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.

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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!

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