Can a Smartphone Camera Outperform an Old DSLR?

Huawei P30 vs Olympus E30 + Zuiko 14-54mm & 9-18mm

Smartphone cameras have seen dramatic improvements over the last few years, with image quality and low light performance way ahead of what cameras offered a few years ago. The image quality of current smartphones is adequate for casual photographers, and even entry-level phones have decent image quality.

Capable of taking high image quality in low light, I decided to replace my phone with a Huawei P30 last year. Since the bulk of my shots are taken indoors or in low light, a camera's low light performance is essential to me. I also needed a backup camera if I left my camera at home and needed to take a photo.

Since purchasing my phone back in December, I noticed that I seldom use my camera anymore. The quality of the photos I take from my phone is decent enough that I no longer need to use my camera. The only time I bring out my camera is when I need a shot that requires a shallow depth of field. 

The LCD of my main camera malfunction a couple of weeks ago, and I haven't decided if I should buy a new one. Impressed with my phone's performance, I am now having second thoughts about buying a new camera body. So I decided to test and compare how the image quality of my Huawei P30 compares to my 11-year-old Olympus E30 DSLR, which will help me decide whether or not I should buy a new camera.

The Olympus E30 has a 12-megapixel sensor and was released back in 2009. The lenses used are the Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5 (28-108mm equivalent) and Zuiko 9-18mm f4.0-5.6 (18-36mm equivalent). The E30 needs both lenses to match the Huawei P30's range. The Huawei P30, on the other hand, was released back in 2019, and it has a 40-megapixel f1.8 27mm primary camera, an 8-megapixel f2.4 80mm telephoto camera, and a 16-megapixel 17mm ultra-wide camera.

Wide Angle Comparison

In the wide-angle photo comparison, both the P30 and E30 performed well. The E30 has visible noise on the dark parts of the photos, while the P30 has a cleaner image but loses a bit of detail.

Huawei P30 Main Camera / Wide Angle (27mm Equivalent)

Olympus E30 w/ Zuiko 14 -54 mk1 @ 14mm (28mm Equivalent)

Wide Angle Crop Comparison

Huawei P30 Main Camera Crop

Olympus E30 w/ Zuiko 14 -54 mk1 @ 14mm (28mm Equivalent)

Telephoto Comparison

In the telephoto range, the E30 produced superior results compared to the P30. The E30 had sharper results and more details than the P30. The E30 also does a better background separation than the P30.

Huawei P30 Telephoto Camera (80mm Equivalent)

Olympus E30 w/ Zuiko 14 -54 mk1 @ 45mm (90mm Equivalent)

Telephoto Crop Comparison

Huawei P30 Telephoto Camera (80mm Equivalent)

Olympus E30 w/ Zuiko 14 -54 mk1 @ 45mm (90mm Equivalent)

Ultra-Wide Comparison

Both the P30 and E30 performed well in the Ultra Wide Test. Both captured sharp and detailed photos. The only difference I noticed between the two is the difference in depth of field. The P30 had a broader depth of field hence placing more objects in focus. Depending on your use, having a deeper depth of field can be advantageous, especially in landscape photography. 

Huawei P30 Ultra Wide Camera (17 mm Equivalent)

Olympus E30 w/ Zuiko 9 -18 @ 9mm (18mm Equivalent)

Ultra-Wide Crop Comparison

Huawei P30 Ultra Wide Camera (17 mm Equivalent)

Olympus E30 w/ Zuiko 9 -18 @ 9mm (18mm Equivalent)

The P30 has a great camera, but some aspects are not on par with the DSLR, which is especially apparent in the telephoto range. One of the advantages of DSLRs is the narrow depth of field. When paired with a fast lens, DSLRs create superb background isolation. There is still no phone or software available that can simulate a realistic bokeh.

Another advantage the E30 has over the P30 is the telephoto range. The E30 produced a significantly better image shot in telephoto than the P30, which is no surprise since the P30 uses a weaker sensor in its telephoto camera. This issue is prevalent on almost all smartphones. You'll likely be disappointed if you bought a phone for its telephoto capabilities.

Although the P30 lags in the category mentioned above, it shines on other aspects of the test. Focusing on the P30 was precise and fast compared to my E30, especially in low light conditions. Low light performance is also superior compared to the E30. I can shoot handheld in dark lighting conditions with my P30, which would be impossible to achieve with my E30. 

Another advantage that the P30 has over the E30 is portability. Compared to the camera, the size of the P30 is tinier. The E30 also required two lenses to cover the focal range of the P30.

So do I still need to purchase a new camera body? Despite getting superb results from the P30, I still need a new camera for portrait shots and telephoto shots. The P30 is capable enough for landscape and interior shots, but I don't see it replacing my camera anytime soon.

In conclusion, if you are a casual photographer, the P30 or any of its equivalent is more than capable of handling your everyday need. It is capable of taking clean low light photos. It can also handle landscape photography pretty well. If you mainly shoot portraits and telephoto, you will be better off with a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Smartphone camera technology still lags behind the Dslr in this aspect. Maybe in a few years, smartphone manufacturers achieve better results in these aspects.

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