A Real Camera Will Help You Stand Out From the Crowd on Instagram


You’ve probably heard the astounding Instagram numbers before: 200+ million monthly active users, 58 million images uploaded per day, 1.7 billion likes per day! With such an oversaturated platform, how can you possibly stand out? Well the truth is that there are probably as many ways to stand out as there are photos uploaded each day, but here we’re going to concentrate on just one: your camera. 

Before I upset people I want to stress that I don’t think a DSLR is going to give you better photos than a smartphone will for your social media feeds, only that there are times at which a camera can do things that your phone cannot. Nonetheless, there are definitely times that I wish I had my phone instead of my DSLR, such as when I’m traveling in other countries and my phone is back in my hotel room.

In this article, I want to illustrate the instances in which using a camera can help your photos stand out. Why would you want your social media images to stand out? Maybe you simply like when your friends like and share your images or maybe you want to monetize your feed, and get potential clients or brands to notice your work and hire you for advertising shoots. Whatever the reason may be, if you’re only shooting with you smartphone, you’re missing part of the game.

I browse Instagram so much that I rarely ever miss a photo that is posted by any of the 1,124 people I follow. Out of all of the photos that I view obsessively each day, there are probably only a few dozen that I stop to really study. So what catches my eye? More often than not, the photos that really stand out for me are photos that aren’t taken with a smartphone camera, but with a mirrorless, or a DSLR, or for the sake of this article, what I’ll refer to simply as “cameras” as opposed to “smartphones.”  

Now I’m not saying that good or even amazing photos can’t be taken with a smartphone—quite the contrary. I do believe there is much merit in Chase Jarvis’s mantra: “The best camera is the one that’s with you.” However, I do believe that the majority of photos that are taken with a smartphone and then edited with Instagram’s filters begin to look alike. They have certain shortcomings, areas of weakness when compared to the products of a more substantial camera. Let’s take a look at some of the most common situations where most (not all) smartphone cameras come up short. 

The first, and for me, the most important, is shooting in low-light situations. If you’ve tried shooting photos at night, or in dimly lit places like concert venues, bars, or theaters with your smartphone, chances are you’ve been disappointed. Your images probably look grainy or “noisy.” This is because most smartphones have small sensors with a ton of pixels crammed together to fit on the sensor. Generally speaking, the larger the pixels, and the larger the sensor, the better the camera will perform in low light, and the less noise there will be in the images.

Most cameras allow you to choose the ISO at which you would like to shoot, which not only comes in handy when shooting in the dark, but also when you want to shoot with a faster shutter speed in well-lit situations. For example, if I want to photograph a skier flying through the air, and I want the mountains in the distance, as well as the skier in focus and I want his motion frozen in midair, I might set the camera at f/16, 1/8000, at ISO 6400. A smartphone is not going to give you the ability to make a photo like that. It probably won’t squeeze off enough frames per second to get the right shot, and it definitely won’t function at a high enough shutter speed to freeze the skier’s motion. So, when I see photos similar to this posted by outdoor photographers on Instagram, not only do I know they didn’t use their smartphone, but I know that the photo stands above the rest of the shots I’ve been browsing. More often than not, that photo grabs my attention, and maybe even gets a “like.”

What the high ISO range of cameras allows us to do is to capture photos that we probably wouldn’t have been able to capture if we were shooting with our smartphone in the same situation. These photos might not appear, at first glance, to be any different than a smartphone photo but, upon closer inspection, one would realize that a smartphone simply couldn’t capture such an image. 

What about if you want to go for a look completely different from that of a smartphone photo? What if you want to shoot a portrait, or a photo of a nicely plated dinner? Often, these situations look more appealing when they take advantage of selective focus, separating the main subject from the background. This not only looks appealing, but it also draws the viewer’s eye to what’s important in your image, and blurs the background, minimizing distraction. Take a look at these two different images of a salad here: which do you think is more attractive? This effect might be possible with some smartphones in certain situations, but it is very hard to control your depth of field, compared to shooting with a camera.  

As you can see in the image below, this wreath has a small area that is in focus, and the rest of it melts away into a smooth blur. The same photo taken with my smartphone lacks that effect and, in comparison, seems quite boring. This is another downside to the small sensor found in smartphones: the smaller the sensor, the deeper the depth of field will be. So even if your smartphone has a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2, it still will produce an image with deep depth of field.  

While some smartphones (like the 10x optical zoom on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom) do have a somewhat decent zoom range, generally speaking, most of them can’t compete with a zoom lens on a camera. In the images below, you can see how the image of the wigs, taken from about 30 feet away with my smartphone, compares to the image taken with the 18-135mm lens on a Canon T5i. I had to crop the smartphone image to get a comparable composition, but in the process lost a lot of detail and quality.

Shooting with a small mirrorless camera, such as the Sony Alpha a6000, also offers many features that most smartphones can’t provide. Not only does this camera have great high ISO performance, and a multitude of lenses, it also has incredibly fast autofocus and can shoot 11 frames per second. These two features are extremely important to me when shooting candid street photos, and I’ve often missed great shots because my phone didn’t focus fast enough. I love shooting the a6000 “from the hip,” and I’m confident that it will focus on my subject—and holding the shutter down and letting it fire 11 frames per second gives me more than enough chances to capture what I’m aiming for without looking through the electronic viewfinder. Here are a few photos that I shot from the hip with the a6000.

ne point of resistance that people often site when presented with the idea of posting images from a camera to their social media feeds is that it isn’t as instant as it is from a phone. While I know that people want to upload photos the instant they take them, I think it is well worth it to upload a better photo a few seconds or minutes later. Many cameras now have built-in Wi-Fi, allowing you to upload chosen photos to your phone or tablet, make your edits, and then upload to Instagram or your favorite social media site. If your camera doesn’t have Wi-Fi, you can always get an Eye-Fi card, which has integrated 802.11n Wi-Fi, allowing you to upload JPEG or RAW images from your camera. With these options, you should have no excuse not to use your camera in any situation where it will produce a better photo than your phone.

Hopefully, you now have a better idea about when you might want to use a camera instead of your phone for Instagram photos. Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to stop by the B&H SuperStore in New York, speak with a sales professional on the telephone at 1-800-606-6969 or contact us online for a Live Chat.  

To see some of Eric Reichbaum’s work, follow his feed on Instagram.


Thank you for sharing your information. I am a photographer and love my DSLR and my android phone is not great for Instagram. I wanted to use instagram to share my work but wasn't sure if it was possible without a mobile phone. Happy to be able to use my DSLR and edit through Lightroom and upload. Great help. 

Honestly, using a DSLR doesn't help much.. I mean sure you have more control over ISO, shutter speed, focus and all that jazz, but in reality, instagram still compresses the HD photo that you upload back down to 1080px. So honestly, in the end, the quality still looks like it was shot from an iPhone. But if you ever find a way to bypass the compression, please enlighten me!

Hmmm. That good to know, thanks. If you find a way to bypass the compression can you please share that information as well..

You bypass the compression before it happens.  Take a RAW from your DSLR, enrich its beauty with Lightroom or equivalent, upload to social media.  Let compression do what it will.  It'll be like if I squashed an organic gourmet hamburger and a mcdonalds hamburger.  They'll both be flat but one's still gonna taste a whole lot better!

Hi Justin, I need to disagree with you, using DSLR is not only about the megapixels and sensor. Using DSLR cameras in manual mode allows you to control shutter speed and aperture and these two ccontrols are essential to make creative photos, the fact that you can change lenses (wide, ultra-wide, macro, fish-eye, telephoto, etc...) on DSLR is very important, and makes difference between DSLR and mobile uncomparable. Yes, at the end mobile phone photos and DSLR photos will have same resolution after uploading but quality of composition depends on creativity of the photographer, skills and gear, not on resolution.

If you own an DSLR camera you should defnitelly explore using it in manual mode, you will explore a whole new world.


Thank you so much!! Your information was very helpful. 

thnx for your help luv.My pics were really bad.I want to be an Instagram model.This is the best advice ever.

Thanks Eric, for a meaningful lesson!

I have found very good  your explanation on Iphone and regular camera (DSLR). I will follow your advices.Thanks.

the graphics on this article are awsome!!!