DSLR vs. iPhone: When to Use a DSLR Camera

DSLR tips moms

when is it time to use DSLRI’ve been talking here on Mom365 about how you can make sure your iPhone is always ready to capture the moment and how it’s my favorite camera for everyday moments.

So you may be wondering, why even bother with a DSLR? Many parents don’t, and that is totally fine!

However, if you want to get deeper into telling the story of your child’s life through photography, there are times when it is absolutely worth using your DSLR instead of your iPhone.

how to shallow depth of field
Shallow depth of field blurs the bubbles in front of Liam’s face as well as the background – you could never get this kind of shot on an iPhone!

But before we talk about when, let’s talk about the advantages of using a DSLR camera:

1) Higher quality photos

This doesn’t just mean higher resolution photos, but also photos with better focus, clarity, color, handling of light, detail etc.

photo through glass
Jack through the door. The blurring of the multiple layers in front and behind help to tell the story of this moment of Jack looking cautiously out into the snow.

2) Better control over focus and shutter

While you can tap to focus on your iPhone, your DSLR has much finer focus controls, and the shutter is more responsive.  In other words, there is no delay between when you try to take the photo and when the photo actually takes.

DSLR shutter control
The control you have over your shutter as well as fast shutter speeds mean you can capture things in motion with much more clarity – check out the snow spray in this photo

3) More focal length options

You can use zoom lenses or different prime lenses with your DSLR for different needs. The longer the focal length, the more “zoomed in” you are, whereas on an iPhone, you are more limited, and the more you zoom in, the lower the resolution of the photo.

Note on lenses for DSLR cameras: prime lenses have a fixed focal length but you can use different prime lenses for different results.

focus control DSLR
An iPhone would capture all the background clutter in focus. Blurred out it is less distracting and the focus is on Liam.

4) Ability for shallow depth of field

This is when your subject is in focus but everything in front of or behind your photo subject is increasingly blurry. It’s a great way to tell a story because the viewer’s eye will first focus on what is in focus in the photo as opposed to most iPhone photos where everything is in focus and it is harder to distinguish the “subject” from the background.

ice pop
All the people in the background add to the ambiance of this moment at the local flea market without distracting from my adorable subject

So, how do you decide when it’s worth using a DSLR instead of an iPhone?

1) Is it an event where you are something of a bystander?

I try not to use my DSLR when I am hosting, but if you or the host would like good quality photos, someone should be using a DSLR.  Examples: family birthday parties, baby showers, weddings

2) Are you going somewhere fun or different with good photo ops that won’t be too crazy and crowded?

Examples: a park or hiking trail where you’ve never been, or any spectacular backdrop, natural or urban

Pratt campus outdoor photos DSLR
No special occasion, just hanging out at the park but I love being able to capture totally spontaneous moments like this one where the background can set the scene and context without being distracting.

3) Are you going somewhere where you’ll have the chance to hang out for a bit and take photos?

Examples: your favorite local park or playground

DSLR how to kids outdoor photo spots
Beautiful light at our local playground. The cape and expression are quintessential Jack at this age. The quality of the photo makes me feel like I can just reach out and squeeze those cheeks!

4) Is the light gorgeous?

Example: cloudy days can be the best for photos and it’s worth bringing out the DSLR

DSLR tips moms
Some of the best moments in childhood to capture are the natural ones. By getting down low, peering through things and using shallow depth of field to generate emotional as well literal focus on your child is a great storytelling tool.

5) Do you want to take action shots?

Examples: sports events, kids jumping or playing in water or snow.

6) Is it a portrait worthy occasion?


Examples: birthdays, holidays, first day of school, Mother’s Day etc. I like to take portraits to commemorate these milestones that are not “of” the event itself but just happen to be taken that day.

alternative back to school photos DSLR
A sibling portrait to commemorate Liam’s first day of kindergarten.

For me, ultimately, my DSLR is about capturing portraits in vivid detail where I can blur the background/foreground using shallow depth of field; when I have gorgeous light and some time to explore different shots; or when I want to capture a place or event with high quality photos.

DSLR closeups
I always want to remember every detail of my kids’ faces at every age. The detail and texture that a DSLR captures is no match for any phone!

Get more tips for taking memory worthy DSLR photos.