HDR iPhone XR v. HDR Nikon D3

In a previous entry I assumed that some, not all, maybe even a very small percentage, of real estate agents used their smartphones to capture interior/exterior images of the homes they list. With this assumption; I had no hard evidence, so I decided to test the results and see if there was a marked difference.  I own an iPhone XR. And, I chose the Nikon D3. For two reasons:

  1. I have a Nikon D3
  2. It has the same megapixel as the iPhone XR, but obviously different sensors.

Image #1 – the iPhone and it’s 12-megapixel camera f/1.8. Auto HDR was enabled.

Image #2 – The Nikon D3 and a NIKKOR 28mm f/2.8 using camera RAW setting.

Image #3 – The Nikon D3 and a NIKKOR 28mm f/2.8 using JPEG fine with a compression setting of Optimal Quality, uncompressed.

Tech talking points:

iPhone XR:

  • 1/60 @ f/1.8 ISO 100

Nikon D3

  • 1/6 @f/8 ISO 200 (base)

I chose the bathroom as a constant because the lighting would be consistent with both cameras and the lighting isn’t harsh like, say, a bedroom with a window to encourage blown out highlights. (This skewed the first test I ran placing the iPhone in an unfair light.) While the D3 is a full frame sensor, the iPhone isn’t.

I ran the images through Lightroom, adjusting for color, exposure and merging the D3’s images.

The results were more what I was expecting. The iPhone didn’t perform all that bad. The color is cool. Nikon rendered colors on the warm side in RAW, but the JPG Nikon image looks closer to the iPhone XR.

iPhone: While the color is cooler than I like, it isn’t a terrible image overall. And it lives up to the reputation iPhone has developed about its camera. Adjustments can easily overcome the coolness. See image #1.

Nikon D3 JPG: The dynamic range looks correct (-1, N, +1). The color is closer to nuetral; but not to the accuracy of the room color; I’d need a little adjustment to brighten up for the customer regardless of accuracy. One negative takeaway would be the lone light bulb that displays a blown out highlight. I’ve never been a big fan of shooting in JPG; for me there’s just too little latitude to manipulate the image. If the lighting were a control point (like in a portrait studio) then I think JPG is perfect. But, given the outcome, JPG does work. 99% of the work I hand over to a production lab would be JPG images. See image #2.

Nikon D3 RAW 3 exposure: Plenty of dynamic range (-1, N, +1) for this room. The color looks like it is leaning more towards the warm side than either JPG image, but the color is accurate to the room. Overall there is more depth to the color and richness to the blue and red towels. In the final edit, I would manipulate the brightness further to make the room glow. This would be the exposure count/settings (but not the camera) would I use for 90% of my personal work, and very little of my commercial work. See image #3.

For an example: Nikon D3 RAW 5 exposure: Probably more dynamic range in five exposure than the scene needed (-2, -1, N, +1, +2). No real significant advantage. Still needs to be brightened up to have a warm feeling. See below.

Nikon D3 5 exposure RAW

My conclusion: The iPhone would work in a pinch. I can imagine a budget conscience person defaulting to a smartphone. But a lot of the real estate agents I work with don’t want to take the time, are too busy working several properties at a time, or just don’t trust themselves and hire a professional. For all those reasons I am grateful.

** Note: While I don’t use the D3 for real estate work any longer, for me it is still a great camera. I use it frequently for my own work; but for clients I have defaulted to the Nikon D810. I didn’t use the D810 for this test. Obviously, a 36-megapixel camera would outperform a 12-megapixel smartphone.

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