Are Digital Cameras Extinct?
It’s no secret that smartphones have clobbered the digital camera market. Worldwide, sales of fixed-lens compact digital cameras fell by over 38% in the first nine months of 2014. Is the traditional digital camera now an endangered species? Maybe not. Read on for my analysis...
Who Needs A Standalone Digital Camera?
It's true that today's smartphones have some pretty impressive picture taking capability, and many people just don't see the need to carry two devices. The latest stats from Japan’s Camera & Imaging Products Association (CIPA) show that sales of DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) cameras are down precipitously as well.
But at the same time, sales of compact system cameras (with interchangeable lenses, like DSLRs, but no bulky mirror inside) surged by more than 10%. These figures suggest that the game is not over for standalone cameras.
Smartphone cameras have improved enormously since the early days of tiny, grainy 320x280 pixel toys. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus boast 8 Mpixel cameras, and in expert hands they produce spectacular results. Check out the 9th Annual iPhone Photography Awards site for proof. (You’ve probably seen some of these pictures blown up to billboard size.) Other smartphones have cameras in the 16, 18, 20 and even 40 Mpixel range.
Smartphone cameras are certainly more convenient than packing a phone and a standalone camera. The larger screens on modern phones make instant playback and in-person sharing more pleasant. Built-in editing functions are getting better, reducing the need to transfer photos to a computer for cropping and other forms of Photoshopping. And, of course, smartphones support apps such as Instagram and Facebook for immediate sharing of your latest selfie with everyone on the Internet.
But smartphone cameras still aren’t as versatile as standalone cameras, nor can they produce the highest quality images that a skilled photographer is capable of composing. Smartphones must cram a lot of functionality into a slim package, limiting the amount of space that can be devoted to camera technology. Image quality is primarily dependent upon the sizes of the aperture and digital sensor. Both are tightly constrained in smartphones, much less so in standalone compact cameras.
More Benefits of Compact System Cameras
A larger aperture (opening through which light enters the camera) produces better images in dim light. True optical zoom factors can range as high as 30x in compact cameras with larger digital sensors. The Canon SX700 HS CSC is on example. Smartphone cameras are often limited to 3x optical zoom. (Smartphones achieve higher “digital zoom” factors by enlarging pixels, which can blur images.)
Compact cameras are also better at shooting close-ups. Many have Macro modes that can focus from as little as 1 cm (3/8 of an inch) from a subject. The Canon Powershot G16, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7, and Fujifilm X-S1 are three examples. A decent smartphone camera, like the Nokia Lumia 930, can focus from 10 cms away, at best.
The more you know about photography, the more control you’ll want over the composition of your shots. Standalone cameras, particularly compact system cameras, provide far more control than smartphone cameras. The improvements made to smartphone cameras have shown the inquisitive user that there’s more to photography than just “point and shoot.” It’s just that smartphone cameras don’t do that “more” very well. So, ironically, smartphone cameras may be responsible for that surge in compact system camera sales.
Battery life is also in favor of standalone cameras. Smartphones generally need recharging in less than a day. (Make that every hour if you record/watch lots of video, or use your GPS for navigation.) A dedicated camera’s charge may be good for 300 to 500 high-quality photos and hours of video.
As for sharing, Smart Cameras from Canon, Panasonic, and Samsung include WiFi and the ability to instantly upload photos to Flickr, Facebook, and other photo-sharing sites. Another option is the EyeFi SDHC memory card, with its built-in WiFi connection to the Eye-Fi cloud storage and sharing service.
Pricewise, compact system cameras are midway between fixed-lens compacts and professional-quality DSLRs. You can find a CSC that’s much more versatile than an iPhone 6 for about half the cost of the iPhone.
Fixed-lens compact cameras are doomed because smartphone cameras now match the former’s capabilities, plus do all sorts of other things. DSLRs remain expensive tools for professionals and affluent amateurs. If you want to take a step beyond point-and-shoot, your best bet (for now) is a compact system camera.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 16 Sep 2015
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Are Digital Cameras Extinct? (Posted: 16 Sep 2015)
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