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Camera Phones Vs. Point-and-Shoot Cameras

Monday, December 17th, 2012 by | Filed Under: Hardware & Peripherals, Photo Editing
 
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This holiday season, the sale of conventional point-and-shoot cameras is expected to be much longer then previous years. One major reason for this is the proliferation of cell phone cameras that many people consider good enough to replace the point-and-shoot. Is the cell phone camera good enough? Are all the cell phone cameras basically the same? What does a point-and-shoot offer that a cell phone doesn’t?

A point-and-shoot camera is generally defined as a camera where the lens cannot be removed, and its primary function is to take pictures. These types of cameras differ from dSLR cameras, which have removable lenses or video camcorders which might take photos, but its general purpose is to take video. A point-and-shoot will usually run you between $100 and $300 dollars, and in most cases, include a xenon bulb flash and an optical zoom lens, usually in the 3x to 10x range. Point-and-shoot cameras often come with many scene modes and sensitivity settings, and can have more advanced PSAM photographic control modes. Point-and-shoots range in megapixel (MP) rating, currently from 5 megapixels to 16 megapixels.

Cell phone cameras vary greatly in the quality of the sensor, lens, and features of the photo application. Most smartphone cameras today will be at least 5 MP and can be as high as 12 MP, whereas more basic feature phones can include cameras as low as 1.3 megapixels. Cell phones almost never feature an optical zoom lens, and rarely include a real flash. Instead, camera phones opt for a LED light to function as a flash. The software included with your phone varies, but generally, the options for controlling how the photo is taken are more limited than a point-and-shoot.

So what are the pro’s and con’s of each?

Point-And-Shoot

Pro:

  • Optical Zoom lens lets you get closer in on the action
  • Wide angle side of lens usually wider than cell phone cameras
  • Physical buttons make operating the camera easier
  • Xenon flash bulb allows longer range, and even more flash photography
  • Macro mode lets you take close-up images
  • Optical or sensor-shift image stabilization keeps photos sharper in lower light
  • Larger ISO range of sensor lets you take photos in lower light/higher shutter speeds

Con:  

  • Bulky and sometimes hard to carry. Many don’t fit in a pocket easily
  • You’re not going to have it with you unless you remember to bring your camera
  • Expensive, can cost hundreds of dollars

 

Camera Phone

Pro:

  • Always with you. The camera you don’t have with you takes no photos
  • Easily upload and share pictures directly from the phone
  • Edit photos with built-in app or other third-party download apps

Con:

  • LED flash (if you even have one) is much lower power then Xenon flash
  • Lack of photographic controls
  • No zoom lens really limits framing of photo
  • Small camera phone sensor and lens can lead to noisy/less detailed photos

What about megapixels? Many people will tell you that the number one benefit to a point-and-shoot is a higher resolution sensor, producing more pixels. The truth is that for photos shared online or printed up to 8×10, anything over 8 megapixels won’t improve quality. Typical photos are printed at 300 dots per inch (300 DPI) and an 8×10 at 300 DPI works out to 7.2 megapixels.

What about ISO/lens quality? This is the real catch. From phone to phone, lens quality and sensor performance can vary greatly, and almost all of them are inferior to dedicated point and shoot camera lens/sensor quality. ISO 800 on a camera phone may produce very noisy photos, whereas ISO 800 on a point-and-shoot may produce a photo good enough to print. Lack of an optical zoom/image stabilization can’t be understated either, and is a big sticking point in favor of the point-and-shoot.

So which is better for you? Well, a lot depends on what you want to do, how much you want to spend, and how comfortable you are carrying around multiple items. I believe there is a purpose for both, and having a good cell phone camera comes in handy when you don’t have a traditional camera. Regardless, there are rarely any situations where a traditional camera’s quality will be inferior to a cell phone camera.

 -Tim

P.S. I mostly use my iPhone for personal family photos over my high-end Nikon dSLR. I’ve captured more great photos from my smartphone because it’s with me at all times.

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4 Responses to “Camera Phones Vs. Point-and-Shoot Cameras”

  1. Storm Ferguson says:

    Yes, your phone is great for happy snaps but the Canon S100 for example will allow you to do so so much more especially as it shoots RAW. You can then improve dramatically your photographs with a photo editor like Adobe Lightroom

  2. Nyck says:

    I tend to agree with Tim,I’ve always had a very high end camera for the last 30+ years,I still use 35mm as well as digital – currently a Nikon DSLR with which I have taken literally tens of thousands of photos all over the world in various resolutions including RAW for further tweaking at a later point in time;but 80% of my favourite photos came from my (also high end) camera phones taken at a moments notice when I don’t have my DSLR with me (do you ?). Sure,the quality wont be as good,but for most purposes it’s plenty good enough to capture the occasion.95% of people – maybe even more don’t and never will use photo editor progs it has to be said,so while I agree with Storm to a point, it is what it is in reality,instant & fun for most people :-)

  3. Mark says:

    This holiday season, the sale of conventional point-and-shoot cameras is expected to be much longer then previous years.

    What does “much longer” mean in the above sentence? I suspect your spell checker got you and substituted something unrelated to the word you tried to type. Was it perhaps “much lower” or maybe “much slower”?

  4. Jim says:

    I’m tech savvy and have studied photography in college. I recently took a European tour and purchased a moderately priced Canon PowerShot Model: SX260 HS Digital camera. I couldn’t be more satisfied with the results from any camera–this one performed beautifully under some difficult shooting conditions. I have many high quality pictures from this camera. In contrast, a friend who accompanied me took pictures on an iPhone and there is no question about its inferiority for quality photography. If you want quality, buy a “real” camera but, if you only care about “duddy” pictures, a cell phone camera should make you happy. Incidentally, to express my bias: (1) I almost cry when thinking about my high-end Canon 35MM camera rotting in the closet and (2) observing all the cell phone addicts who are attached to their phones like a baby to a nipple. There is a real place for a cell phone and that is in your pocket except when in real need. I want to vomit when I see adults & children continually pulling their phones out in public to view their latest text or email. Then, and I have never figured this out, why these idiots think they have to talk twice as loud when on a cell vs. a normal face-to-face conversation.

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