That people are shooting more now than ever before needs no restating – if you are in the US, the shooting can refer to the kind done with guns too. Speaking strictly of photography, the shoot with what question has been asked ever since tiny cameras made their way into phones. Does smartphone chalta hai or are you doing all those memories you wish to record a great disservice by not using a more appropriate device?
To discuss this in any meaningful fashion we’ll have to spend a small para or two talking slightly technical things about cameras. But it’s simple, really. Digital cameras have two distinct components – the lens, which is the light gathering component, and the sensor, the light recording component. With both these components, bigger the better.
Why bigger is better
Simply put, a thicker camera (or longer the lens, in case of DLSR lenses) gives designers greater flexibility to make optimal compromises for image quality at different focal lengths (or subject distances) as well as at different lighting conditions [I can imagine photography enthusiasts saying this is a tad over simplified, but it’s ok, for our purposes].
Coming to the sensor part, a larger one gives better images. Compared across similar technologies and evolution, a smaller sensor is significantly more susceptible to noise (the technical term used to refer to the irritating dots that mar a photo taken in low light) than a larger sensor.
There’s another aspect to image quality – processing – the task of digitizing and writing a jpeg file whatever the sensor has recorded. We’ll leave this out since this is mostly CPU and software dependent.
Imagine the thickness of your smartphone. Now imagine the thickness of a compact camera. Even in a pocketable camera, there is just so much more space for the optics to work (lenses can move inside the camera much more than possible in the much thinner smartphone). These larger lenses feed light to a relatively larger sensor (there are exceptions – the Nokia 808 for example uses a sensor larger than those found in most standalone compact cameras, but these are exceptions).
Therefore, a point and shoot camera with larger sensors and bigger lenses theoretically produces better images than a smartphone of a similar generation. The size advantages extends beyond lenses and sensor – larger flash and better ergonomics being the two other major advantages that a standalone camera has. Therefore, typically, standalone cameras are better than smartphone camera (and by extension, DLSRs are better than compact cameras – more on that later)
But does it matter to YOU?
The pertinent question is what you wish to shoot and what you wish to do with the photos you shoot. Most photos that we shoot are purely for sharing socially and no one is going to be examining the photo technically. It is all about the people in the shot, what they are doing, where they are and importantly, the mood that the photo has captured. No one minds the lack of sharpness, some colors getting over saturated or levels clipped, or some image noise. If the subject connects to your viewers, those Likes will anyway come. For these purposes, a smartphone camera works perfectly fine. The lack of zoom does not matter since you will be shooting people at close range. For the same reason, you can live with a weak flash. What you do get is the ability to easily and quickly share – timeliness triumphs over image quality here. If you are in a stadium, you might want to share a photo of the cheering crowd during the match. It isn’t as much fun doing it the next day after you attach your camera to the PC and copy the images over, is it?
I don’t recommend spending 2x on a smartphone with a ‘better camera’ if quality photos are what you are after. Say, you want to take photos in your vacation and are likely print a some of them and frame. A more expensive ‘better’ camera-ed smartphone is not likely to be twice as better, so just buy a decent pocketable camera and carry it around. A simple pocketable camera is likely to be far less expensive (to lose) and also less troublesome than losing your cool smartphone (say, when going to a beach where you will have to leave your belongings unsecured). While we are at it, if image quality is a prime concern, go the DSLR route. The pros and cons of moving to an inter-changable lens system (DSLRs or micro four thirds) make for another discussion for another day.
If image quality is a prime concern, go the DSLR route. The pros and cons of moving to an inter-changable lens system (DSLRs or micro four thirds) make for a separate discussion but here’s what you need to know: the DSLR shines with its adaptability, ability to produce artistic shots, speed of response while shooting and far lower noise in the images. The price tag is huge, and so is the sheer bulk of the kit. As far is the merits go, a point and shoot or smartphone can’t replace the DSLR. Again, the question really is, do those merits matter to you at all, especially at the price? Oh, while we are on the subject, it’d be interesting to know that a photographer, Lee Morris did a fashion shoot, no less, with an iPhone, just to prove a point!
If you’ve read this far, you have got the answer to the question the headline asks. Let’s just summarize: for casual people shots at social occasions and instant sharing, smartphones are quite ok and their lower image quality does not matter. If image quality really matters, pick a dedicated camera – a point and shoot for practicality and lower costs, a DSLR for serious dedicated photography – and carry that along with your cellphone.
About the Author: Kailas Shastry has been in the media & communications field for 8 years and is also a freelance photographer. Most recently he was Executive Editor at a consumer technology portal.
Image Credit: Shutterstock