It's a huge debate in the photography world affecting all areas, and some photographers get very defensive over the old ways of taking photos vs new.
Lets explore the first way the majority of photographers worked, and in my opinion the spark that ignited this debate, film. Film photography was a harder entry into photography than digital is today, if you made mistakes (which all photographers do when learning) it was very costly. You could shoot rolls and rolls of film and get nothing usable but you've spent money on the film and development. Learning from your own mistakes took time, you would shoot the photo, process the film and only then would you learn what you had done wrong to be able to go back and try again.
Along came digital photography and it opened up the world of photography to many more people. This created a split in the photography community with the saying that people who learnt on digital cameras weren't "true" photographers as they hadn't learnt using film and no thought had gone into their work as they could just take thousands of photos.
I feel people learning on digital learn faster but also get more creative, they are able to see their actions on the screen instantly and can make the adjustments to correct mistakes whilst still on location. This enables people to try new techniques, check the photo and try again until they have something they like.
This compares to today where smartphones now have some amazing camera technology bundled into them that can create some stunning imagery, almost everyone has a phone with a camera so the world of photography has now become open to a much wider group of people than when digital first began.
History repeats itself once again where a percentage of photographers talk about smartphone photography not being real photography. They talk about how people aren't learning the settings like ISO, f stops or shutter speed, but what I feel they are learning is composition along with what is good lighting. This all ties in to telling a story and one thing I'm passionate about in my photography is telling a story.
I see photos posted online of events like weddings, christenings or birthdays and I'm blown away by peoples ability to compose great shots who probably haven't held a professional grade camera before. Yes the phone has dialled in the settings for them automatically to achieve the correct exposure but at the end of the day if the photo can portray emotion and tell part of a story then who's to say that is not photography?
I'm not saying that I or any other photographer should sell all their gear and just buy the top end smartphone to use with photography, far from it! But it got me thinking whilst I was out walking the other day and I was curious to see the comparison between my phone camera and my Canon 5D mark 3 with a 24-70 2.8 version 2 lens (a very good combination of lens and camera). I'm no landscape photographer but below is the comparison of the two photos, click them to view larger and try to work out which was taken by the phone or by the DSLR camera (revealed further down).
My thoughts on the two photos are that both show the view we had at the top of Blencathra in the Lake District, they both are exposed correctly and so both would be classed as a good photo to share about our day out, one took less than a second to take whilst the other took a few more to get the settings correct.
For me the difference is in the detail, If I'm going to print photos I love to print them big. When printing photos bigger than 6x4 you would start to notice the difference in phone quality vs the DSLR but that is also another positive for smartphones, very rarely do these photos get printed. Most end up on social media so the quality difference won't be noticed although that's a whole other story about how it is lost due to compression imposed via facebook/instagram. For reference photo 1 is the Canon 5D mark 3 and photo 2 is the Phone, did you manage to tell them apart?
Below is a heavily zoomed in comparison of the same area on each photo, one has smooth areas of colour whilst the other has a fuzzy look to the lake and the trees. This is all down to the size of the sensor in the cameras and how they capture the image.
In print these artefacts in the phone image would show especially if printed large but going back to the earlier point about social media, that is where the majority of photos are posted and viewed.
For me there is no doubt that smartphones are getting better at taking photos, back when cameras were first in phones it was VGA size and you couldn't recognise people's faces let alone zoom in and see the islands of Derwent Water in the far distance. I wouldn't say smartphones are "killing" photography, there's still a huge difference when it comes to the over all quality of photographs especially for weddings and special events. Photography will forever be evolving and smartphone cameras are only a small part of the world of photography and people shouldn't compare, just get out there and tell your own story using what ever camera you have!