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The Smartphone vs. the Camera: 5 Reasons Cameras Take Better Photos

Last updated on 05/18/2013

Smartphone cameras are rising in popularity--but can they compete with a camera designed just for taking pictures?
By Hillary Grigonis

As smartphones continue to rise in popularity and quality, more and more people are doubting their need for a separate, dedicated camera. It's easy to just pull a phone out of a pocket, snap, then share the moment as it happens. Smartphones are continuing to improve, and their onboard camera is no exception.










Cell phones allow for quick photos, but the result isn't as high quality as with a dedicated camera.


















So, there's a question that's begging to be asked. And that question is, “Do I even need a camera anymore?”

The answer, that's been dying to be heard, is absolutely. If you want high resolution photos to print or enlarge, you need a camera. If you want to have something fast enough not to miss the moment, you need a camera. If you want to zoom in, take macro shots, or take photos in low light, you need a camera. The quality of images taken from a cell phone are still a long way from the quality of even a basic point and shoot in five basic areas: resolution and noise, lens quality, image stabilization, focus and speed.


Smartphone vs. Camera: Resolution & Noise

Put simply, cell phones are designed for one main purpose: to communicate. And devices that are designed for making phone calls and sending text messages are not going to get you the same quality as a camera that is designed just for taking great pictures.

The biggest difference is visible. Take a look at your phone. Chances are, it's pretty compact. Yet in the small body includes hardware for running apps and surfing the web, speakers and wires to make a phone call, equipment to pick up a good signal and, oh yes, a camera lens and a sensor. To fit into a device that's meant for making phone calls, cell phone sensors are small, which means image quality is low. Even stepping up to a point and shoot usually means a big increase in sensor size and photo quality, not to mention the difference in a more advanced camera.

What does it mean to have a smaller sensor? The sensor is the digital equivalent of film, it collects all the light and data. Smaller sensors do not perform well when there's little light available, meaning along with a lower resolution, smartphone photos have more noise in low light shots. And while the picture may look ok on the cell phone screen, you will probably be disappointed if you printed even a 5x7.

Smartphone vs. Camera: Lens

When there's not as much room for a sensor, there's also not as much room for a quality lens. The lens in a smartphone is fixed (i.e. stationary) and the zoom is digital, not optical, meaning as you zoom, the image quality continues to decrease. Digital cameras have lenses that can bring the image in closer without decreasing the quality—and many of them are continuing to become more and more compact, yet still offering zooms of 12x and even 20x in the travel zoom category.

Smartphone vs. Camera: Image Stabilization

Like the zoom, image stabilization on a phone is digital, not optical. And just like in the zoom, digital means degraded photo quality while optical means the resolution isn't harmed as camera shakes are reduced or even eliminated.

Smartphone vs. Camera: Focus

On most smartphones, taking a picture involves simply tapping the touchscreen. But there's something to be said about having a shutter button—the ability to focus on a particular subject. Press the shutter button halfway on an autofocus point and shoot and the screen will indicate what's in focus, so you can either refocus or take the shot. There's no such process on a smartphone. Generally, whatever is in the middle of the frame will be in focus, though some phones like the iPhone allow the user to tap an area on the screen to select a focus. Most of the picture from a phone is clear—that neat effect where the background is softly blurred (it's called depth of field, by the way) isn't part of smartphone pictures. And with little depth of field, taking close ups on a smartphone is rather ho hum.

Smartphone vs. Camera: Speed

Anyone who has tried to take a few action photos with a smartphone has probably realized that speed is sorely lacking. There's a lag between when the screen is tapped and when the photo is actually taken—meaning many missed moments. Upgrading to just a quality point and shoot gets you not only a faster response, but the option to use burst mode to take several pictures of the action, ensuring the perfect moment is captured.

Smartphone vs. Camera: The Verdict

As smartphones continue to increase in popularity, camera manufactures haven't stood by idly. Most models offer filters and effects that will impress even the most die hard Instagram fans. There are now a handful of quality cameras in every category offering wi-fi, either built in or as an optional add on, for those that just can't wait to upload their shots to Facebook. And many are finding ways to increase the quality of the sensor while reducing the bulk.

Smartphones are continuing to improve the quality of their cameras—but it's driving the camera companies to produce better, high quality compact cameras to compete. There's a few low end cameras out there that would likely disappoint smartphone owners, but from the mid-range point and shoots on up, there's a number of perks from a dedicated camera that are just too good to pass up.

Smartphone cameras are great for snapping shots to send via text message or for those moments that are happening right now as the camera is packed in it's bag in another room. But for those photos that are going to fill up the family albums, dedicated digital cameras have the upper hand, no question.

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