Compact digital camera or smartphone camera – which is better?

Do you still need a proper camera in the age of the smartphone? And which compact camera should you buy? Check out our Q&A with a professional photographer…


06 May 2016


Nowadays most smartphones come with pretty powerful cameras built in. So if you’re only planning on taking selfies, holiday snaps and the odd photo at dinner or on a night out why bother buying a separate compact camera? 

We put this question to a professional photographer, with over 15 years of experience under their belt…

Compact camera

In the age of the smartphone camera, is it still worth buying a compact digital camera

Definitely. You’ll usually get much higher-quality images, a much better flash and longer battery life from a compact camera.

Compact cameras can generally take between 400 and 600 pictures before needing to be recharged, and are much more versatile than smartphone cameras.

What is a digital camera and do I still need one? 


What type of photos (or photographers) are smartphone cameras great for?

People take their phones everywhere with them so they're good for unplanned, spur-of-the-moment shots. They’re more about capturing the moment than taking high-quality, well-composed images. And of course sharing the photos on social media – which is easy to do from your smartphone. 

Similarly, if you only ever look at your photos on Facebook or on your phone’s screen, you won't really notice the difference in quality. That’s because the resolution isn't sharp enough to show it, so it’s not as important here.


What can a compact camera do that a smartphone can’t?

A compact camera will give you greater control over your photography thanks to features like optical image stabilisation, optical zoom and a decent flash.

Some flagship phones – like the iPhone 6 Plus and Samsung Galaxy S7 – have optical image stabilisation technology. A couple of models even have optical zoom – it can look pretty weird though. But generally these features are not found on average smartphone cameras. 


Taking photos in low-light – which performs best?

Compact cameras have larger sensors which give better quality at all light levels. Wider apertures let in more light than most smartphones can offer.

Family photo

Zooming in to take a photo – which performs best?

Again, compact – because of the mechanics involved, as well as the size and weight. Smartphones use digital zoom – this only makes the image pixels bigger. Compacts use optical zoom which really does increase the size of the image. 

A smartphone will take the picture using the whole chip and then enlarge part of it to create the zoom. That means it’ll enlarge any imperfections as well – so you could end up with loss of sharpness, camera shake, etc… An optical zoom uses the whole chip to take the zoomed-in image – this gives much better quality.

A compact will also normally have a much larger zoom ratio than a phone – most go up to 10x optical zoom, and some go much higher. Many also have macro mode to get very close to objects to pick out tiny details like petals, flower buds and insects up-close.

Shooting moving objects – which is best?

Compact again. Wider apertures give a faster shutter speed which helps to keep movement sharp. The optical stabilisers are a big help here as well.

Wondering which compact camera to buy? We can help you decide which one is right for you.

See our full range of compact digital cameras.