Are Digital Cameras Extinct?

Category: Photography

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.
Compact System Cameras

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

Compact System Cameras fill the gap between cheap, entry-level digital cameras and expensive, bulky DSLRs. They are also called CSCs, mirrorless cameras, ILCs (interchangeable lens cameras), or EVIL (electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lens) cameras. The latter acronym describes the primary differences between them and their DSLR cousins. Here are TechRadar's 10 best CSC cameras for 2015.

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...

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Most recent comments on "Are Digital Cameras Extinct?"

(See all 32 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

16 Sep 2015

To get even a decent compact camera, you are looking at a few hundred dollars. All that for a very small sensor (not as tiny as a phone/tablet, but small nonetheless). If you are looking to fork over that kind of cash, why not go for a midrange, new, previous model year DSLR or Mirrorless camera with a kit lens or two for the same price. With an APS-C or MFT sized sensor, the dynamic range will far and away exceed anything a phone or compact camera will do.
I almost go nowhere without my D7000 and 35mm or 55-300mm attached (even to work). It is really hard to catch a pic if you have no camera. About the only thing I use my phone for is video.
So, no. Not extinct. Yet.

Posted by:

16 Sep 2015

As a real estate appraiser I find most of my clients are dissatisfied with phone photos. Even a point and shoot stand alone camera produces better quality (clearer) images than most phones resulting in fewer call backs from my clients.

Posted by:

Bill, Edmonton, Canada
16 Sep 2015

Do smartphone cameras come in waterproof packages?

Posted by:

16 Sep 2015

If it has a ring tone, it's not a camera. Yes, I've used the camera on my iPhone occasionally, but not any time where I've wanted a quality photo. I have a bag full of Canon DSLR gear, and don't plan to give them up in favor of a cell phone camera any time soon.

Posted by:

Robert Kemper
16 Sep 2015

I certainly agree with you on this, Bob. Having in
past years been a professional photographer in
architecture and in portraiture. Thanks for the
well thought out and presented article.

Posted by:

16 Sep 2015

Just a note -- Apple should be releasing the new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, around September 25th, 2015. Both of these new Apple Smartphones will have 12 Mpixels in the rear and 5 Mpixels in the front. Apple is getting closer and closer to the camera "clarity" of the Android Smartphone.

Now, when I want GOOD pictures, for a very special event, like a wedding or a reunion or a bridal shower or a baby shower or baby announcements, etc. -- I want a DSLR camera, to take those pictures. Do I personally have one, no, but my daughter does and she is the one who takes most of the event pictures, in my family.

My daughter has captured some awesome pictures, with her DSLR. She is an amature, but, a darn good one. I especially, love when she does her picture editing, making the pictures be sepia or cropping them and then putting them, on a solid background.

Posted by:

Eli Marcus
16 Sep 2015

As a former professional/freelance photographer from the days of film, Nikons, and Leicas, I find both the smartphone cameras and the compact digital cameras quite annoying. They never seem to respond exactly at the moment you want them to, their auto focus gets confused or just plain misses exactly at the moment you think you have a good shot. These cameras also have a very poor sensitivity as soon as the lighting is not perfectly bright. The smartphone lenses also quite often seriously distort the angles and proportions in the picture. In short - convenience over quality? I don't even find that little comfort in the smartphones or compact digitals most of the time. On the other hand, the professional DSLR models I have tried - even the bottom of the line Canon EOS for example, are much more responsive, sensitive, reliable, and of course much more versatile.
I guess you might say the smartphone camera has replaced the old Kodak Brownie and similar snapshot cameras for the masses, but anyone who really wants a proper tool for their photgraphic efforts, cannot rely on these things.

Posted by:

16 Sep 2015

@Dianne + 1
For the vast majority of phone photographers the quality and pixel count of the image is not a hige deal, the pics will be posted on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. And anyway I don't think a bigger camera would fit on a selfie stick.

Posted by:

17 Sep 2015

I'm the photographer at all friends and family gatherings. If not for me, there'd be just a couple of stupid selfies and other horrible cell phone pictures. I go nowhere without my Canon and extra batteries. My pictures are SO MUCH BETTER than any cell phone pic. And it's so much more convenient to do the editing on a PC using a camera memory card. Not even close!!

Posted by:

17 Sep 2015

While crime continues to rise the sales of conventional cameras need have no fear

Posted by:

17 Sep 2015

Funny, they said the same about the old film cameras; where are they now? Gone from the face of the earth or stashed in shoeboxes on the top shelf in musty closets . The more technology advances the tinier and compact smartphones become... maybe we should really call them Smartcameras for now on to make some people happy :)

Posted by:

Sharon H
17 Sep 2015

I am always arguing with people who say that regular cameras (of any type) are on their way out. They love their Smartphones for pictures, but it seems all they take are of other people, parties etc.

My interest lies more in the amateur to professional area. I don't even own a Smartphone. Recently my very old Minolta Dimera with a whopping 1.3 megapixels was discovered in the back of a closet. Not only does it still work but I have a bunch of photos taken by it over the years. Its macro mode is superb. It has a "burst" function and can continue to click in order to get action shots. In fact, it contains most of the features and modes of the mini-cameras on the market today.

I recently read an article where a camera buff pointed out with photographs the five reasons why regular cameras are much better. Maybe for the everyday smartphone user, the differences wouldn't even be noticed. But anyone seriously interested in photography will catch the difference in details, especially if the subjects are wildlife, flowers, landscapes etc.

Sometimes I even long for the days of the good old film cameras. Moving forward sometimes can be the wrong way to go for some--at least in my opinion.

Posted by:

17 Sep 2015

I don't have a smart phone, although my husband has one for work. We have two digital cameras, the newest of which is not quite a full DSLR, but definitely more capabilities than a point and shoot camera. It can zoom up to the equivalent of a 600mm lens, and I have taken some fantastic pictures with it.

Most of the smart phone photos I have seen are poor to okay, but certainly nothing special. Of course that may be as much a function of the photographer as the phone capability.

Posted by:

17 Sep 2015

I have been "into" photography for 4 decades and in addition to my new DSLRs and compact cameras, I still have film SLRs and larger format film cameras. The phone, however, is a must have device. Sometimes, carrying around a (D)SLR or even a compact camera is not practical.

Just think how many times have you said "I wish I had a camera"? Smartphone cameras are a boon to this situation.

Posted by:

20 Sep 2015

I have been a serious amateur photographer (another way of saying "hobbiest") since my early teen years. I'm now 79. The image quality I've seen from nearly every image I have looked at from a phone/camera I would compare to what I used to see from my first Kodak Brownie. I use two cameras. My Canon DSLR and my Canon SX280 pocket compact to carry with me for grab shots. I'll stick to using my phone for phone calls......and an occasional game of solitaire.

Posted by:

20 Sep 2015

Even film cameras have their place. Last year, I sold a film camera to the folks at KEH. The buyer mentioned that reliable 35mm film cameras are still sought after in developing countries, where electricity is not always available. The cameras without autofocus are considered more desirable, cause the battery life tends to be longer.

Posted by:

Geoff Greig
01 Oct 2015

Cameras with fixed functionality where you have to purchase a newer camera to get later software features are a problem compared to the likes of something like of

A phone or tablet where you can add such software functionality via apps to photo taking is possible. Like shooting in RAW.

A future possibility is a lens and sensor only or similar permantation, with WIFI connectivity to a phone or tablet where you can download the software functionality that you want. Actually it already exists but is not mainstream.

Posted by:

08 Dec 2015


Posted by:

Dave Smith
25 Dec 2015

Digital DSLR camera's becoming extinct, really!!! You have got to be kidding me. Unless you know, have access to and understand fully the exposure triangle you are just taking snapshots. The image quality of any camera does not solely depend on sensor pixel count as manufactures would have us believe. Small sensors as used in smartphones have poor noise specs and hence poor IQ. How can you even start to compare the small cheap plastic lenses used in smartphones with a professional L lens from Canon or indeed from Pentax as examples. The advances in DSLR technology are proceeding with much pace, the many features and tools available with these camera allows for incredible latitude in all aspects of image capture. The wonderful cameras, huge array of lenses, and software available for the serious amateur or professional can not be understated.

Posted by:

25 Dec 2015

I bought a Samsung S6 this year and I think the camera is amazing. I don't use the phone much but I love the camera! It takes better videos than my Kodak Z981! The zoom is amazing & quality of pictures is great too. Yes, the fact there is no lens view option on the phone is a concern. I actually bought the Samsung because I heard it had the best camera capability. I am looking for a replacement for my Kodak and will take your recommendations seriously.

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