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Article: iPhone vs $6000 Mirrorless Camera – Food Photography Shootout

iPhone vs $6000 Mirrorless Camera – Food Photography Shootout

NYC food photographer Francesco Sapienza is here to prove that even expensive cameras can’t produce great images if the technique is terrible. Francesco is putting the iPhone 13 Pro and Sony A7R III in a head-to-head comparison during a food shoot featuring a Duo Board and drool-worthy, sugar-dusted croissants. When all is said and done, see if you can tell which image is from a smartphone and which is from a $6000 camera. 

As a photographer, has anyone ever viewed your photos and then said, “Wow! You must have a great camera!” Did you roll your eyes? Although annoying, it’s actually a compliment in disguise, naive as it is. What they meant was, “These images are so stunning, you must have a great camera.” With a little education, they’d realize it’s the skill of the photographer – not the camera – that makes a great image. 

Telling a skilled photographer that they have a great camera because their photographs are stunning is like telling a master chef, “Wow! You must have great pots and pans!” The bottom line? It’s not the camera or the pots and pans. It’s the photographer or chef behind the equipment that makes the magic happen. 

Using the iPhone 13 Pro with Good Light

Food photographer Francesco Sapienza shooting croissants using a Duo Board as a food photography surface and a softbox as the only light source.
BTS with food photographer Francesco Sapienza shooting croissants using a Duo Board as a food photography surface and a softbox as the only light source.
Croissants and powdered sugar food photography shot.
Croissants and powdered sugar shot with an iPhone 13 Pro and diffused side lighting.

Francesco’s smartphone image looks pretty good. This mouth-watering piece of food photography was shot with the iPhone 13 Pro on a stand overhead of the croissants with one softbox to the side of the scene. It’s a phone image that looks like it could’ve come from a high-end DSLR.

Using the iPhone 13 Pro with Bad Light

Next, Francesco moved the light directly overhead the croissants, demonstrating how a hard, non-diffused light source creates a contrasty scene with hard-edged shadows. 

Videography light directly over food photo setup shown on an iPhone screen.
Moving the light directly overhead the scene without a diffuser creates bad light and an image that even a high-end camera can’t save.
Photographer showing the effects of overhead lighting on a food photography setup.
Take a scene from gorgeous to gross (and vice versa) simply by moving the light and removing diffusion.

Using a Sony A7R III with Good Light

Switching to a Sony A7R III, Francesco kept everything the same with the Sony mounted overhead the croissants (just like the iPhone 13 Pro) and the light coming from the side via a softbox.

BTS of food photographer Francesco Sapienza shooting a video.

Here’s the Sony A7R III image with diffused side lighting. Those powdered croissants look delicious:

Professional food photo of croissants dusted with powdered sugar cooling on a baking rack.
Croissants shot with the Sony A7R III and one softbox to the side.

Using a Sony A7R III with Bad Light

Moving the light to an overhead position once again, Francesco warned and explained to us that “the light is coming straight down. Same direction as the camera. Something that you never should do in food photography.” Noted! Thanks for the pro tip, Francesco.

Photographer standing behind camera and lighting setup for an overhead food photography shot.

It’s the same setup as the iPhone with bad light. Can a $6000 camera and lens save an image with poor lighting? The answer is…


Take a look:

Croissants shot with an overhead view under hard on dark surface.
Croissants shot with an overhead view under hard light with a Sony A7R III.

Unless hard light is the aesthetic you’re going for, food generally looks more appealing when it’s shot under soft, side light.

iPhone 13 Pro and Sony A7R III, Side-by-Side Comparison of Final Images 

Can you tell the difference?

Side-by-side comparison of two photos of sugar-dusted croissants – one taken with an iPhone 13 and one taken with the Sony A7R III.
Very similar images. Powdered croissants shot with an iPhone 13 Pro (left) and a Sony A7R III (right). Softbox to camera left.

In photography, “lighting is so much more important than your camera,” says Francesco. “The camera has no impact on the photo unless the lighting is great… you definitely don’t need a $6000 camera to start taking great photos.”

Food photographer Francesco Sapienza displaying two of his photos on MAC screen.

Looking at a comparison of the iPhone and Sony images on his monitor, Francesco says, “That’s proof that you can shoot a great photo with [a] smartphone. And it doesn’t even need to be the latest [smartphone]. If it’s not older than three years… you’re good.”

Viewing the Sony image with bad lighting, Francesco maintains that shooting a scene with an expensive camera under bad lighting will yield a bad photo. It’s as simple as that. He says, “If you’re not happy with a $6000 camera you can go for a $10,000 or $15,000 camera. The result is not going to change because lighting is what makes the difference… lighting will determine how good a photo is.” Of course, Francesco says there are other things like food styling and composition that play a part, but it’s the lighting that makes the first impression.

We hope you enjoyed this comparison between an iPhone and a $6000 camera and that it encouraged you to create with what you have. Because, after all, it’s the skill of the photographer that crafts a spectacular image, not the camera. 😉


Camera: iPhone 13 Pro, Sony A7R III

Lens: 24-70mm f/2.8

Food Photography Backdrop: Duo Board - Vintage Oak/Ink Hardwood

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Photographer: Francesco Sapienza,

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1 comment

Great video! Thanks for taking the time do make it. What editing software is Francesco using?


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