Cameras on phones have gotten incredibly good in the last five years, but can their images hold up in print? I wanted to find out, and the results blew me away.
I already did a full comparison of the iPhone 13 Pro to my Canon R5 in different conditions and settings. I highly recommend you check out that article to see my real-world comparisons and editing methods. We’ll be using an image from that article for this comparison. A brief recap is that I tried to capture real-world images while in the field and then edited the Canon R5 images first and pushed them just how I would normally. Then I tried to match the iPhone images to those, which pushed some of the images in the process.
The results from that entire comparison were very impressive, but there was an overwhelming response that the images are passable for online consumption but not anything professional. I wanted to put that to the test and see just how big we can push these images in print.
No matter what camera you’re printing from, you might need to increase the resolution of your images before sending them off to be printed. For example, my Canon R5 produces images that can be printed as large as 27 by 18 inches at 300 dpi natively, meaning if I want to print larger such as 24” by 36”, standard poster size in the U.S., I need to enlarge them. This is a standard practice in photography and exactly what I did for the images from both my camera and my phone.
I used ON1 Resize and upscaled both images to 24 x 36 inches; that’s 10,800 by 7,200 pixels at 300 dpi. This should help make up for the lack of resolution the iPhone 13 Pro has but isn’t a “cheat” button to suddenly make smaller images full of detail. The upscaled images still have a discernible detail difference that you can see zoomed in to 100% in the comparison above. Programs like ON1 Resize use AI and computational learning to upscale images. This should give better results than simply expanding the image into a bigger canvas in Photoshop or exporting at larger resolutions in Lightroom.
I picked this image from the original comparison because it was the most dynamic, with the most detail and a shot that was more challenging for the iPhone. I specifically had to push the dynamic range and noise floor within this particular image quite far, which you’ll see in the resulting print. I printed in three sizes: 8 by 12, 16 by 24, and 24 by 36 inches. I had these printed by The Print Space, who were kind enough to send them to me for free. These were printed as C-Type prints on Fuji Matte.
Let’s just dive into what you’re all here for, the poster-size prints. The results were quite impressive, and of course, there’s a quality difference. When you get in close enough, especially when you’re comparing the two prints side by side. There’s more detail in the Canon R5 shot. Taking a closer look at the clouds, the ISO noise becomes more apparent. If you look closer at the light on the fence, you can see visible noise. The grass isn’t nearly as defined. This is all somewhat expected.
The question is: how much does it matter from a normal viewing distance? If you imagine there is a piece of glass in front of the print, along with a reasonable viewing distance of two to three feet, you would never guess this print was taken from an iPhone. Remember that the majority of people buying art or your prints aren’t going to see all the little details you see. They aren’t inspecting every inch with a magnifying glass.
My ultimate takeaway here is that at this size, I would not sell a print from my phone professionally. But I would print it for myself or my own home. This says a lot, because I have plenty of larger images I could choose from, but if I captured a beautiful moment on my phone, I could print it without a second thought. If you’re reading this, wondering if you could make large prints from your phone like this, give it a try. I think you’ll be impressed.
Now, for the other two sizes. It only gets better from here. At 16 by 24 inches, you’re getting close to being able to print at this size professionally. I honestly think I could print some images from my phone at this size professionally — not this particular image but one that’s a little cleaner, with less noise and better shadow detail. I had to push this capture a bit too far in editing, so the noise levels are higher than I’d like them at this size. Bump down to 8 by 12 inches through, and it’s a no-brainer. I could easily sell images of this size that were taken by my phone professionally.
When I reference a professional print, I’m referring to something I qualify as detailed and refined enough to sell to a client. I”m very particular and detail-oriented when it comes to prints. I tend to comb over my work meticulously, sometimes to a fault, always trying to deliver something I’m proud of. Thus, when I say I could see myself printing and selling images at sizes up to 16 by 24 inches taken from my phone, that’s incredibly impressive. If you want a tangible comparison in the real world, head down to your local home decor store and find their generic wall art prints that are roughly poster size. The detail in those pieces is substantially worse than the prints you could make from your images taken by your phone. People decorate their walls with those all the time, which is a reminder that the majority of clients buying your work aren’t looking at things under a microscope and that it’s more about the work as a whole.
Overall, these results were better than I expected, but what’s most exciting about it to me is the reminder of how accessible photography has become in the last 10 years. The more people that can learn, practice, and produce photography without a barrier to entry is a wonderful place to be. Try printing something from your phone. I’d love to hear about your results!