remote trigger.

I love photography, however, I had a 5 years break.

Whether to use a phone camera is not just about image quality. If during your break, you rarely used your phone camera, whatever the reason, relying solely on a phone camera for photography is probably not for you.

  • Andreas mentions having a Canon EOS 20D. I had one of those. It was horrible, and I got rid of it within a year. If I had to choose between a 20D and a phone camera, I likely wouldn't take many pictures until I found a better camera. It's not that phone cameras are particularly horrible. I just rarely use them, even when they're the only camera available.

  • If a Canon EOS 50D, 100D, or 550D were the only camera available, I'd use it. I'd expect the 500D to perform similarly to one of those models.

  • With a larger budget, I would (and did) switch to a mirrorless camera system.

Would I be better with a new smartphone?

As good as phone cameras have gotten, they still have a number of weak points.

  • Images tend to be over processed. Based on samples I found online, this appears to be the case for the Huawei P30 Pro. I did pixel peep. What's the point of getting of a phone with a 40mp camera if not to pixel peep?

  • Tiny sensors tend to have weak high ISO performance. Noise reduction tends to be excessive.

  • The crop factor on the Huawei P30 Pro is 5x to 19x, depending on which camera is used. This affects the "look" of the aperture. (F2 looks like F10 would on full frame.) While phones can simulate the appearance of longer lenses with wide apertures, they still have processing artifacts.

  • Focal lengths may not be what you want. The triple rear cameras of the Huawei P30 Pro cover wide (17mm, 27mm) and telephoto (80mm). For anything else, including normal (40-50mm), you'd have to crop. (35mm equiv focal lengths)

I gave up on birds long time ago. They are too expensive for my budget.

Don't give up. I took this photo (along with many throw-aways) with a $35 manual-focus lens.

  • Wow! What a thorough answer. I really appreciate, it gives me confidence to continue with my DSLR. I hope, by voices of others your answer will come to the top for better visibility and to the benefit of many readers. Thanks for carefully reading my other comments and addressing them. – yarchik May 29 at 7:22
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Phone sensors are tiny comparing to (even old model) dSLR sensors. The smallest dSLR sensors are 1/4 the size of the 35mm film (micro 4/3), and goes up to APS (from the abandoned APS film format) to "full frame" 35mm film size. Phone sensors are size of a fingernail at best.

There is a lot to be gained with a bigger sensor. However, smaller sensors have more depth of field (e.g. more things look in focus) so this maybe why your friends' phone photos look better than yours. Also, the latest smartphones do heavy processing so you will have to do quite a bit of post processing by hand to match what they do.

Also, dSLR switched to CMOS sensors around 2009 or so. Earlier CCD based sensors give wonderful colors but do not do well with high ISO.

My advice is that if you want to have fun and don't want to carry a heavy kit, then by all means, get a late model smartphone. However, if you want to be serious with photography, then get a post 2009 CMOS dSLR and a 50mm-equivalent prime lens (those are great and inexpensive), and you can learn a lot. Even an old 10 megapixel camera can do a lot. Of course with old tech, you will still have to download your photos to your PC and process etc., before you can post, so it's definitely not as convenient as a smartphone for photo sharing purpose either.

  • You can go one step bigger than full-frame with a medium format camera, although the price usually puts it out of the range of non-professionals. And they're usually bulky/heavy enough to be limited to pretty specialised use cases. – mbrig May 28 at 18:09
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Can an old DSLR be upgraded to... ?

Maybe I'm interpreting your question overly literally but, no. You can buy accessories, such as flashes/strobes and lenses, but the camera body itself has no upgradable components.* If you want, e.g., more megapixels (and the other answers explain why you might not), then the only option is to buy a new body.


* Some cameras have replaceable focusing screens but that doesn't affect image quality, per se, and this footnote is only included to stave off pedantic comments. 😉

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A few things that a DSLR body has that phone cameras don't (or do but only through a slow interface):

  • quick reactions: if I prefocus even my 350D (older than yours) it shoots instantly.
  • manual focus and/or the ability to set the focus and recompose, or set the focus and wait.
  • manual exposure and/or the ability to set the exposure and recompose.
  • a viewfinder that allows you to watch the scene while holding the camera steady, combined with controls that are designed to be operated by touch.
  • a variable aperture allowing you to control the depth of focus.
  • the ability to drive an external flash
  • enough power and a flash-metering system that allows you to soften the built-in flash (various accessories, even bits of paper, but on phones the flash LED is too close to the lens).

Many of these are essentially control issues, but not all; some simply couldn't be implemented in something the thickness of a phone.

These are features that allow different types of shot, rather than things that can be replicated easily with more sensitive sensors, algorithms, or fitting multiple cameras with different focal lengths.

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