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Picture perfect

One school of thought insists smartphone cameras are, in fact, better than the 'real' point-and-shoot ones. Is it time to retire the 'other' camera?

The camera is dead, long live the smartphone." This is a chant that has been echoing in some quarters for a while. And with good reason. Phone cameras are getting better than ever before. Browse through Flickr—arguably the world’s most popular social network for photographers—and you’ll notice the most popular camera there is not a DSLR, but an iPhone. While it would be far-fetched to claim that a phone’s camera can match a DSLR’s quality, there is no doubt that most smartphones can give point-and-shoot cameras a run for their money.

So is it the end of the road for the humble camera, which for many represented photography at its most accessible? Well, consider the following:

Ease of use and convenience

When it comes to portability, there is no doubt that the camera in your phone is more handy. It saves you the hassle of carrying an extra device, additional accessories for it and of course, it’s one less device to keep charging. However, when it comes to actual use, the stark fact is that while cameras have been shrinking in size and becoming easier to use, some phones seem to be getting thicker to fit in bigger camera sensors.

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Shooting modes and options

Smartphone makers are really working on the camera apps they install on the phones. The detailed settings the user now has control over include the ability to adjust the ISO, choose different scenes, and even set up the camera for a time-lapse video—stuff that in the past was the preserve of “real" cameras. However, there is the challenge of using all these options on a touch screen—not the easiest to master, at least initially. The plethora of dials and buttons on most cameras are just easier to get the hang of. Oh, and there’s one edge that point-and-shoot cameras continue to have over phone cameras—that of optical zoom, where you can get closer to your subject without moving or compromising on image quality.

Image quality

This is a tricky topic, and really depends on where you use your photographs. If you are the type who is content with posting photographs on social networking sites like Facebook, Google+ and Instagram, a good camera phone will suffice. If you are, however, into printing out your pictures or love seeing them on large displays, then in most cases a point-and-shoot camera will still yield better results, simply because the more powerful imaging processors will, in the majority of cases, capture more detail than most phone cameras.

Editing the image

This is one area where phone cameras have a massive edge over their “normal" camera counterparts. If you like to edit images (crop them, lighten or darken them, tweak sharpness and saturation levels), then a phone is a much better option, simply because there are a whole bunch of image-editing applications available. A small number of cameras today do come with editing capabilities, but their displays are much smaller and the button/dial controls aren’t the easiest for the job. And of course, there is no Instagram or Facebook for cameras, barring a handful of “smart cameras" running Android.

Sharing on the go

Ten years ago, sharing photographs meant sending people prints or showing people your photo album. Today, it is about mailing images, swapping them on WhatsApp or, more often than not, posting them on Facebook or Instagram. While a number of cameras today come with Wi-Fi connectivity, and some even pack in basic browsers to let you access the Web from them, none really let you share images online as easily as smartphones do. And this is actually one of the biggest reasons for people increasingly getting swayed by phone cameras—the ease of “click it, upload it, share it".

Cost impact

This brings us to the good old bottom line—the one involving cash. At the moment, it is possible to get a perfectly good point-and-shoot camera with optical zoom (10x-20x) for less than 15,000, whereas a phone with a really good camera will set you back by almost double that amount. Yes, of course, in a phone you get much more than just a camera—the ability to make and receive calls, play games, social networking, etc. But if you are looking in terms of pure numbers, the really good camera phones (the Lumia 1020, the iPhone 5s, the Xperia Z2) all cost in the vicinity of 40,000-50,000. You can get a DSLR for that much—the Canon EOS 600D, around 33,000, and Nikon D5200, around 37,000, are two examples. But that is just a cost comparison, because if the idea is to have one device to slip into a bag or trouser pocket, a DSLR would usually be out of the question.

So, should it be a point-and-shoot camera, or a smartphone with a good camera? The answer really depends on how serious you are about clicking photos. A phone with a camera might be easier to carry around and is always at hand. And there is the entire app ecosystem for convenient editing and sharing. But, unless you spend around 40,000 on a smartphone, the conventional cameras will more often than not still deliver better image quality.

HEAD TO HEAD

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Smartphones:

Ease of use-

They are pocketable, but not everyone can initially manage the camera settings on the touch screen

Shooting modes-

Smartphone makers are working hard on adding new features in cameras. Plus, there are loads of third-party apps

Image quality-

If you need the pictures for sharing with friends on social networks and Instagramming, the smartphone is more convenient

Internal editing-

There are lots of image-editing apps that let you tweak the brightness, contrast, tilt and crop

Picture sharing-

Smartphones have the advantage, since 3G connectivity on the move makes sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., easier and faster

Cost-

Smartphones with good cameras generally start at around 30,000

DSLR/Point-and-shoot:

Ease of use-

They are a tad difficult to carry around , but well laid out and marked hardware keys help usability

Shooting modes-

There are ready-made shooting modes, like portrait or night photography, and a manual mode that helps get the desired picture result

Image quality-

If you need the pictures for printing purposes, a higher-end point-and- shoot or an entry-level DSLR would be a better option

Internal editing-

There are fewer (quite rare) options for internal editing of photographs

Picture sharing-

Very few cameras come with 3G capabilities. The obvious choice would be a ‘smart’ camera that is based on Android

Cost-

Good point-and-shoot cameras are available for around 15,000 , while a good entry-level DSLR costs upwards of 30,000

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