When it comes to imaging, you may think that a DSLR and its big lenses have a big advantage over cellphone cameras. And in most cases, you’d probably be right. But there is one thing that the cellphones can do that the bigger cameras can’t. Due to their tiny size, cellphone cameras can fit into smaller places than DSLRs. You may not think that’s much of an edge, but there are times when it comes in handy. Recently I had an opportunity where it worked for me.
On Thanksgiving Day I covered the annual St. Mary’s Interfaith Dining Hall’s annual turkey meal for the needy. In the dining hall there’s a cafeteria-style counter. Volunteers were on the kitchen side dishing up trays of food while on the other side, separated by a glass partition, fellow volunteers got the filled trays and took them to the people dining. I got some overhead “hail mary” shots with my Nikon D3s DSLR with a 24-70mm lens of the people filling the trays but wanted to get shots from a lower angle through the glass. The problem was that there was a metal top to the partition that blocked the view of the faces of the volunteers.
The distance from the bottom of the camera to about the center of the lens measures roughly 2 inches, and the length of the lens from the body of the camera is about 5 inches. At its widest setting (24mm) it was plenty wide, but I just couldn’t get low enough. All I could get were hands and torsos with the heads cut off by the top of the counter.
Then an idea hit me. My cellphone camera’s lens is flush with the phone’s body and just a few millimeters from its edge. Even though the lens wasn’t as wide as the 24-70mm (an equivalent of about a 35mm on a full-frame DSLR), it just might work.
I placed my cellphone on the counter against the glass with the lens as low as it would go. I fired off a few frames and — voila! — success! I was able to get close enough and low enough to get two of the servers and their faces.
While DSLRs may have many advantages over cellphone cameras, versatility being the main one, they don’t necessarily hold all the aces.