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Buy a new camera or just go with a smartphone with camera?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / December 2, 2011 7:40 AM PST
Buy a new digital camera or just go with a smartphone with camera?

I've had my digital camera for more than 4 years and I'm ready to upgrade.
It seems like cameras in smartphones are just as good now as what I
have in my old point-and-shoot--probably better. I've seen great
photos from my friends that were taken on their phones. The photos I
take are family events and vacations. I don't do any high-end
photography. Is it better to upgrade to a smartphone for pictures or
buy a separate camera? Are smartphones going to make the point-and-shoot
camera extinct? Your advice is appreciated.

- Submitted by: Carol S.

Below aree some member answers to get you started, but
please read all the advice and suggestions that our
members have contributed to this question in the following
discussion thread.

Point and Shoot Camera - Submitted by: ajtrek

Smart-phone Camera - Submitted by: snapshot2

It all depends on what your bothered about... - Submitted by: darrenforster99

There is a place for each, and some overlap - Submitted by: hank080225

Point & Shoot Camera vs Smartphone Camera - Submitted by: ghicker

Thanks to all who contributed!

If you have any additional advice for Carol, by all means post to the discussion and share it. Thanks!
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Point-and-shoot cameras vs smartphone camera
by KenHusveg / December 2, 2011 8:16 AM PST

Don't let the megapixel count sway you. Lens Quality, CCS sensor, f-stops and the flash are not up to point-and-shoot cameras just yet. Low light is the biggest problem. You wouldn't want to lose those important once in a lifetime family or vacation shots that a digital camera could have captured.

While you can get some amazing photos (in the right conditions) with today's camera phones, overall a digital camera IMHO would still be the best choice.

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Smart-phone Camera
by snapshot2 Forum moderator / December 2, 2011 8:50 AM PST

The typical smart-phone camera is about equal to one of those "no name" $50 digital cameras (from China) you find at department stores. They are usually sold in blister-packs.
The photos are OK if you are going to print them no bigger than 4 x 6 inches.
I call it scrapbook quality.

I know a young mother with two young boys.
She has a good point & shoot digital camera.
And she has a smart-phone with an inbuilt camera.

The pictures she makes with the digital camera are much better than the ones she makes with the smart-phone.
However, she takes most of her photos with the smart-phone.
I suppose because it is there at the time of the event and the digital camera is home in a drawer.

Every time she sends some photos to me, I can tell if she is using a digital camera or a smart-phone.
I always find myself using Photoshop Elements on the smart-phone photos, trying to make them look better.
She does not seem to mind the lesser quality of the smart-phone photos.
It does bother me.

There are differences between smartphones so you might want to know those differences before you select a smartphone.

Here are a couple of write-ups about smartphone photos:,2817,2395393,00.asp

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Smart Phone VS Camera
by mark0610 / December 2, 2011 9:19 AM PST

To be honest I think they should be separate. The plus to a camera is optical zoom which a phone doesn't have, better image quality and you don't loose the size of your sensor (capturing device) due to digital zooming which is actually digital cropping. Cameras are also small enough these days and have more features and most people react better, or in my case duck, when they see a camera rather than the raised eyebrow if someone points a phone at them.

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It will be awhile before P&S cameras will ever be extinct
by jrdnjstn / December 2, 2011 9:34 AM PST

People take bad photos because they don't take the time to learn a camera. That saying those people should maybe just use a smartphone. There are a couple smartphones with 8mp which is good for printing out 8x10 or even 10x13 or 11x14. You don't need a high amount of mp's unless you print out huge poster size prints.

If you do want to print out your photos then just leaving them on the computer then yes get a digital camera but do your research and buy what you can afford and understand your camera. P&S cameras can take great pictures. I have a 8mp P&S and a DSLR....I love my P&S because it takes video too and it has a lot of controls so I don't have to just leave it on auto.

I would never use a smartphone as my sole camera. It makes it really easy to upload to certain websites but I'd never just use it for my only camera and you don't have the controls on a smartphone as you on some certain P&S cameras.

If I were you I'd get a P&S and you can find a decent one under $100...stay away from Vivatar or any junk brand because you will be dissapointed

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camera phone limitations
by jwatersphd / December 2, 2011 9:45 AM PST

camera phones are fine for photos of friends fairly close up and maybe the occasional landscape but the camera on my motorola android does not seem to have any zoom capability and so i am stuck with one, rather wide angle, setting. For me, that was enough limitation that i bought a $100 bargain priced Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH25 16.1 mp with 8x optical zoom. that translates to a 224 mm telephoto at the top end. it even has incredible macro close focus. it's small enough to carry around when i think i'm going to want to take photos but don't want to bring my really big rig, which is a canon 20D with some high end lenses, even an f 2.8 70-200 image stabilized zoom that cost more than the camera itself and weighs about 6 pounds. I suspect if you go to a store or borrow someone else's camera you will be able to tell if the lack of changing your field of view will be a problem, just by trying it, but you'll need to go outside to find things like you want to shoot on your vacations. Yes, the camera phones do take good pictures, and also videos (at least mine does) that are pretty good, too. I just needed something a bit more adjustable and $100 or even maybe $200 was not too much for what you can get, and it takes videos too which the canon 20d doesn't. It took a few weeks for that deal to come along. I don't think smartphones are going to make point and shoot - or, better put, small and compact cameras - extinct very soon. My canon 20D is point and shoot, by the way, so that's not really the entire issue, i don't think. So as far as your other question, if you want a camera for the reasons i did you can probably get a pretty good one for a lot less and still have mucho - really amazing - capabilities.

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Mostly personal preference
by MightyDrakeC / December 2, 2011 9:49 AM PST

I carry both. I use the phone mostly when I want to send a picture to a friend right now. I use the camera when I want a higher quality picture. But I know a lot of people who just don't care about the difference. So, it's mostly personal preference.

The biggest advantage a camera has is optical zoom. Next is a better flash. And third, even the pocket cameras usually have a slightly larger lens, which works better in low light. Also, they usually have a few buttons that you can use to tweak your settings without going back into a menu, like manual focus or shutter settings. And, almost all cameras can be set up on a tripod, which I take advantage of occasionally.

There are also a couple of usability issues. My phone happens to have a dedicated physical shutter button. But most phones don't. I often see my friends with their iPhones trying to hover their finger over the screen without accidentally triggering it. (Don't get me started on Apple prohibiting any app using the volume buttons as triggers.)

Also, my phone is crammed full of apps (I am a geek, after all.) So even with the shutter button set to bring up the camera app, it usually takes a few seconds to get it ready to take a picture. Pulling out the camera and hitting the power button usually has me ready to shoot more quickly.

Off topic, but I got stymied when I went to jury duty a few months ago. Apparently, most courthouses do not allow cameras. But they do allow phones with cameras. Makes no sense, but that's government for you. Since I took the train to the courthouse, I didn't have any place to store my camera. I had to go home and reschedule. I am *not* a morning person. Grr.


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Smartphone Camera vs. Point & Shoot?

Hi Carol,

Cameras have certainly come a long way over the past 5 years haven't they? Old Guys like me still remember when the biggest new thing in cameras was 400 speed color film!!! Today, to change your ISO rating you just push a button or turn a dial and there it is. No film, just crisp, sharp photos. We've come a long way Carol, but we still have a long way to go before a Smartphone will give you the kind of quality you get in even the cheaper point and shoot cameras. Let's look at a few of the reasons why:

First, we have to think of OPTICS in the lens. High quality optics provide high quality images. I looked at a point and shoot made by Panasonic this week that had 8 elements in the lens, providing 16 x optical zoom and an added 4 x digital zoom. Until we can come up with a way to build affordable micro-optics for smartphones, they will never compare in terms of zoom flexibility or optical quality.

Our second issue with smartphone cameras is their limited application. They are fine for taking snapshots of close-up subjects in well lit areas. But even then the image quality will not stand up to any kind of enlargement for printing. But if you're just sharing pictures over a social network on the Web, the Smartphone may be just the ticket for you. What you can't expect is to be able to take pictures of fast moving objects, or to use the smartphone in low light scenarios. You can photoshop images to a degree, but poorly lit subjects will not come out well on your smartphone.

But don't be discouraged!!! The good news is that in the $100 - $200.00 range, point and shoot cameras these days are really a great bargain for the occasional photographer. They are ultra small, with very high resolution, built in flash (good for about 30 feet), and provide a multitude of zoom capabilities and image variables from indoor low light to high speed outdoor subjects. The battery life has vastly improved and the lens quality is remarkable for such small platforms. And they're small enough to fit in your pocketbook or ultra-small carrying case. Most double as Video Cameras and as you get closer to the $200.00 mark, the Video is in 1080P HD.

So if I were you Carol, I think my choice might be to either wait until they improve the quality and capabilities of the smartphone cameras, or just elect to buy one of the newer point and shoots.

Hope this helps.

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digital camera vs. smartphone
by bassinbill42 / December 2, 2011 10:05 AM PST
NOT all point and shoot cameras are the same. @KenHusVeg.....I have a Kodak (always panned by Cnet) Z915 point and shoot. It is a 10X1 optical zoom, 10meg imager AND has Apature Priority, Shutter Priority and adjustable ISO up to 1600 Iso. I have printed out 10X8 prints on 11X8 and a half photo paper with fantastic results. I can tell you after using my Pastor's I phone camera you can do SO much more with a really nice point-and-shoot camera than a smart phone. I use a small kodak card reader (USB terminal on one end) to load my recent pics on friends flatscreen tvs all the time and WOW do these shots look great on a 46" LCD! I have both a mono pod and a tripod to keep the camera steady when taking panoramic shots or distance shots. With the built in timer and manual exposure settings (F-stop adj., exposure times adj. in camera) my photos of close up objects and distance objects are on par with many a DSLR. Using a 10 to one zoom lens is really great compared to what a smartphone uses as well as the image stabilization that this camera has. Pair this with a 4g SDHC card which I am using now is quite nice. It also has a best in class picture capture speed of <0.3 sec. How many smart phones have a quality built in flash, or a self timer available in 2 or 10 seconds? Good luck and Peace be with you.
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Point-and-shoot cameras vs smartphone camera
by KenHusveg / December 2, 2011 7:29 PM PST

bassinbill42 says "NOT all point and shoot cameras are the same. @KenHusVeg....."

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using your name
by bassinbill42 / December 3, 2011 5:52 AM PST

Miss understood your post my man.

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Smartphone or camera
by uksnapper / December 2, 2011 10:32 AM PST

Smart phone can not,at this moment in time,better digital cameras.Having said that a good photographer can produce good images with almost any camera.
Its not the kit that succeeds,its the operator.
Why would a pro spend between £3,500 and £30,,000 on a digital camera body,let alone the lenses,if a smartphone could do the job just as well ?
Answer is they do so because the smart phone is , well, just a phone with cheap add ons to enhance their silly costs..

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New camera
by omersad / December 2, 2011 10:58 AM PST
Todays smartphone cameras are as good as point & shoot cameras so you are right in thinking that these will be extinct. You can take very good photos with with phone cameras but on the hand if you are travelling and want to take lots of photos with the phone camera you will yourself with a dead battery. My advice to you would be this: If you have good smartphone don't buy a simple point & shoot camera but get a bridge camera. This way you can always get pictures any time with the smartphone camera and when travelling you can use the bridge camera for photos and use the phone for communication.
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Clean gass is important
by uksnapper / December 2, 2011 7:36 PM PST
In reply to: New camera

when has anyone ever kept the lens of a smart-phone covered to stop it getting dirty,when have they ever used the oh so important lens hood both features of proper cameras.
The images from smart-phones can be good given optimum conditions but do not at this time better real digital cameras.To start with they capture jpeg images in sRGB colour space,just as the cheaper digital cameras do which any pro will tell you is far from ideal.
Soot raw files ,post process and then you are starting to get the best from your camera.
Smart-phones are not there yet and as long as their sensors are small they will always have the physical barrier of coping with the relatively small wavelength of light being to large for the individual pixel sensors

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by PistonCupChampion / December 2, 2011 11:06 AM PST

Personally speaking, I can't afford to carry a smartphone. The monthly charges would kill me! So while it would be nice to have an all-in-one solution, a separate camera is a cheaper if less convenient option for me.

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actually can be cheaper than you think...
by darrenforster99 / December 2, 2011 6:20 PM PST
In reply to: Cost

I actually bought my smartphone for the opposite reason -

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Is that the real decision?
by stringboy / December 2, 2011 11:41 AM PST

After reading the question, I think you are really dealing with two questions. Do you want a smartphone and, if you get a smartphone, should/can its camera be good enough t avoid buying another camera?

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by haf canadian / December 2, 2011 1:27 PM PST

One simple answer: a good point and shoot camera has a far better quality lens than any phone. You can't go by just a device's MP rating, but many people who don't know better make that mistake. There are a lot of other reasons a dedicated camera will produce better results than a phone, but the lens difference is the most significant. If you ever take a really special shot of something highly memorable, you will be glad you used a genuine camera instead of a phone or pad, especially if you want to enlarge and print it.

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A little of this, a little of that
by kuncne / December 2, 2011 3:25 PM PST

The answer to the "what camera should I buy" question has always been, for more than a century, "what do you want to take pictures of?"

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It all depends on what your bothered about...
by darrenforster99 / December 2, 2011 6:04 PM PST

I used to always carry my phone and camera around with me, but now more often than not I end up taking just my smartphone with me rather than a camera and smartphone, which is a HTC HD2.

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smartphone camera vs real cameras
by ehsggs / December 10, 2011 11:46 AM PST

I use my smartphone a lot (HTC 4G) BUT my Olympus 8mp with optical zoom does stuff that the smartphone can't and when the Olympus isn't enough, then I go to my new Pentax body with my large collection of optical lenses (up to 1200mm) and get small birds at over 200 ft.

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by blaineclrk / December 2, 2011 6:32 PM PST

With a phone you can set resolution up to the 2,000 x 1,500 range or better which is quite good, but if you want to take many pictures at that size you'll also need a memory card. For casual shooting this resolution is quite good, but you won't have the clarity or quality you can get from a camera with good optical zoom and high resolution settings. Plus with a camera you'll have better options for distance and lighting. If you want to take some graduation, school play or family reunion pictures, go with a decent quality optical zoom, not just pixel zoom camera with video capability. If you want to catch the kids playing in the yard or the dog acting like a clown, the phone is good and you can take medium/low quality videos with most phones.

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New Digital V. Smartphone
by Tonyshapps / December 2, 2011 6:43 PM PST

Hi Carol,

An interesting question, and one that many people must now be asking themselves. Well, the truth is that many Smartphones give excellent images but they are not truly flexible.

Personally, I only use a Smartphone for photography when I am truly stuck without a proper camera. For all other work I use a Fuji Real 3D stereo camera which shoots 2D and 3D shots simultaneously and to an extremely high quality: and with much greater control.

For serious work, for my publication AV CONCEPTS, I have a Pentax Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera with an 18-200mm zoomlens. This is a 14 meg job although one rarely needs that amount of pixels on smaller photos.

But to return to your question, if you are really simply content with the odd family point-and-shoot then a smartphone is probably all you need. Personally I would find it far too constraining!


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New Camera Canon SX40HD
by jeepgc2000 / December 2, 2011 11:09 PM PST

I just purchased a new camera to replace an older 5Mpix. The Canon was chosen after several considerations.
Low light level was the reason Canon won. I feel this was the best buy for the dollars and am extremely happy with the pictures taken with no flash. This far exceeded smartphone capabilities to which it was compared.

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by jrap30 / December 3, 2011 12:46 AM PST

To put it simpliy and everyone has stated this...a camera phone is not as good, not sure anyone mention this BUT i do not see zoom lens advertise so if you take pictures on vacation, you will need a zoom lens. Basic shots of friends or family, yeah you do not need a zoom...just stand 4 feet away.

Plus have you notice how small their lenses are, quality of lens is important.

It is almost impossible to "pack" everything into one small device. And expect qulaity throughout the devices funtions.

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Do it all devices
by olysama66 / December 3, 2011 12:54 AM PST

This is the short answer. Smartphone cameras are a compromise. You are going to pay the price of not having to carry two devices to do two jobs in the poor picture quality. Despite the siren song of more mega pixels. To make a camera fit into a phone you will pay the price in reduced picture quality due to a lower quality sensor, and a marginal quality lens that only does digital zoom if it does zoom at all.
If all you want is a few snapshots to post on facebook the phone may serve your needs well. But if you want to preserve those never see it again moments like the Grand Canyon, or a new baby with a good level of quality consider investing an extra 50 bucks in a basic digital camera with a dozen mega pixels or more, and a 5x or better zoom lens by Zeiss as a starting point.

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There is a place for each, and some overlap
by hank080225 / December 3, 2011 12:59 AM PST

Some high end smartphones are better than some digicams. I have a Droid-X which has an optical zoom and is optimized for photo/video. This phone is much better than some low end cameras. However there are a lot of factors to consider. Here is a general pro/con list:

-may have optical zoom (rare)
-slow to bring up camera function, slow to take next image
-very poor low light capability
-in the right light, pictures rival any other camera.
-no optical viewfinder
-limited ability to control exposure and other camera settings.
*the camera in your hand far outperforms the one at home

-wide range of cameras
-performance can be horrible to outstanding depending on the camera.
-easy to carry, easy to use
-some models are water and shock resistant (a couple of smartphones are also)
-some have as much control as a DSLR, but its usually more awkward.

-larger sensors give significantly better low light performance
-Burst mode is faster, up to over 10 frames/sec, turn on time is instant.
-You can do things with a DSLR that you can't do with a P&S, if you learn the camera
-Big, heavy, awkward-can't drop it in a pocket just in case you need it--have to plan to take it.
-wide selection of lenses, from very good to outstanding
-External flash actually does something more than fill in for night portraits

I have my smartphone with me all the time and take great pictures with it. But I'll bring my DSLR when I know I will need it. there are times I want a P&S, but not enough to buy one.

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Point and Shoot Camera
by ajtrek / December 3, 2011 11:59 AM PST

Hi Carol

You have just opened Pandora's box with your question. I'll not talk about focal lengths, CMOS sensors, fStops, Optics and the like. Especially, since you said that you have been using the same PS camera for 4 years and that you don't do any high-end photography. So, my guess would be that you probably use the auto-program mode on your PS and may only occasionally play with the flash (on/off).

I personally own a Canon D Series Autofocus SLR, a Sony Compact AutoFocus SLR, a Canon PS, an iPod Touch 4th Gen., with camera as well as my Sprint HTC EVO Phone with camera. When I want studio quality shots I pull out my Canon D series SLR (with it's multitude of adjustments). If I want to travel lite but still get near studio quality shots I use my Sony Compact SLR. If I'm attending a party or casual event and want good shots in varying light conditions I'll use the Canon PS. The cameras in my iPod Touch and my Sprint HTC EVO Phone are used for spur of the moment shots (in good light).

I gave you the above information to bring home the point that depending upon what you want as an end result should dictate what type of camera you choose. Before I talk about a PS Camera vs a SmartPhone Camera here's a chart on megapixels and what size photo you can print. As a disclaimer megapixels do not a camera make (because I know someone in this forum will take issue with using megapixels as a bench mark). So having said that here's the chart:

1 megapixel Best at Wallet Size good at 4" x 7"
2 megapixel Best at 4" x 6" good at 8" x 10"
3 megapixel Best at 5" x 7" good at 8" x 10"
4 megapixel Best at 5" x 7" good at 11" x 14"
5 megapixel Best at 5" x 7" good at 11" x 14"
6/7 megapixel Best at 8" x 10" good at 16" x 20"
8 megapixel Best at 8" x 10" good at 17" x 22"
10 megapixel Best at 11" x 14" good at 20" x 30"

The sizes indicated by "Best" are what you should expect from a given megapixel camera with minimal to no adjustment by the user. The upper ranges or "Good" are only possible under the best lighting conditions and proper camera adjustments.

So what type of camera should you invest in....?

First know that selecting a smartphone with a camera is not a cost-effective long-term investment for quality photo taking as with a good PS camera. Because, in theory you never stop paying for a smartphone (i.e. the monthly carrier fee).

Second, you can easily compare the photo quality of one PS camera vs that of another in the store before you buy it. To be honest if you choose a Best Buy Store you can probably compare a smartphone's photo quality (if there's a working model available) to that of a PS camera since they (BB) sell both. But even a head-to-head comparison of a smartphone camera to a PS camera will probably be at the lowest limits of the PS camera (i.e. a very cheap one at best).

However, smartphones with cameras have the advantage of being able to share photos instantanoeusly without the use of a computer via the phones data plan (i.e. email or IMS). You only have one device to carry and you can be ready to shoot at a moments notice.

At the moment (although I don't own one) the iPhone 4S is probably the best smartphone with a camera on the market. There are even add-on lenses available for the iPhone 4S to give the user a more SLR experience (click the link below):

Another advantage of the iPhone 4S as a camera phone is that the optics will be the same regardless of which carrier you choose. But even with the aforementioned goodies the iPhone 4S is at best only a match for a low-end PS Camera. See CNET article: The iPhone 4S and Canon PowerShot 100 HS Shoot it Out by Lori Grunin - 10/18/2011.

So far the majority of the advice given has been NOT to choose a smartphone as your main camera for reasons I need not go into again...and I concur. Also, ask yourself....under what conditions were the pics taken that you saw on the smartphones of your friends and how complex were they? Here's another couple of items to consider:

1. Lose your phone...lose your camera
2. Some secure areas (depending upon what you do for a living) will not allow cameras including smartphones with a camera.

So my recommendation is to invest in another GOOD PS Camera. If you decide to go with a smartphone choose the iPhone 4S. It also affords some nice add-on's as indicated in the link above.

Good luck with your decision

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phone vs camera
by johnnybigfish / December 9, 2011 11:29 AM PST
In reply to: Point and Shoot Camera

Ive seen good pics and ok pics from phone cameras...If you just want pics of things like going out to places, and friends in the typical pose in front of a phone, stick with a phone camera...I have yet to see any phone camera that takes pics as well as even a lowly point and shoot camera..Honest...I mean, sometimes, a phone is great for "The moment"...but, when you want a photo you can work with, you'll find its better with a camera( something MADE for taking pictures) than even the best camera phone out there...For instance, I recently traded my Gzone phone with a 2 megapixel for a phone with a 3.2 megapixel camera. Truly, there isnt that big of a difference in photo quality.I gave up water proof, shockproof, dishasher proof etc. for a better pic that didnt happen! the phone money for a fone that does pics...stay chepa......Then, get a camera!...the cost will pretty much even out!( now you gotta do the homework on what camera to get!!!...getting a camera is like getting a watch!!!...Just soooo many to choose from!..And, they pretty much all do the same thing!....Good luck!

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Buy a good camera if you want good pictures
by westgate / December 3, 2011 6:56 PM PST

I do not have a phone but I see my friends' phone photos. I agree that phone photo quality has improved enormously in the past few years, but I have so far seen none that can compare with the quality of photos taken with the Canon S95 which is very small (about the size of a phone). If all you want is a fast snapshot to upload to Facebook, go with just the phone, but if you want photos for print and you like the flexibility of shooting close ups, portraits, wide angle landscapes, and of shooting in less than ideal lighting conditions, and much more, then definitely go with a camera. I have the S95 which I love. It would take me pages to describe what this little camera can do. There are other good cameras out there including the waterproof Panasonic Lumix. No phone camera can come close to what these cameras can do.

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Camera is just a small part of a smart phone
by TomStraight / December 4, 2011 10:45 AM PST

I have a pretty hot smart phone, (Motorola Electrify) that has an 8 mp camera. I also have an older Sony F828 Cyborshot that is 8 mp. There is absolutely no comparison between the 2 when it comes to image quality. It really depends on how important your pictures are to you. Prints from a camera phone are of similar quality to what you use to get with a good 110 film camera. Not anything close to a descent 35mm and definitely not close to any type of serious digital. I love my smart phone but, it won't replace a better point and shoot or even come close to a digital SLR.

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