How long before smartphone cameras overtake digital cameras?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from Kansas City, MO
Published: October 25, 2013

Smartphones have slowly but surely been taking over just about every alternative gadget that we use. I could go without a television, a calculator, a landline, and an mp3 player all because my phone can pretty much do all of those things just as good or better than the other gadgets could - plus, there's the convenience that you only have to carry one device with you. In fact, I pretty much don't take anything else with me anymore except for my phone. However, there is one thing that I still feel is way superior to anything my phone could do, and that's my digital camera.

I don't usually tote it with me everywhere, but when I'm at a special event I always make sure to grab my camera. At 16-megapixels, it might only be a few megapixels above what some of the top-tier flagships currently have (13-megapixels), and even below other flagships (like Sony's Xperia Z1 with a 20.7-megapixel camera), but it always managed to come out ahead in quality. As it stands right now, most cameras have no problems holding their own when compared to the camera of a smartphone. But as smartphones begin to focus in more and more on how to make a better camera, I start to wonder how much longer this statement will hold true.

I really started to notice the increase in smartphone camera quality when the Lumia 920 came out. The Lumia was consistent through every smartphone camera shootout review in being the best of the best. It somehow managed to capture the cleanest images, and even the best low-light photos at the time. Windows Phone had never been so popular until the Lumia came out, and I'm fairly certain it had something to do with the great reviews the camera was getting. The Lumia 920 was also the first phone that made us as consumers stop and think: Why is this phone with the same 8-megapixel camera as everybody else doing so much better than other phones with 8-megapixel cameras? Most would point you in the direction of the advertised Carl Zeiss lens as the reasoning behind the better photos, but to the average consumer that doesn't really explain a whole lot.

The arrival of the HTC One gave us a little more insight on what makes a great camera so great - it's not necessarily the megapixels, but instead the size of the sensor. When the HTC One was announced that it would arrive with a 4-megapixel "UltraPixel" camera, more than a few eyebrows were raised. HTC already knew there would be questions asked. There was already an explanation prepared for the drop in megapixels, the very thing we believed to be the reasoning behind smartphone cameras getting better. It's not about megapixels, they said. It's about the sensor, it's about the other stuff that makes up a camera. A camera is more than just megapixels.

Without the purple tint issue I've been experiencing, I would agree. The phone took really nice, crisp and clear photos both during the day and in low-lit situations... that is, until you came to that other bridge that smartphones have a problem crossing: digital zoom.

In my opinion, digital zoom is probably the only thing standing in the way between the quality of today's smartphone cameras and digital cameras. Without purchasing a niche phone like the Galaxy Zoom, or a niche accessory like the Sony Lens Camera, you're probably not going to have a good time when you need to zoom. The only phone that manages to work its way around the issue is the Nokia Lumia 1020, with its 41-megapixel camera. Although it seems like it would be a long time coming before other phones are able, or are even interested, in catching up to the likes of the Nokia 1020, it is interesting to know that there is a way around the pixelated, ugly digital zoom issue that plagues most smartphones. It makes me think it won't be too long now before smartphones overtake, and even become the preferred method of taking photos.

Smartphones aren't anywhere near prepared to take on cameras on a professional level, but on a personal level I can see there being a huge dip in sales for digital cameras. I already don't use mine as often as I used to, and I imagine with each smartphone upgrade it will eventually prove itself more and more useless each time.

Readers, what are your thoughts on cameras and smartphones? Do you already primarily use your smartphone as your camera as well, or do you still prefer to use your camera? Share your thoughts with us!

Images via AGBeat, Foto Community