Camera Phones Will Not Make Point-and-Shoots Obsolete

By Matthew Braga

Sure, cellphone cameras and mobile devices offer great ways to take your pictures on the go. But will they ever supplant the almighty point and shoot? Unlikely, we think.

Almost a decade ago, writer Warren Ellis published a small book titled Available Light. It was a collection of photography, unique at the time because of the way in which the images were captured. Using an old Handspring Visor and camera attachment, Ellis would take pictures in grainy, 320x240 resolution -- archaic by today's standards, with no flash or adjustable zoom. However, the pictures were a sign of things to come, and just a few years later, nearly every phone and PDA on the planet would have a camera built-in.

As with all technology, the quality of these cameras has continued to improve, to the point where it's not uncommon to see 8 Megapixel cameras embedded in our favorite phones and devices. It makes one wonder, if each of us is already carrying a camera in our pocket each day, why bring another? With the increased quality and prevalence of these tiny sensors, perhaps little time remains for the venerable point-and-shoot.

sales figures (PDF link) from Japanese manufacturers. And this number has continued to rise steadily in recent years, unaffected by an ever growing population of mobile phone owners. Some may believe it's just a matter of time before tiny mobile sensors put point and shoot models out of a job. But if those numbers are any indication, compact cameras may have the last laugh.

 The Handspring Visor, with Eyemodule camera.
Megahertz myth of old, cameras have encountered a similar situation with the measurement of Megapixels. Not all camera sensors are created equally, and as a result, an expensive 8 Megapixel sensor can easily outperform a cheaper 12 Megapixel one. This is largely due to the way in which sensors react to light, with some acting more sensitive to green light than red or blue. As a result, the sensor has to guess, or interpolate those less sensitive colors to reproduce a good looking photo. A cheap 12 Megapixel sensor may produce a higher-resolution photo, but the quality is likely to be less than a smaller, albeit more expensive sensor.

Enter the world of mobile photography. Dell's leaked Android phone, the Thunder, is said to have a camera capable of 8 Megapixels. But will the Thunder's sensor outperform a Canon 30D's, which boasts the same resolution? Not even close. And perhaps, not ever. Try printing an image from your cellphone and observe the results. As image sensors shrink, and manufacturers attempt to pack higher resolutions into these smaller packages, noise becomes a problem —- a product of how light reacts to color sensors at such minuscule sizes. Until engineers can determine a solution, your tiny cellphone camera will always produce noisier, lower quality images than a similar, full-featured sensor.

Taken with an HTC s640 
Flip-style cameras. These are no-frills devices that do a great job of doing one thing, and one thing only -- capturing video. In fact, they do such a great job that some might question why pricier consumer camcorders continue to exist. The problem is, once you try to do more than capture simple video... well, you can't. There's no external mic inputs, no volume adjustment, no headphone jacks, no time coding, and the list goes on. These may not be features used regularly by the masses, but they're features nonetheless, and ones that are still used by a significant number of people.

The (incredibly small) camera from a first generation iPhone. 
shutter speed, aperture, or even your ISO. That means no long exposures, no action shots, and no shooting at night. As a result, you're limited to taking only one type of picture, depending on the condition —- not particularly useful in a world with limitless situations and scenarios.

Cellphone cameras, much like the cellphones themselves, are good for casual usage. They offer reasonable quality, quick results and are perfect for day-to-day use. But anything more than that, and you're going to wish you had a point and shoot in your pocket. With increased quality, improved features and unbeatable value, your compact camera is unlikely to be replaced by a cell phone any time soon. Sure, mobile devices have their place, but to say they're ready to supplant the almighty point and shoot might not be entirely true.