Smartphone – perfect camera for travel photography?

“This June my dream of travelling to Ladakh is finally coming true. Which DSLR camera should I buy?”

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of technical specs and lens performances, our first question always is – why do they want to buy a DSLR. Usually, the answer is – to have memories from the trip stored forever.
If they do not intend to pursue travel photography as a serious hobby or a profession, we advise (sometimes to their disappointment) against a DSLR camera.

On our recent travels around South India – a whirlwind tour of 5 days driving almost 3000 km – we travelled only with our smartphone, the Asus Zenfone 3s Max. From shooting landscapes on-the-go to quick portraits, capturing the awesome food that we devoured or quirky gems along the way – the precious memories were well captured.

“What do we use for taking photos then?”

Using the South India trip as a backdrop and the photos from our Asus Zenfone 3s Max, allow us to illustrate why a smartphone camera is perfect for travel photography!

1. Full manual control, just like your DSLR

These smartphones offer a real manual mode, giving you full control over the ISO, shutter speed even the colour temperature of your photos. You can see the results live on your screen as you change the values.

You can even control the focus points, just like you can in the DSLR lenses. The focus area can be seen live on your screen, giving you a clear idea of what the image is going to look like. Once you are happy with the result, you can lock the focus and shoot.

This image was taken from the car as we were zooming at 120 kmph. It was a bright sunny day. Kept a low ISO (the sensitivity of the lens to the light) and a fast shutter speed (to avoid any blur effects).
ISO: 100, Shutter speed: 1/1600

Want to shoot a little under? Or a little over? Don’t know what that is? Just play with these settings on the screen and see the live results. And instantly start sounding like a cool dude!

This was our dinner in Pondicherry. The restaurant had a soothing dim light and it was pitch dark outside. We upped the ISO to make the lens more sensitive to the light and lowered the shutter speed.
ISO: 750, Shutter speed: 1/13
We could’ve gone higher on the ISO but then the image would’ve become noisy and the details would be lost.

With such easy access to controls, the Zenfone 3s Max can also be a quick learning tool to understand the more intricate details of photography in manual mode.

“Manual mode sounds awesome, but there’s still a learning curve there. Can I take images in the dark without adjusting the ISO and shutter speed?”

2. A ready night mode or a low light mode for capturing details in the dark

There is a certain charm to being out after hours in a new place during travel. The street markets or the beach come alive in the dark which just isn’t possible during the daytime.

The Zenfone 3s Max comes with a ready Night and Low Light mode to capture images at such times. Just make sure the camera is held steady and forget about any other setting.

“Yeah okay, but I want those cool close ups with the background blurred”

3. Depth of field results are easy to achieve

The relationship between aperture and shutter speed has most novices confused. It takes patience and efforts to learn and master it all. Why should one spend hours trying to get it all when all you want is a beautiful photo of the flowers you are seeing before you?

“Hmm…sounds convincing. What about capturing the details?”

4. Super resolution is your magic keyword!

The super resolution is something like your macro photography without the use of powerful macro lenses. It will make your food photos look yum – what with the detailed texture of the pastry you just devoured. Seen some weaves that absolutely stunned you and want to capture the details of the design? Or was the bug in the garden too beautiful to be a bug?

Use the Super Resolution mode in the Zenfone 3s Max and just see the magic – really we have no other word for it!

“I have heard this phrase post processing. Will I need to learn all that?”

5. Inbuilt panorama and HDR modes

It’s common to have a varying light on the landscape in front of you. Like, the mountains could be covered in clouds and the lake in bright sunlight. Light isn’t always evenly spread throughout the frame that you want to capture. In such situations, photographers take multiple shots of the same frame using different settings and then stack those in layers in Photoshop.

Same for pictures of those sweeping landscapes. Multiple shots are taken in one go then stitched all together.

“Look I just want to take a picture of the damn tree and that lake”, we hear you say!

HDR mode comes to the rescue here. It’s as simple as choosing the HDR mode in the camera of the Zenfone 3s Max and letting it do the rest.

The image on the left is shot in Auto mode, the one on the right is shot in HDR mode. Look how the details otherwise hidden in the dark have been brought out in HDR!

The light (sun) in this image is from the back. Without the HDR mode, in these light conditions, it wouldn’t have been possible to capture the bright yellow of the building.

Choose the panorama mode for taking a picture of the entire landscape in front of you, the entire lake, the entire room or even the entire Qutub Minar!

Panorama shot of the Nilgiris tea estate in Madumalai, Tamil Nadu

No stacking and stitching required!

Have we convinced you to skip an expensive bulky camera? Instead, opt in for a mobile camera of the quality of Zenfone 3s Max for your travel photography?

“Yeah, so you don’t use a DSLR at all for your travel photography?”
Well, there are a couple of things we should clarify:

1. Our equipment weighs over half the weight of our luggage and is sometimes the most expensive part of our travels.
We spend hours “making an image”, not just taking photos. We might spend an entire day in one location, just to get a photo to our heart’s content.

2. Unless you want to invest that kind of money and effort into your travel photography, we do not recommend investing in a DSLR camera.

You need a DSLR camera for travel photography – is a myth we want to bust. A mobile phone will give you all the images you want to capture to bring back memories of your trip.

When you travel, focus on the experience, not on the screen.

Also read Taj Mahal photography tips

taj mahal photography tips

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Sandeepa and Chetan. Married. Indians. Exploring Travel as Lifestyle. Featured by National Geographic, Yahoo. We hope that through our travel stories we inspire others to make their dream into a reality.

19 thoughts on “Smartphone – perfect camera for travel photography?”

  1. yess I mostly use my smartphone camera,
    also planning to buy DSLR
    Currently I am using my point and shoot camera, but mostly capture photos using smartphone which gives excellent result and that I upload on my blog posts also..

    1. Hey Mayuri, the ease of upload when you use the smartphone for your travel photography is unparalleled, right? Are you planning to completely replace the point and shoot with the smartphone?

  2. Of late I am hearing a lot about Asus Zenfone camera. I can see picture quality is really good. Manual control adds further value. Last year I was at Ranthambhor. Only person who got a shot of a tiger catching a deer was with a phone camera. Rest of us, lost the moment trying to adjust our high end cameras. I still prefer a standalone camera. I like to zoom in and out at will.

    1. Agreed about the zooming feature. Waiting for lenses to be made for the Zenfone just as they are for the iPhone. Pretty sure technology will be able to make a zoom lens for the mobile camera as well. Not saying ditch the DSLR completely. But as long as the aim is simply to have the memories forever, it’s better to spend time creating those memories than just capturing them – is the message we want to spread 🙂

    1. Thank Jyotirmoy! For a while now, we’ve realised that more and more of our pictures are shot using the smartphones. It’s only when we go to a place particularly for the photos do we get the DSLR out. That is what we want to tell everyone who asks us which camera should they buy 🙂

  3. Long comment alert:
    Even though I am a traditionalist and love the feel of an SLR, I can’t agree with you more. Smartphones have many advantages over SLR’s. It is light, convenient to just take it out of your pocket and click in a flash, and in addition to that, it can give you as much freedom in the manual mode as a DSLR would give.
    The only major advantage of an SLR is that while a smartphone can give you an outcome of somewhere between average and ‘a really good shot’, an SLR can give you anything between awful to ‘the perfect shot’, depending on how good you are with it.
    So yeah, unless you are looking to take your photography seriously enough to become a professional, a smartphone can do a really good job for you. If only I wasn’t stubborn enough to embrace change, I would have ditched my Canon for my Asus Zenfone a long time back!
    Love your post though. Have a great day!

    1. Hey Animesh, know what you mean! We have actually noticed a steady increase in our smartphone photos, the ratio of Canon:phone photos is changing rapidly 🙂 Smartphones are especially convenient in places where people aren’t comfortable with big cameras. It’s easier to strike a chord with a friendly mobile camera.

  4. Fabulous pictures! You’re right that we should not rely on a DSLR camera for travel photography. Smartphones can also work well.

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