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Q&A: Are Smartphone Cameras a Good Replacement for Digital Cameras?

Updated on November 16, 2016
janderson99 profile image

John uses his scientific skills (PhD) & experience developing 50+ websites to research, review & evaluate SEO, website design, Social Media

Digital cameras appear to have become redundant for most people and are gathering dust in the cupboard as everyone uses their smartphone or cellphone built-in camera as its more convenient and always available. The camera quality has greatly improved on the iPhone and other popular cell phones, but is the quality good enough to bury the digital camera?

How Have Phone Camera Improved?

A few years ago, cellphone cameras only featured very primitive camera with a meager 1.3 magpies capacity. The photos produced were pixelated, low quality and poor contrast and lighting, and there were few controls. No one would have thought of dumping your regular digital camera for one of those 'toys'.

But as smartphone makers, driven by healthy competition have improved the built-in cameras in leaps and bounds and offered much more sophisticated controls and software so that many manufactures claim that smartphones cameras can match and in some ways even outperform low-end conventional digital camera devices.


For example the HTC myTouch 4G Slide smartphone has a camera with an 8-megapixel capacity and many of the features and controls found on a conventional stand -alone digital camera. The in-built camera takes bright, sharp focused photos and is very easy to use.

The iPhone 4 5-megapixel camera, with optional High Dynamic Range (HDR) setting produces photos that are amazingly detailed and have high quality. Both offer digital focus and LED flash. The original iPhone lacked focus control, zoom, light level adjustment and a flash. The iPhone 3GS added extra features such as one-touch focus, but the iPhone 4 camera added a list of greatly improved features. You can even shoot self-portraits with the front camera.

Some of the improved features include:

What Features of Digital Cameras are Missing on Smartphone Cameras

  • There's no optical zoom, because the lens of the phone camera is fixed and cannot move closer to the subject to change the focus. Cellphones only have the inferior digital zoom. Software simply magnifies what the camera sees to simulate changing the focus. The images made with digital zoom are not as sharp as with an with optical zoom. This especially applies or zooming in on far-away objects. Many digital camers have the ability to add a zoom lens for extra high quality zoom shots.
  • You can't exchange lens and so the high quality macro and zoom lens are unavailable.
  • Close-ups shots are not as good as the macro facility of digital cameras that involves moving the lens are not available.

How does the Quality Rate?


While you can easily find a cheap digital camera that can take higher-resolution photos than the smartphone the phones produce good quality images and they are so convenient. A Review by Macworld provides a summary of how in-built cameras compare.

The two point-and-shoot digital cameras used for the comparison came in first in their image quality tests. The next best camera was the iPhone 4 which as the best smartphone camera that they tested. Next best was the Droid X phone. This was followed by the EVO 4G, then followed the Samsung Galaxy, and last was the iPhone 3GS.

Despite coming third in overall quality the iPhone 4 provided the best depth of color and exposure scores of all cameras tested, including the digital stand-alone cameras. Sharpness and low- distortion were better with the digital cameras.

The review showed that megapixel count doesn't by itself meany better quality. The EVO 4G and Droid X both have 8-megapixel cameras, whereas the Phone 4 and the Samsung Galaxy have a 5-megapixel camera. As for the digital cameras, the Sony SDC-WX1 is a 10.2-megapixel camera and the Samsung HZ35W is a 12-megapixel camera. Software can offset a lower megapixel count to some extent.

What unique features are available on Smartphones but not on Digital Cameras


What about Video

The iPhone front camera records 360p video and the better quality back camera records 720p HD video at 30 frames per second. While you are recording a video, you can turn the light off and on, and simply tap on the screen to alter the focus and switch from one subject to another. To zoom in you can double tap on the screen and your video will fill the entire screen. However the video is still being recorded at 1280 by 720 size.

The Review by Macworld found that the iPhone 4’s video capabilities were excellent. Only the Flip Video M2120 was superior to the iPhone for general quality for the 8 camera devices they tested. The Flip, which also records 720p video at 30 frames per second, had generally better video quality even in low-light. The Flip scored much higher for audio quality than all the smartphones.

What about Photo Storage, Memory and Battery Life

Most smartphones have adequate storage space for photos and mots have excellent battery life.

Downloading and Transfers

Smartphones won hands down in terms of transferring photos directly to Flickr and Facebook via the internet and instant access cloud computing provides a huge resource for storing and accessing photo albums.


For general photographers, who take most of their photos for posting online, smartphones are a very capable replacement for the low end digital cameras. The smartphone's convenience (it’s always in your pocket), outstanding low-light capabilities, and access to instant apps for editing and sharing photos place it far ahead of the low range digital camera market.

The iPhone 4’s wonderful video quality makes it an excellent alternative to a stand alone video camera.

For anyone serious about image or video quality then they may want the extra quality of the sand alone digital camera and video cameras.

Other things Smartphones replaces

Cnet conducted a survey of what other things people were using smartphones for that were effective replacements for other devices and applications. The results shown below show what percentage of those interviewed regarded the smartphone as a replacement.

Alarm clock: 61%
GPS: 52%
Digital camera: 44%
Personal planner: 42%
Landline phone: 40%
MP3 player: 38 %
Video camera: 34%
Newspaper: 28%
Radio: 27%
Desktop/Laptop computer: 24%
Gaming device: 21%
Books: 20%
Internet service at home: 19%
DVD player: 14%

© janderson99-HubPages

© 2011 Dr. John Anderson


Submit a Comment

  • tamarindcandy profile image

    tamarindcandy 5 years ago

    This is a good article. I have always liked the idea of convergence devices.

  • Jagodka profile image

    Jagodka 5 years ago

    With the advancement in Smartphones, there's not that much need for individual cameras and others devices. Good article.

  • fastfreta profile image

    Alfreta Sailor 5 years ago from Southern California

    I'm just getting into taking pictures with my Smartphone, so this critique is very helpful. I've taken pictures with my phone and digital camera, and can't tell the difference once I upload them to the computer. So on some levels they are just as good. I do agree with you on the zoom quality, especially on my phone, The Palm Pixi, if I want to zoom I use my digital camera. Anyway this is a very useful hub, glad I found it. Incidentally I found you on the forum. I voted this hub up, useful, interesting.

  • profile image

    T-man 5 years ago

    I am very interested in this article ... but why don't people that write articles online ever put a date on them ! ... how are we supposed to know how current the information is !!

  • janderson99 profile image

    Dr. John Anderson 5 years ago from Australia on Planet Water

    Published November 2011

  • lisa42 profile image

    lisa42 5 years ago from Sacramento

    I think the cameras in smartphones are getting much better, but I'd still take a DSLR over a point and shoot or smartphone camera any day. There's no comparison.

  • Hanzamfafa profile image

    Mike Leal 14 months ago from London

    I agree with lisa43. This is a very interesting Hub. Phone cameras are getting a lot better nowadays. But when it comes to shooting photographs, it depends on where you will be using them. In general, I will still suggest using a DSLR camera when it comes to photography because it has the features that you will need to produce better quality photographs.

  • Jackie Burnham profile image

    Jackie Burnham 8 months ago

    I enjoy using phone cameras, however, digital cameras are a lot better, in my opinion because of the excess of options. They are a lot of money, however, they are a good investment if you are committed to photography. Digital cameras have a lot of options available and many more being developed.

    Therefore, in my opinion, digital cameras are better for photography as a career and lifestyle, however, phone cameras are better for on the spot photography.

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