Smartphones vs Cameras: Which Is Better?

Just about everyone nowadays has a smartphone. Smartphones, such as the iPhone, the Android, and Galaxy phones, usually have an embedded camera. These cameras have been used to capture images and video that have helped to uncover misconduct or bad behavior as well as just taking photos of landscapes, monuments, and people. Given the rising ubiquity of smartphones and their cameras, some people have begun to wonder why they should have a “real” camera at all.

Smartphone vs Camera: Picture Quality

The most recent smartphones do have improved photo quality but even the best smartphone does not deal as well with camera shake, fast motion, or zoom as well as a camera would. If you’re trying to capture video or photos of a quickly unfolding event (or even of children at play), then the camera will beat any smartphone almost every time. A camera has a special sensor and chip arrangement so that it can correct for motion blur, lighting, and camera shake while a smartphone does not and, in many cases, could not have the same sensors and chips without becoming prohibitively heavy and bulky.

So, Advantage: Camera

Smartphone vs Camera: Ease of Carry

Smartphones tend to be fairly streamlined and portable. Cameras, even the slimmest and most compact, will generally be heavier and bulkier. That’s because cameras rely on having some distance between the lens and the sensor. Also, they’ll need to have room for the mode dials, the buttons, and be large enough to hold comfortably in the hand. If you had to pick one that was easier to carry with you at all times and you only had space for one or the other (but not both) then the smartphone is probably easier to carry.

Advantage: Smartphone

Smartphone vs Camera: Storage Capacity

Smartphones generally rely heavily on onboard memory and storage. While this can be expanded somewhat on some models using SD cards, cameras are built to have both onboard storage and to have easily accessed and easily swapped out memory cards. With a smartphone, it’s completely up to the manufacturer as to whether or not you’ll be able to include additional storage. With a camera, it’s a standard feature. Also, since smartphones need to have memory dedicated for their other features (caller ID, contact list, apps, logs, music, books) there is less space left for photos and video. The camera generally compresses these files as much as it can, resulting in lower-quality video and photos.

Advantage: Camera

Smartphone vs Camera: Onboard Editing Modes

While apps like Instagram do provide some quick editing abilities, they do not yet approach the sophistication of camera editing modes. A camera mode (portrait, landscape, firework, low-light, etc) will automatically choose the best ISO, aperture, and shutter settings, allowing even a novice photographer to capture a good-quality image without needing to take a course in photography. A camera can easily capture a great image of fireworks going off in the nightsky. A smartphone…not so much.

Advantage: Camera

Smartphone vs Camera: Photo/Video Portability

If you decided tomorrow that your Nikon wasn’t working out for you and you wanted to replace it with a Canon, then you don’t even have to worry about whether or not the Canon is going to read your SD cards. You know it will. However, if you’re thinking of replacing your iPhone with a Galaxy, then you may wonder how you’re going to get your images from one to the other, especially if you’re getting a new SIM card as well due to a change in cell phone provider. While you can easily download the photos from the iPhone to your computer and then reload them to your Galaxy, the process will not be as simple or straightforward as it is with a camera.

Advantage: Camera

Smartphone vs Camera: On-scene Uploading

In the past year, newer cameras such as the Samsung SMARTcameras, have largely erased this advantage that smartphones had over them. Newer cameras with onboard WiFi and other connection features can get online anywhere where there is network coverage and can upload images and video to cloud-based storage or to social media sites just as quickly and easily as a smartphone. And, given that the images and video will be higher-quality than that captured by a smartphone, they win this category hands-down.

Advantage: Camera

Smartphone vs Camera: Light Settings, Optical Zoom, Speed

This one is a no-brainer. Can you adjust the ISO settings on a smartphone? Can you make it zoom — as in optical zoom, not digital? Can you adjust the shutter speed? You can do all of this and more on a camera but not on a smartphone. For a smartphone to include all of these features, it would have to be completely redesigned. For now, smartphone users are stuck with the default range on their smartphone with little to no ability to adjust it for changes in conditions.

Advantage: Camera

Smartphone vs Camera: Learning Curve

Smartphone cameras are generally fairly easy to use. The lack of dials, features, settings, and other options really does mean you aim and shoot. And, some of the more recent smartphones do allow you to center your focus just by touching the phone screen and can correct for white balance. However, the touch-zoom or touch-focus on a smartphone will not be a true optical zoom or as clear a focus as is found on a camera. Still, if you’re completely new to photography and are terrified of messing up the settings on a camera, then you may find this lack of options to be a feature instead of a bug.

Advantage: Smartphone

Smartphone vs Camera: Interface

This is one area where smartphones clearly win out, for now. While camera interfaces and touch screens are becoming more intuitive and user-friendly, they are not as easy to interact with as a smartphone. The various modes sometimes have arcane names and generally do not come with much in the way of explanation as to what settings are changed and how they impact the picture. To learn those things, you generally do need to take a course on photography. A smartphone also generally can display more information, allowing for more onboard documentation on its settings than a camera has. Cameras come with a manual — smartphones, not so much.

Advantage: Smartphone

Overall, if you are wanting to take good-quality pictures or video and share them, then you’ll want to look into purchasing a camera. If you’re perfectly happy taking lower-quality pictures and running them through a limited filtering app such as Instagram, then your smartphone should keep you content. However, your smartphone images will have more motion-blur, more camera-shake blur, more washed out colors, and more fuzziness in them than they would if you took those exact same images with a camera.

Have your experiences been different than ours? If so, feel free to post your opinions below!

— da Bird

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