I think it's time to start carrying a camera, and not just in my phone

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| May 26, 2014

Like many of you, I think our smartphones are pretty amazing devices. Sure, they can still make phone calls, and that's great, but it's just about every other little detail about these handsets that really stand out to me. Back in the early 2000s I can still remember carrying around so many different gadgets, and just the fact that I don't need to do that anymore is amazing enough. But the fact our phones can do the jobs of so many different devices, and do them well, is just icing on the cake.

Back when our smartphones were just starting to take over other product categories, you'd constantly hear the same argument: My [insert stand-alone music player here] plays music better, or has more/better options; my [insert camera here] shoots better pictures. I'm sure you can remember a few others, too. Of course, those arguments were perfectly sound back then. The stand-alone devices *did* do all of those things, and more, better than the smartphone that was just trying to feel out the competition.

Now, though? Well, just look at the iPod lineup. There was a time when it was the dominant force in the portable music listening market, and now it's mainly used as a gateway device to the iPhone. But it's not just the iPhone, obviously. As soon as a smartphone ends up in the hands of someone, there doesn't seem to be much of a use for that stand-alone music player anymore.

The same can't really be said for cameras.

I'd say it's odd, because the two stand-alone devices share a lot of similarities, but the strength of the camera's specific features, even as smartphones try to emulate them, are still enough to keep the market alive on its own. However, there's no denying that the music player and camera share the same key destiny: We use the same stand-alone device right up until we get the smartphone... But this is where the difference arrives.

For a music player, there's not much detail or specifics that people look for anymore. Yeah, some folks out there might still want an equalizer, but I don't know many people that actively look for that when they want to listen to music on their phone. (Most devices still offer ways to change elements of the sound in the music you're listening to, though. Just have to find it buried in the settings.) When it comes to cameras, though, its the details that really make the individual devices stand out on their own, instead of being absolutely consumed by the smartphone market.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the camera market is immune to the same result as the music player market. As we've already seen, smartphones are quickly incorporating better and better cameras, with better software and more features packed into the whole show. Eventually, some day, our smartphones will indeed be able to boast the same standout features that cameras do, as well as be able to snap photos as high-profile as some of the best stand-alone cameras out there.

Some day. Eventually.

Right now and for the foreseeable future, though, it's still a camera's game if you want to take the sharpest, crisp photos you can. While many photo taking apps out there offer similar features that you can find on a camera like a DSLR, you're still hindered by the camera equipment itself in the device you're using.

It shouldn't be a surprise that companies like Apple and Samsung, the rulers of the smartphone kingdom (for now), make such a point to shine a light on their cameras, because they're trying to eat up every market they can, and they're trying to do it with a flagship device. Other companies out there are doing what they can to implement the best camera systems in their devices, but the real champion is probably Nokia with their Lumia 1020.

HTC has been trying to make sure that the "megapixel war" is fought with a bit of a different strategy. Instead of shoving all of the megapixels into their flagship's camera, they've decided to go the UltraPixel route, and aim for fewer megapixels, while making them generally larger. The 4-megapixel/UltraPixel camera on the HTC One M8 is a slightly better camera than the 4-megapixel/UltraPixel camera found in the One M7, but it still champions that UltraPixel technology.

The truth is, for the average consumer, the majority of cameras tucked inside our smartphones are going to be good enough. Good enough to snap that quick picture of your food on the table, or the pretty flower on the side of a street. Maybe even snap some impromptu photos of family members doing something crazy.

The camera has become the most important feature for me in a phone, and it's been that way now for more than a year -- and I don't see it changing anytime soon. But while I've found the cameras in devices like the Galaxy S5, iPhone 5s, One M8, and others to be "good enough" for most situations, I think I'm finally understanding that I need to stop using it as the main, go-to camera if I really want the best shots.

Which is why I'm starting to consider picking up a stand-alone camera, and using it as my main picture taker. This wouldn't be the first time I've thought about it, but I feel like I'm closer than ever to actually making the jump. And I'm curious to know how many of you out there have done the same thing recently. Or, if you've just never given up on a stand-alone camera. Let me know how you handled it, what device you went with, and how you're liking it so far.