Do you still need a digital camera in the age of the Smartphone

The smartphone has placed a camera in our pocket wherever we go - but does that mean we no longer need a digital camera? We investigate.

03 Apr 2014


The smartphone has massively changed the way we take photos - it's been central to the rise of the ubiquitous 'selfie' and the craze for sharing pictures online seconds after they're snapped.

Smartphone Camera

Most smartphones can take photos ranging from "decent to fantastic" according to Rick Brodia at tech site Cnet.
This has led many people to proclaim the digital camera is dead.

But experts from What Digital Camera, Stuff and Cnet don't agree. 

The digital camera isn't dead: better features = better photos

There are still plenty of reasons for owning a dedicated camera. Nigel Atherton, Group Editor of IPC photo - which includes titles such as What Digital Camera magazine - said: "As more and more people switch to smartphones, many of which have reasonably good cameras built in, camera manufacturers have been focusing more on the kinds of features and benefits that you can't get on a phone."

He highlighted features such as optical zoom, sensor size and manual controls.

Five reasons you still need a digital compact camera

1) They have optical zoom

Very few smartphone cameras offer optical zoom - and digital zoom just doesn't cut the mustard. 

Nigel says "longer optical zoom lenses" are a main benefit of a compact digital camera, adding that 10x zoom is fast becoming the minimum.

"You don't of course get any optical zoom on a smartphone" he explains "and digital zoom just further diminishes the image quality."

Nikon product marketing manager, John Young, told the Sydney Morning Herald how people at gigs and other events put their smartphones down when they realise the action is too far away for a decent shot. 

"If you've got a bigger zoom, then you can get a close-up of the action at any time and from wherever you're sitting" he said.

Check out the Sony DSC-HX 50 - this camera has a x30 zoom lens and was given high praise by Stuff magazine.

Sony DSC HX50

2) They give you more control

Smartphone cameras are great for capturing moments in a point-and-shoot style, but what if you want to take your photography a step further?

If you want more than just a snap it has to be a premium compact - these give you "manual control over the settings" Nigel at What Digital Camera explains.

He said: "Premium compacts offering creative control over the aperture, shutter speed and other settings, appealing to those who want more than just a snap."

To find out more about compact cameras, check out our photography buyer's guide

3) They have bigger sensors - and sometimes viewfinders

The sensor in your camera is what captures the image - the bigger the sensor, the better the photograph. A large sensor allows more light to be captured, meaning it will also give a better performance in low light.

Nigel explains that a large image sensor will give "superior image quality, more shadow and highlight detail, less image noise in low light". 

As well as improved shooting in low light, certain compacts also improve shooting in the sun.

As Nigel explains: "Some cameras are featuring viewfinders, so you can shoot in bright sun when you can't see the screen very well."

An example of a camera with both a large sensor and a viewfinder is the Fuji X20, which a reviewer at What Digital Camera gave 90%. 

Fuji X20

4) They take better photos when it matters

The main advantage of a smartphone camera is convenience. When your pal falls over on a night out, the smartphone can be whipped out in seconds to immortalise in true Kodak moment style.

Photos like these are more about capturing off-the-cuff moments than creating high-quality images.

But what about those family days out, special occasions and holidays you want to remember years down the line?

Then you're going to appreciate the extra features of a compact camera.

Nigel said: "If you take a lot of pictures you'll soon discover the limitations of smartphones, with their fixed wide-angle lenses, tiny noisy sensors and poor flash."  

While Paul Nuttall, also of What Digital Camera, agreed: "However good smartphones have got recently if you want the very best in image quality you're better off with a compact camera."

5) You can share photos online in seconds  

Sharing photos online is a big deal. Samsung recently revealed that 749 photos are shot and shared in the UK every 60 seconds.

Much of this sharing is done via smartphones, but a new generation of smart cameras are just as capable.

Rick Brodia at Cnet highlights how camera manufacturers are increasingly packing in "nifty features like apps, Wi-Fi, Facebook and Twitter integration".

Take Samsung's new Galaxy Camera 2 - we like it so much we handed it a hallowed Our Experts Love tag.

You can share your photos online with a simple click, while inbuilt GPS means you can even tag your location - great for your summer hols.

It runs the Android operating system so will have the same feel as your Android phone or tablet.

Galaxy Camera 2

Conclusion - A digital camera can complement your smartphone camera

Smartphone cameras complement rather than replace digital cameras.

Both have advantages and disadvantages - smartphones are great for snapping and sharing in an instant, while compact cameras will give you better pictures and performance.

Craig Gillespie, head of digital imaging at Samsung Australia, said: "Phones will deliver a very good image, but cameras are the next step up, with the functionality of the zoom, the functionality of optical image stabilisation, and that better low-light imaging."

Do you still use a digital camera? If so, let us know why in the comments section below...