I have a 10-year old "upper-entry" level DSLR. I am considering upgrading to a new camera, but I am interested in knowing what sorts of things to look for that will allow it to match the image "quality" of my recent phone camera.
Here is what I mean by my question. I realize that the camera sensor is larger and thus should provide a higher quality image (e.g. less noise, etc.) but my fairly recent phone often provides higher quality images in low light as well a high contrast scenes (seemingly performing some kind of "instant HDR" that my camera requires a tripod to even attempt, and still with inferior results). I can often just "point and shoot" and get a great picture, whereas even with a lot of fiddling with manual settings on the DSLR - assuming that the moment hasn't passed - I often get photographs that look inferior. I like full control to be there if I need it (and even being able to program shooting sequences in some kind of scripting language if that was possible) but I find that I often do this just to try to get around issues I have with the camera. For instance, it's not uncommon for me to overexpose by 2 or 3 stops when shooting objects in the sky like planes or birds so they don't turn out underexposed.
Why don't I just use my phone then? I do in a lot of cases, when things are informal, when I don't need a lot of control, and when I don't need a safe ergonomic design that I can shoot for long periods of time without worrying about dropping and breaking something. No phone can really have the telephoto range that a DSLR has and make a decent picture. On the camera right now I am limited to shooting portraits (and this it does very well), time lapse animations, anything requiring zoom or telephoto, and large (approaching gigapixel) panoramas.
I don't know how much of my issues are because of the age difference (e.g. 1 year old phone versus 10 year old DSLR is a 9 year window in which technology has improved) and what I should be looking for now, as I haven't really kept up with new camera technology since I bought my current camera.
I have really only identified one hard criteria - any new camera I get will not have an "optical low pass filter" because I have never been satisfied with the natural sharpness of the pictures I have taken. Another criteria is that I would like GPS coordinates to be automatically recorded, although in some new models this only works if you pair your phone to your camera, which I am okay with. I also have had various issues with focus (losing a lot of shots because the camera decided to go focus hunting when I tried to press the shutter with the target already in focus) or cases where it inexplicably couldn't figure out the focus either due to low contrast or not figuring out which moving object to focus on.
I know that new phones are coming out with a lot of sophisticated software to improve image quality - for instance, the Pixel line has "night sight" mode which combines multiple shots, sensors, and some kind of AI algorithm to produce phenomenal handle-held images with very little noticeable blur (at least in my experience!) Some phone cameras also have an internal burst mode that takes a whole string of full resolution pictures back to back and then picks the best one to show you by default. I don't know how much camera software (or firmware / image processors) have advanced to keep up.
From what I have read, it appears that a mirror-less camera may be superior in some respects and allow it to approximate some of the good points of a camera phone while providing a better sensor and lens system. My concern with a mirror-less camera is that I often need to shoot through the lens - for instance, when shooting panoramas with telephoto I rely on the markers in the lens to line up my next shot which may be harder to do on an LCD screen. With time lapses I might have the camera taking pictures all day. Often these are not possible unless I shoot without the screen on to conserve battery life.
I'm not sure I have given enough details for specific make/model recommendations (although I can add my current make/model/lenses), but generalizations or comparisons would be welcome when they illustrate what the trade-offs different makes and models and even grades of cameras have. For instance, is there a sweet spot where I should pay a bit more for a mid-grade camera to get a specific feature, and where would I just be wasting my money.
Edit: Per the comment, my current setup is a Nikon D5100 with a Nikon 35mm f/1.8 prime lens, and a Tamron 18-270mm f3.5-6.3 VC macro zoom lens. (I realize the latter is considered by some to be a pretty crap lens, but fit my budget at the time for the focal ranges I was targeting. In the future, I would prefer something a bit higher quality in the range of 150mm-600mm as most of my shooting is at the high end of my current range and in some situations I would like to go further.)