These days, with devices like the Nokia Lumia 1020 (pictured) boasting an incredible 41 megapixel camera, you might wonder if you still need a separate DSLR or point-and-shoot camera. After all, if your phone can get that kind of resolution, why would you need anything more? So if you’ve ever wondered, “Do I still need a digital camera?”, the answer is in the details. Here’s how a digital camera edges out a smartphone camera… and who’s best suited to each.
What’s great about a digital camera
1. Great lenses.
Great picture quality relies on great lenses, and the good ones are large and costly to make. When a smartphone camera costs $199 for the whole device, and the lens is thumbnail-sized, even if the lenses are made by Zeiss, as with the Lumia, those lenses can only be so fine.
2. Optical zoom.
Your digital camera uses optical zoom to zero in on what you want to take a picture of. Optical zoom works by physically moving the distance between the glass elements inside to change the focal length of the lens. The image integrity isn’t changed, and you can get nice and close to what you’re shooting without moving. Digital zoom simulates the same thing, but handles it differently— it crops out a piece of the photo and blows it up. Resolution is always lost in the process, so the digital camera wins out every time. Note: The Lumia compensates by starting with a a whopping 41 megapixel image (the iPhone can only capture 8!), so when it’s enlarged the untrained eye can’t see much of a difference.
3. Shutter speed.
That’s how long the lens remains open during a shot. If things are moving fast, you want a quick shutter speed, to grab the picture fast without also grabbing a blur as the object moves by. Smartphone cameras simulate a shutter speed, but if you want to take pictures of your dog tearing around the park, you’ll have less of a blurry mess with a digital camera.
4. Superior flash.
The better it is, the more natural-looking lighting you’ll get (as opposed to that vampire-skin, bright-spot-in-the-center look). A digital camera will have a better quality flash than your smartphone, though
5. Battery life.
If you’re spending all day at a theme park taking pictures on your smartphone, it will be dead by mid-afternoon. Unless you get an external battery pack, a digital camera battery will long outlast your smartphone (and you’ll still have your phone to make calls).
What’s great about a smartphone camera
1. It’s there when you need it.
Your cell phone is always ready for those “I didn’t know I’d need a camera” moments, like when you become the lucky witness to a flash mob, or when you meet a guy with a rat riding a cat riding a dog… or when you get a parking ticket, the sign overhead clearly says it’s legal, and you need a shot of that right now.
2. It helps you pack light.
When you’re packing for a trip and debating schlepping a digital camera, it’s nice to know you have the option to leave it at home and still have a camera with you. Plus, your smartphone camera is much lighter. Try slipping a bunch of lenses and a good camera into your pocket. Actually, for the sake of your pocket, don’t do that.
3. It’s a good note-taker.
Smartphones are a great way to help you remember stuff (say, the price of bagel chips at your local supermarket), and your photos can be immediately uploaded to an organization app like Evernote.
4. It’s fun.
Add fun filters and edit your photos on the fly. With a digital camera, you’d have to upload them to a computer and spend some time in Photoshop.
5. It lets you share fast.
There’s no middle man with sending your pictures to Twitter, Facebook, or just texting them to a friend. Your’e just a couple of taps away from sending your photos to the masses with a smartphone camera. Digital cameras are increasingly coming with wifi options, but I’ve found these to be clunky at best… for now.
So, do you still need a digital camera?
To some, snapping a photo is about composition, image quality, lighting and sharp focus. To others it’s just another birthday party pic, and what matters is that Auntie Georgia got icing all over her glasses and nearly spit milk out her nose. So which camera you use ultimately depends on how much you care about image quality. If you’re interested in taking serious pictures that you can blow up without getting blurry, a digital camera might still be the way to go. But if you’re going to get a cheap point-and-shoot with wifi capability, I might recommend considering just using your smartphone.
Do you still use a digital camera? Swear by your smartphone? Tell me in the comments!