Have smartphone cameras reached point-and-shoot quality?


The debate about the quality of smartphone cameras and whether or not they have reached point-and-shoot level has been current for at least a few years now, and while we're generally not the ones to say that they have, our opinion has recently started to change.

The reason for this has become the recently-launched Samsung Galaxy Camera - the connected camera which has come to change the world of consumer digital photography, not with an amazing image quality, but with its instant photo-sharing and smartphone-like capabilities. In terms of its camera performance, the Galaxy Camera is just like any other point-and-shoot. And this led us to an interesting thought...

If the Galaxy Camera is like any other OK point-and-shoot out there, the fact that some of the top smartphones of today perform better than it in some categories should mean that smartphone cameras have finally reached point-and-shoot level. Isn't that amazing? This surely wasn't the case one or two year ago, but now we can comfortably say that for most occasions, the top representatives of the smartphone industry nowadays are as good as most digital cameras for consumers out there.

But what do we mean by "most occasions," because that may turn out to be an important point when it comes to photography. Well, as long as you aren't using your smartphone to take indoor/night images, you should be OK. Sadly, one of the few areas where smartphones are still lacking is low-light photography. You simply can't capture enough light with these miniature sensors. You need something bigger, something like... the 808 PureView sensor, but of course, no one wants a phone that is as thick as the 808. Nokia is trying to make things happen with products such as the Lumia 920, which features a smaller version of the PureView camera, in order to keep the thickness of the device in check, but the Lumia 920 is still quite bulky. But it's a big step forward, and we hope that Nokia will continue to make progress with this technology and eventually make it possible to put it in thinner handsets. It's something that other manufacturers should gladly pay royalties for, and the same goes for the floating sensor tech, also found in the Lumia 920. Have you seen the videos this device records? Nothing like the jerkiness that's observed with other handsets.

There is one other are where smartphones are also lacking, compared to digital cameras - the lack of optical zoom. Once again, this isn't something you can achieve in a super thin device like today's smartphones, at least with today's technology, but once again the innovation from Nokia comes to mind. Nokia managed to make real zoom possible in its 808 PureView by using a camera sensor of incredibly high resolution.This way, as you zoom in, the device is just cropping the image and leaving only the part that you want to remain inside the frame. That's a cool trick, but alas, it also requires a gigantic sensor that will make your phone as thick as a phone from 2006.

Getting back to where we started, we can now safely say that the top smartphones available today, like the Apple iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S III and Nokia Lumia 920, can capture comparable, or in some cases even better pictures than standard point-and-shoots, as long as you don't try to do low-light photography, due to the smaller sensors that are used. Really, we were surprised by the results from our special camera comparison featuring the Samsung Galaxy Camera. If you've missed it (how could you!), don't hesitate to check it out right here.

Are you guys satisfied by your smartphone cameras? How do you find their performance, compared to a traditional point-and-shoot? Judging by our regular 'Cool images, taken with your cell phone' column, some of you are doing some pretty incredible stuff with their phones, but feel free to share your experiences here!

If you want proof that smartphone cameras have become as good as point-and-shoot camera, just take a look at our latest camera comparison!

FEATURED VIDEO

44 Comments

1. cezarepc

Posts: 718; Member since: Nov 23, 2012

My N8 puts traditional point and shoots to shame. Low-end point and shoots have low-quality optics which results to barrel distortion which is non-existent on my N8 (and even other smartphones like GS2, iPhone4/4S, GS3, etc). Processing is also better thanks to the continuous upgrades of socs and software. Nokia even took it to another level and introduced Pureview. Edit: Personally I use the xenon flash in Low-light conditions (e.g. parties, bars, etc). But manually configuring the ISO and exposure can give you decent images even without flash.

27. JWS65

Posts: 32; Member since: Jan 22, 2013

Maybe it wins to low end ones, but not against high end P&S I think. Can N8, 808 beat Canon S100, Lumix LX-7, Sony RX100? I doubt it.

28. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

You nailed it, JWS. Sure, the iP5, L920 and GS III/Note II can be competitive with some P&S cameras, but NOT the high-end P&S cameras. There is the simple matter of the physics that are involved. For example, digital zoom will never compete with optical zoom.

31. -box-

Posts: 3991; Member since: Jan 04, 2012

True, but those high-end P&S are around the same price as a new basic or last-gen midrange DSLR (granted with just the included lens with the body). With these smartphones one is getting a single device for almost all general occasions a normal consumer might encounter

34. JWS65

Posts: 32; Member since: Jan 22, 2013

Well only Sony RX100 is the pricey one a little above 600. The other two I mentioned above can be had well below 500. I don't think any smart-phone camera can touch them in image quality, performance and they are much more compact than DSLR. When it comes to low light, action photography, the physics of small sensor in the phone simply don't work for it.

38. cezarepc

Posts: 718; Member since: Nov 23, 2012

I agree 100%. No smartphone can compete with a full-pledged high-end DSLR/SLR. But you have to consider, these are smartphones were talking about. They're purpose is to serve as your PDA, phone, web-browser, GPS, and camera among others. Going back to the article, have smartphones reached point-and-shoot quality? A solid yes. There are crappy camera phones and there are great camera phones much like how there are crappy point and shoots and great ones.

41. JWS65

Posts: 32; Member since: Jan 22, 2013

I didn't even bring up DSLR to the image quality comparison, just some high end P&S. Actually I think even some decent $300 P&S wins Nokia phone cameras. The problem with the article is that it's misleading people to believe top quality phone cameras beat or reach all P&S cameras in image quality. Reached low end P&S quality? Yes. But from 300 and above, it's leaning backing to P&S.

44. cezarepc

Posts: 718; Member since: Nov 23, 2012

Yup your right. Smartphone cams have already reached (only) low-end point and shoot quality. Though if we use $300 as the dividing line between good and bad point and shoots then it's a close fight since a lot of great camera phones are well below $300. Also, since people who own high-end point and shoots are a minority among camera owners, IMO we can say that generally speaking top quality phones have indeed reached point and shoot quality.

36. haseebzahid

Posts: 1853; Member since: Feb 22, 2012

if u want phones to beat a 400-600$ camera you got to be kidding for now

2. Nathan_ingx

Posts: 4769; Member since: Mar 07, 2012

Excuse me sir...but isn't it already made clear that the phone in the thumbnail (up there in high resolution) has done that??

11. RaKithAPeiRiZ

Posts: 1488; Member since: Dec 29, 2011

that phone right there can rival a mid range mirrorless camera

23. HDShatter

Posts: 1021; Member since: Jan 17, 2013

No thanks, I buy cameras to use as cameras not phones. I don't care how many Megapixels it is this phone is destroyed by most actual cameras.

29. Nathan_ingx

Posts: 4769; Member since: Mar 07, 2012

I agree...i want cameras to have a seperate feel...O, there are dedicated cameras for that, aren't there? Lol... Jokes apart, cameraphones are mostly about accessibility and mobility. Imagine you're sitting in a car (not driving...please don't do this if you're driving :P) you have a phone in your hand with a capable sensor and a dedicated camera hanging by your neck. As you're passing through the highway 60mph, you see a girl standing at the roadside flashing (just an example) and you want to click it quick. Would you use your phone to take the picture with the quick access it has with the shutter key? Or would you fumble with your camera (open lens cover-turn it on-manual/auto adjust-she's about 15 feet gone)...? But now you see, cameraphones have become more that just random clicking devices... Hence the article.

37. haseebzahid

Posts: 1853; Member since: Feb 22, 2012

cams in phones are for portability for everyday use where u are not always taking ur cam with u unless ur pro photographer

30. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

Yeah right. Sony RX100 runs away and hides while the Nokia is trying to produce a RAW image file with High Dynamic Range. It will be a cold day in Hell when the 808 lens can produce an image resolution in the 2,000 lines territory. LMFAO.

32. -box-

Posts: 3991; Member since: Jan 04, 2012

Oh look, there's the point! You missed it.

3. N-fanboy

Posts: 543; Member since: Jan 12, 2013

The question is now that its clear that we dont nead point and shoot cameras any more, what else will slowly become accomodated in to smartphones? I say laptops! Who needs 'em?

5. No_Nonsense unregistered

Ubuntu and the QNX based BB10 are a step in that direction.

9. Muhannad

Posts: 455; Member since: Sep 20, 2011

You're looking at laptops from a certain angle, I'm telling you that there are a lot of PC gamers, myself included, who aren't willing to game on a tiny touch screen compared to desktops and laptops.

22. Zero0

Posts: 592; Member since: Jul 05, 2012

So then something like the Asus Padphone, where the phone would dock into a larger screen? It's a ways off before phone processors will hold a candle to even a half-decent laptop, but maybe in the distant future it could be realistic.

42. HDShatter

Posts: 1021; Member since: Jan 17, 2013

Phones will never be better than a desktop/laptop, good luck encoding 1080p video on a phone/tablet or playing any games released in last 5 years.

4. No_Nonsense unregistered

Depends on the phone you are talking about. The 808 does it and sometimes even bests the P&Ses and if GSMArena's comparison is anything to go by, it performs well against an SLR as well. The N8 does it too. OIS in the 920 is a great step forward, but otherwise the 920 doesn't better or equal P&S cameras. Although, I'd say any other manufacturer bar Nokia is not doing this.

6. Cyan3boN

Posts: 446; Member since: Feb 23, 2012

Nokia, god of all camera phones. If only they made point and shoots. maybe it's their backup plan!!

43. HDShatter

Posts: 1021; Member since: Jan 17, 2013

If they made normal cameras that had improved versions of pureview and they cost like $50-$100 they would be rich.

7. Deaconclgi

Posts: 405; Member since: Nov 03, 2012

No mention of the Nokia N8 in the atticle which STILL has a larger sensor than ALL other smartphones besides the 808. The N8 is entering it's third calendar year and the sensor is still larger than most point and shoot cameras. Also saying that no one would like a phone as thick as the 808 is complete personal bias and if it is really about the camera then the picture quality is what matters the most in this discussion. Cell phone cameras won't replace point and shoots until their hardware equals or exceeds them in sensor/optics and xenon flash which both the Nokia N8 and 808 have done. Even the Nokia N82 was closing the gap back in 2008 but the level of optical and software in the N8 and 808 far exceeds that milestone and the 808 clearly trumps the competition and is a suitable replacement to a point an shoot.

8. Samsomesh

Posts: 195; Member since: Jun 11, 2012

Nokia is the king...

10. Deaconclgi

Posts: 405; Member since: Nov 03, 2012

The person thumbing down the comments about Nokia products must have some sad insecurity. An unbiased person just states what is factually correct. It is a fact that currently, Nokia makes the best camera phones with the largest sensors, best optics, larger than the sensors from all competitors and most point and shoot cameras. Why would you down vote that? Really, examine yourself and see what is your problem or bias? If another manufacturer makes better and larger sensors and cameras than Nokia then great! Are you going to down vote them as well. I own a N8, iPhone 4S and various android devices and Nokia is the only manufacturer that have provided a complete camera package which includes the necessity of a powerful Xenon flash JUST LIKE point and shoots. I'd like to have more options when it comes to having a point and shoot replacement in my cell phone so I hope other manufacturers do more in the area of optics, sensors and xenon capacitors and not have Nokia go at it alone. Down voting facts is childish and if you got satisfaction from doing that then that says a lot about your personality.

24. Edmund

Posts: 656; Member since: Jul 13, 2012

and that person is most likely darac, the undisputed android queen of phone arena.

12. jaabubut

Posts: 13; Member since: Jan 20, 2013

I own nokia n82 and it quality is on par with nokia n8

21. jiezel91

Posts: 67; Member since: Jul 28, 2011

I own the N82 too. And my sister has the N8. I must honestly say, the N8 is the absolute winner. The colors are very impressively natural-looking and very detailed too. But the N82 has a stronger flash though. But somehow, I have observed that in the output pictures, I don't see the difference in strength (based on the illumination of the scene) of the xenon flashes of both the N82 and N8.

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