/ Technology

Why do I need a camera when I’ve got a cameraphone?

Camera lens

Do you still use a camera? These days virtually every mobile phone has a built-in camera and we carry them wherever we go. It seems sensible to ask whether the days of the standalone compact camera are doomed.

Essentially, we’ve always got a means of taking pictures in our pockets every waking second of the day. Why do we need yet another gadget to cart around when we can take pictures with a product we already own?

Cameraphone drawbacks

However, many cameraphones still suffer from distinct drawbacks. Most don’t have a flash, for example, so taking pictures in dim light is fraught with problems. Even those that do have some sort of built-in flash use weak LEDs to provide the light, which ultimately limits their use.

There’s also usually no means of adjusting the exposure settings to compensate for different lighting conditions and no way of switching to a faster shutter speed to capture fast-action shots. Anything moving quickly will just show up as a blur. And then there’s the fact that most cameraphones lack the ability to zoom, meaning you can’t take decent pictures of faraway objects without physically walking closer to them.

Cameraphone advantages

However, the ubiquitous cameraphone does have distinct advantages when it comes to sharing your photos. It’s a synch to text and email pictures to friends or upload images and video clips to Facebook, YouTube or Instagram.

Plus, as your phone is always with you, it’s quick and easy to flick through your photos and show people your latest snaps. Compact cameras are catching up in this department, as many now have wi-fi or near-field communication (NFC) technology. But cameras still can’t compete with all the photo apps you can get on a smartphone.

We’re about to conduct a head-to-head test pitting cameras against their phone rivals to see which come out on top. What kind of shots and scenarios do you think will show their relative strengths and weaknesses? And do you still use a standalone camera or is your phone sufficient for all your photography needs?

What do you prefer to use to take photos?

Compact camera (41%, 425 Votes)

DSLR (25%, 261 Votes)

Bridge camera (14%, 146 Votes)

Cameraphone (14%, 144 Votes)

Compact system camera (6%, 65 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,041

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Anon the Mouse says:
10 October 2013

I’ve got the lumia 1020 and I realise now how poor cameraphones usually are. The clarity and detail are amazing, and the shots are incredible compared to any other cameraphone I have used. It is a good replacement for a mainstream digital camera too.

I think this is an easy but relatively comprehensive list
Low level light outdoor and indoor, outdoors will show the distance the flash is capable of easily.
Static and fast moving objects, to see how much they blur.
Details under zoom in good light. This needs good light as you are testing the zoom functionality not the light functionality.
Closeup shots

But to “futureproof” your tests, set up a fixed display for one of the tests such as attaching a couple of non-degradable items to the inside of a box. Preferably with a lightsource.
Then you can test future phones to the same setup over years for a true comparison.

It depends whether you want to take snaps (still or video) and send them instantly, for which camera phones are pretty good, or whether you want to take higher-quality photographs and video, for which cameras are much better. I’ve just replaced our 10 year old Pentax (5X zoom, 5Mp) with a Panasonic bridge FZ72 – 16Mp, 60X zoom – I don’t think a camera phone will touch its performance – unless someone knows better?! Still fairly inexpensive. Horses for courses.

If I go out for the day I usually have a compact camera on my belt. It takes much better photos than my cheap phone. If phones become cheaper and compact cameras increase in price due to lack of demand I may switch to using a phone instead of a camera.

We sacrificed sound quality in moving from CD to MP3, FM to DAB and CRT TV to flat-screen TV, but gained in other ways. I can see that the same applies in replacing compact cameras with phone cameras.

Neal says:
10 October 2013

Yet again you fail when talking about mobile phones.
Nokia Lumias are brilliant. The 920, 925 and 1020 all take excellent pictures.
you can change exposure settings with the excellent Pro Cam function.

the 1020 has a xenon flash too.

please get up to date with the facts before writing these pieces.

Hi Neal, this post is in favour of cameraphones. What Dave argues is that most cameraphones have the drawbacks discussed, not that they all do.

Nokia Lumia’s are certainly on the exceptional end – but do the size of their lenses really result in photos that rival standalone digital cameras? I’m not so sure.

I need a viewfinder… phone screen useless in full sunlight – composition impossible. Next camera will have WiFi or NFC though…

Already there Neal. The Sony QX100 and QX10 are cameras with no screen, communicate by NFC (on Android). No viewfinder though!

Sorry, not Neal. WJG

I wonder if there is a market for a DSLR that makes phone calls. 🙂

Steve Morgan says:
11 October 2013

The laws of physics dictate that mobile phone cameras will always be playing catch-up with dedicated digital cameras.

John says:
11 October 2013

It’s ludicrous to propose that the finely crafted coated glass optics of a high end DSLR can be adequately replaced by tiny moulded scraps of polycarbonate shoehorned into the corner of a lump of plastic mainly devoted to telecommunications, spending most of its life unprotected bouncing around in someone’s pocket or handbag (futurology warning goes here… 🙂 ).

I use my phone camera for those spur of the moment needs – flipcharts, whiteboards, dinner in a restaurant with friends etc. Capturing the moment is prime, but I gladly use my pro-sumer compact when creating an image is prime. It’s a pity that the essential difference often goes unremarked. I would hate to lose the satisfaction of my camera, much as I would hate to lose the convenience of my camera phone. I think the day when the two merge will be some time off yet.

This Conversation is not intended to be about high quality cameras. The question is whether there is a future for compact cameras as a result in the advances in phone cameras. Good cameras are unlikely to be affected.

This conversation is headed “Why do I need a camera when I’ve got a cameraphone?”. It is reasonable therefore to consider all cameras in making the comparison on the basis that some might be happy with (good quality) snaps for sharing whilst others might want high quality pictures.
The mistake is, perhaps, to suggest it is one or the other. I suggest that, as some comments point out, many will want a high quality versatile camera as well as a phone.
If you want to restrict it to a comparison just with compact cameras, you might ask why spend hundreds of pounds on a phone when you can buy a decent compact for under £100.

Sophie Gilbert says:
12 October 2013

I won’t pretend I’m a great photographer, but I’m interested enough in photography to have a separate DSLR camera with a viewfinder. Exaggerating a little to make a point, cameraphones to me are like the old polaroids. You can sometimes take very good snapshots with them, but that’s about it.

Agree with all that’s been said. In film days you’d never have compared instamatics or disposables with SLRs. They were meant for different jobs and its the same with camera phones now.

John T says:
17 October 2013

To answer the original question. It all depends on what you want to do with the photo.

If it’s for on the spur snapshots, todays phone cameras, when properly used, can take surprisingly good pictures. These are ideal for viewing on the phone or emailing etc. However, if it is intended to print the result with any degree of enlargement (anything over 6in x 4in) a good quality DSLR just cannot be beaten.

I have a ‘phone with camera, a compact digital camera and a DSLR. Which one I use depends on the sort of photographs that I want. If quality and/or flexibility are required then it’s the DLSR every time. The compact is the next choice with the ‘phone just for quick snaps. Both the ‘phone and the compact suffer the same problem: actually framing the photograph in bright sunlight – many the occasion when it has been a case of point and hope!

I should have also commented that I have not entered a vote in the survey above because it is meaningless. Which of my cameras I prefer depends on what I am doing, as mentioned in my previous post. It is simply not possible to give a single answer as required.

Mike says:
18 October 2013

I don’t think that shooting test charts indoors will reveal the full difference in performance between a DSLR and a good camera phone. The most telling comparison between cameras occurs with high scene contrast – for example outdoors in bright sunlight. And shooting into the light will show very different levels of flare, which you wouldn’t see indoors in controlled lighting.

The main trade off is between convenience and quality. I would always prefer to use my DSLR if I have it with me, but it is a hassle to lug it around. Second best is a quality compact, which I’m more likely to be carrying. If I leave that at home, at least I have my phone. I will be getting a better phone soon, (with a much better camera than I have at the moment) but it’s unlikely to obsolete my serious cameras.

“It’s a synch to text and email pictures to friends”

Either this was a pun or the word “cinch” has disappeared!

As for cameras I now use compact ultrazooms originally a Olympus with the equivalent of an 850mm SLR range , at under £200. An excellent performer apart from no viewfinder meaning glare can sometimes render the back screen tricky to use. We had hoped to rely on a small compact and a smart phone on a trip to Brazil rather than lug kilos of 35mm kit around but a lack of a serious zoom is crippling and we bought the Olympus in Portugal on the way out.

Astonishing value for what the camera can do. I showed some photos from our trip to a young friend back from a months holiday in Borneo and he and his girlfriend were kicking themselves for the shots they could have had compared to what their phones and compact had allowed them to take.

Will be taking a Canon 50x zoom, equivalent to a 1200mm SLR lense, on our next holiday together with the Olympus. The Canon does have a viewfinder and some useful abilities with the zoom process but it does cost just over £300. To some it may sound expensive but if you realise a 35mm lense at1200mm is tens of thousands of pounds …….

If you are trying to relate binocular magnification to these zoom lengths my research found no direct answer on the Web but I have deduced that the 1200mm is roughly 24 magnification – with built in stabilisation!