With the never-ending capabilities of modern smartphones, it's difficult to choose a single most important feature. But subconsciously, we like to choose a lone feature that will make or break a smartphone for us. For some, it's the display technology, size or density. Others choose design, materials or maybe the processor make and model. For me, it's generally the camera as a whole – sensor, optics and the final output.
If a phone doesn't have a decent image sensor, chances are I will pass on it for something a little more capable. Reason being, some manufacturers have proven that creating a half-decent image sensor for a smartphone isn't rocket science.
Apple, for instance, has created three smartphones to date that have touted spectacular mobile cameras: iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and iPhone 5. The former two were rated the most popular cameras on Flickr in their time. The iPhone 5 is only an improvement – or a refinement – on that and will likely follow in its predecessors' paths. Samsung has done a decent job of making phones with great image sensors, too, as represented by the Galaxy S III and, reportedly, by the Note II. And Nokia has wowed the world with PureView in the Symbian-powered 808 and Lumia 920 powered by Windows Phone 8.
Above is a picture I took with the iPhone 5 last week. (Click the image to open a high-res version in a new window.) The only editing done was a slight change in white balance and cropping. I also took a picture with my micro four-thirds camera. The major difference was in depth of field, white balance and a little more detail (which is lost when the photo is sized down anyway) due to it having a 16.1-megapixel sensor versus the pinhole 8-megapixel sensor on the iPhone 5.
So when a phone comes to market with a sub-standard primary camera, it is a great indicator of how little attention the manufacturer gave to its devices' optics. And that gives me every reason I need to buy something else, something more refined and more worth my money.
After all, I love to take pictures, and I'm a proponent of the ever-popular saying amongst photographers, "The best camera is the one you have on you." But if a phone can't take pictures that are up to snuff, pictures that can't accurately capture the moments and visuals I want to keep, I would rather leave it at home and carry a real camera.
Nick Sarafolean of our network site DroidDog, asked a wonderful question last night: "Has Your Smartphone Completely Replaced Your Point And Shoot Yet?"
By all means, the rapid improvement of embedded cameras in smartphones is encroaching on and threatening to the dedicated point and shoot market. People are relying less and less on dedicated cameras and relying more on their smartphones to capture those special moments. And as the image sensors within smartphones advance, as with the addition of interchangeable lenses, the need for dedicated cameras dissipates.
Sarafolean explained that he went to a car show recently, and he took with him a point and shoot and his Galaxy S III. Stating that using a point and shoot felt outdated and out of place, he only took a single photo with the dedicated camera and somewhere between 150 and 200 pictures with his S III, which he said felt more natural.
And he's not the only one. Look around next time you're at a big event, on top of a mountain or at a family gathering. How many people do you see using point and shoot cameras? (Not DSLRs or micro four-thirds. Point and shoot cameras, such as Cybershots, Nikon Coolpix, etc.) I'm willing to bet there are more taking pictures with smartphones than anything else.
And when you can shoot with a smartphone and get pictures like the one above, why do you need anything else? I shot this picture with the iPhone 5 just two weekends ago. (Click on the image for a better look.)
Even at press events of late, I've noticed how many people are holding up their smartphones over the crowd to snap a photo instead of a point and shoot or SLR. The last time I was in New York, one guy kept blocking my view by taking pictures with his iPad. (Yeah … he was that guy.) Don't get me wrong, there are still tons of people with SLRs at press events. After all, those are close quarters with hundreds of tech-enthused people – the best of the best is to be expected. But it's not uncommon to see someone snapping photos with their smartphone since it's the easiest way to snap a decent photo and upload immediately.
So have smartphones completely replaced my point and shoot? Yes and no. When I had a point and shoot, I rarely used it over the iPhone. I'm almost positive I took (and used) more pictures with the iPhone 4S at CES this year than with the Cybershot W350. But I replaced the W350 with a Sony NEX-C3, which was later replaced by the NEX-5N. And while the iPhone can take some great shots, the micro four-thirds camera blows it away in many scenarios (i.e.: I wouldn't use the iPhone 5 to take pictures for a phone review, I use the NEX-5N). But I definitely use the iPhone 5 to take everyday pictures more than anything else.
What about you, ladies and gents? Has your smartphone completely replaced your point and shoot camera? Do you still use your dedicated shooter from time to time? Or, like me, do you use something geared more towards professional shots, like a micro four-thirds camera or DSLR?