Smartphone Snapshot Shootout: How Photos Compare (contest OPEN to readers)

Here’s an image I shot using my Motorola DroidX smartphone with the Android HDR app installed.

HDR Image

Photo Courtesy: Ant Pruitt for The Canon EOS 5D Mark III is the latest high-end choice of most serious pro photographers. And the Mark V just came out. But at $3500, you almost have to be a professional to justify the cost. Why not download Android HDR or use an Apple iPhone and get almost pro-level pics? And here’s how to submit a shot to You, too, will become a published photographer.

If you mostly share apps and you’re not selling shots for a living, a high-end smartphone camera with HDR capabilities is fine. And as you see below, a lot is possible with lesser phones, too. Scroll down to check out the gallery.

Smartphone Photo Shootout

Before I get to the gallery, check out this data. Flickr is a site where pros and amateurs alike post libraries of photos for licensing or free via a Creative Commons license with some or no rights reserved. The Apple iPhone 4, stats say, is the most popular source of images on its site. It easily wins out over traditional cameras. The Mark III, from Canon, is second, with the Nikon D90 and Canon EOS Rebel T2i trailing a distant third and fourth, respectively.

You know who you are if you really need a serious DSLR camera with all the whizzy features — or if you can get away with just a point-and-shoot camera or smartphone lens. I say you can’t beat the readiness of a smartphone for quick shots.

Add some of the image-enriching apps available out there — I like Pro HDR Camera for Android, a $1.99 app from Google Play — and take your photography to an entirely new level. Here’s an image I shot using my Motorola DroidX smartphone with the Android HDR app installed.

HDR Image

Below, check out the best shot I’ve ever taken. It was at the 2012 BCS Orange Bowl. Granted my team was destroyed in this game, but I still love this pic.

HDR Image of BCS Orange Bowl 2012

The camera industry still exists due to the demand of professionals in film and print media — and it exists maybe only because of them.

Check out this image below from award-winning HDR expert photographer, and TWiT with Leo Laporte regular +Trey Ratcliff, who is gaining a high profile on Google+ for the evocative imagery he shares on that network. He says he relies on High Dynamic Range tech — and it’s built into the iPhone 4S and the new Apple iPad third generation tablet.

Check out this photo he shared on his Google Plus page, which shows what a great photographer with an Apple iPhone 4s is able to accomplish using Trey’s app — 100 Cameras in 1. The app is available at Apple iTunes or via Trey’s site at

Apple iPhone 4 with Trey’s 100 Cameras in 1, image credit: + Trey Ratcliff

I’d love to see what your camera can do. We’re adding to this piece all the time. Here are some more beautiful smartphone shots.

Our editorial director Gina Smith took the two shots below of her spring garden with an Apple iPhone 3G.  She is the first to say she is no photographer. For the first shot, she used no HDR or flash, zoom or retouching. Nada. And that’s what we call naked smartphone photography.

Below is a pic Gina Smith took with the same smartphone, the original Apple iPhone 3G, pointing straight up at the sky out of Muir Woods, north of San Francisco. Another naked snapshot with no enhancements.

Our futuretech beat reporter Todd Townsend took this shot of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC. He snapped it with his Samsung Galaxy Nexus — Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus ICS Raw Photo Courtesy: Todd Townsend for

Here’s Stephen Smith’s photo, also raw, shot on his Droid Bionic. Idaho is still looking bleak this time of year, but the picture is gorgeous.

Motorola Droid Bionic ICS Raw Photo Courtesy: +Stephen Smith

Our Peter Baer Galvin took this shot in Cambridge, MA. It shows stained glass at the Trinitarian Congregational Church in Norton, MA. He used an Apple iPhone 4S with no flash, zoom or app enhancements.

Google + community member and reader, +Ian Vaughan shot the photo below with a Samsung Galaxy S II using HDR. It shows Maple Ridge, British Columbia.

Fall Trees in British Columbia

Google + community member and reader Dennis Thompson shares a picture from the Detroit Tigers baseball stadium. He captured this shot with his Motorola Atrix 4G and the Camera Zoom FX app.

Detroit Tigers Stadium

Another friend of mine, Mark Hicks of SOI,  shared this snapshot from his new Apple iPad. This is a picture he shot in the Charlotte, NC area — from his desk and through a window. Pretty nice quality, unretouched image.

SOI Lake Photo

Here’s another shot Mark Hicks shot — with his Sony Cybershot Carl Zeiss Edition. It captures a classic Las Vegas golf course.

Las Vegas Golf Course’s founding publisher, Mac McCarthy, snapped some pictures from his now classic Apple iPhone 3GS. Mac used both the raw image he shot from the camera as well as the popular Apple iOS app Instagram. Here’s his shot of Monterey Bay, CA.

Monterey Bay, CA


And here’s Mac McCarthy’s headshot, below. He used Instagram’s black and white filter. I love the shadows in this image.
Mac McCarthy headshot

Managing editor of, Jeremy Lesniak, stepped outside in Duxbury, VT, to capture this HDR image on his Motorola DroidX via the HDR camera app for Android, below.
Duxbury, VT


V!ZOR founder and team member Jonathan Hoffberg caught this shot on a December afternoon on his Motorola DroidX at Monument Valley, UT.  Note he bumped up saturation a bit using the Droid’s built-in color correction tool. It’s below. Beautiful.

Here’s an unedited raw snapshot with my Motorola DroidX. I love how cold this glass looks. The 8 megapixel camera really captured details in this shot with the perfect lighting I had available.



Our reader, Frank Foster, has a portfolio he created using images he took with his Samsung Charge smartphone. Below is his stunning picture in Bombay Beach, CA.

Birds in Bombay Beach, CA


Our executive editor here at, Joy Ma, submitted this image she took with her Apple iPhone 4. We all know the iPhone 4 has a much-improved camera. This image shows it off. She took this at Humayun’s Tomb, New Delhi.

Want to see what a professional photographer will offer up with just a smartphone camera? Check out’s senior photojournalist, Julie Blaustein’s snapshot at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. Julie used the Apple iPhone 4S with HDR without the flash. Her snapshot of this beautiful Monet is below.

Legion of Honor

A friend of mine, Amanda Bonner, is a Motorola DroidX2 user. She wanted to show her support of and submitted this gorgeous beach view from her recent visit to Cancun.

Beach in Cancun


Ever taken a picture from the Golden Gate Bridge? Neither have I. Well, world traveling maven Diane Decastro and a friend of took this one with her Apple iPhone 4S. It was the right time to capture a practice session of Larry Ellison’s America’s Cup current world champs practicing for the 2013 Cup. Nice shot.

Golden Gate Bridge, Attack of the Androids, and Buffer Overflow podcast host Mat Lee was able to show us a beautiful picture from the serenity of Bigfork Mountain, Montana. This image was grabbed with his Galaxy Nexus with the stock ICS camera. Outstanding.

Bigfork Mountain, MT


Our features editor, Sandy Berger, took a photo of her backyard in North Carolina. Look at how vibrant the green is on those shrubs. The power of the Motorola Droid Razr camera really shows here.

NC backyard


Here’s a beautiful submission from photography student, Keith Diamond. It’s of the Rocket House in Salton Sea, CA. Keith attends Victor Valley College in Victorville, CA.

Rocket House


Isaac Kendall captures the curiosity of this newborn baby cow at his farm in Ladner, BC. No flash with his Galaxy Nexus.

Our Julie Blaustein of took this gorgeous shot of Oakland Bay at sunset with her Apple iPhone 4s using HDR. Notice the cranes in the background. Urban legend has it that George Lucas was inspired by them to create the AT-AT Walkers in Star Wars. Very cool.

Send us shots that show what your old or new smartphones are capable of — we’ll add them to the gallery …

I’m — watch for my smartphone snapshot weekly contest and send me a photo if you want to be a published photographer here at the site.


  • Nice comparison! I have that fancy DSLR Camera – a Nikon D90 – which works like a charm in low light, fast moving situations and its a treat to have interchangeable lenses. BUT as Ant has pointed out so well, the iPhone and some apps work wonders. And a point and shoot now has all the bells and whistles needed at about $100. All are available with at least 12-14 MB such as the new Fuji JX520 – 14 MB, 5x zoom, 3″ LCD and fast!

  • I envy the owners of DSLRs. Action shots taken with those are pretty amazing. Especially from a football sideline. Love it

    -RAP, II

  • Please visit my site and check out my camera phone pics. I am using a Samsung Charge and the HDR+program mentioned in your article. I also invite you to visit my Facebook page for other more current galleries of images taken with the same phone. I am using that phone for a series on the Salton Sea here in southern California…thanks

  • He is such a great photographer — Ant i have tons of pics sent in from google+ do you have them also — and unposted. if so can you add — also we should tell people on google plus they’re in it and attach to their g+ site!


  • It does look cold, +Ant! I have never seen a pic that looked so cold — except for maybe Jeremy’s, but then again, he’s in Vermont … are we allowed to post multiple times in honor of Spring? I say — yes! : )

  • I am pretty happy about my Geranium with the droplets — taken on ancient iPhone 3G with no zoom or flash. Just the sun, raindrops and flowers on the vernal equinox … San Francisco weather helps with the lighting, I think : )

    Of the ones with apps, Trey Ratcliff’s are amazing. So we cover the gamut — from the least visual human on earth (me) to one of the most visual on the planet. I am loving this growing collection. Someone, quick, plug this into iAuthor. I want a byline! gs

  • I vote that we bring Diane deCastro in as our high end sports photographer : ) she does fancy stuff — the Cup, Lacrosse, hand ball : ) LOL.

    A new type of geek per our what type of geek story. The high-end geek. Go Diane and welcome, my friend, to aNewDomain!

  • I vote that we bring Diane deCastro in as our high end sports photographer : ) she does fancy stuff — the Cup, Lacrosse, hand ball : ) LOL.

    A new type of geek per our what type of geek story. The high-end geek. Go Diane and welcome, my friend, to aNewDomain!

  • At some point we’re going to have to close this gallery. Are there any pics you think should be included you want to post (if you’re in the gallery) or any from anyone you know you think should go up. Email me and +Ant Pruitt : )

  • When you mention raw photos from iPhone 4s iOS 5.1 and Samsung Galaxy Nexus ICS etc. do you mean that the photos were taken in .raw file format? If yes, approximately how much space do the .raw file photos take up on the smartphone please?

    • Sorry, Larosa83. I shouldn’t have used the term “raw”. What I meant was the photos are taken and shared without going through any editing processes. 

      thanks for reading and commenting!

      -RAP, II