Why I want phones in cameras, not the other way around

They say the best camera is the one you have with you -- which is why it's important to make sure you have a decent camera when you need it.

Play

They say the best camera is the one you have with you -- which is why the camera is such a popular feature on phones. But as compact camera sales struggle, it's worth pointing out that a smart phone can never replace a camera. Instead, cameras should replace phones.

Why would you carry around a separate camera when your phone takes photos too? Why pay for a separate camera that locks up your pictures on a memory card when you could just share them to Facebook at the touch of a button? Because it's the right tool for the job, that's why.

Smart phone cameras may be getting better. But their biggest strength is their convenience, with image quality a distant second. I'm no camera snob: a compact camera that produces decent results is every bit as exciting to me as the most powerful dSLR, if not more so -- after all, a compact camera has less to work with.

By the same token, if a camera phone produced pictures comparable to a compact camera I would sing its praises from the rooftops.

But it's unlikely, if not impossible. It's just a question of size. A phone simply isn't big enough for a sensor or lens that can cope with tricky lighting conditions and produce decent results.

There are, of course, some excellent cameras in phones. The Samsung Galaxy S2 has a decent camera, while the HTC Evo 3D snaps in three fancy dimensions. The iPhone 's clever dynamic range features and wealth of camera apps have seen it become the most popular camera on Flickr.

Possibly the best camera in a phone we've seen is the Nokia N8, a 12-megapixel behemoth with xenon flash that's capable of capturing glorious aerial photos . Sadly, the N8 was a rubbish phone.

No wonder sales of point-and-shoots dropped by 20 per cent across the industry last year, with entry-level cameras suffering hardest.

Good camera phones still aren't good cameras

The problem is the gap between what makes a good mobile phone and what makes a good camera. Mobile phones are getting slimmer, to the point that the Samsung Galaxy S3 is rumoured to measure just 7mm thick . Samsung is reported to have managed that by making the circuit boards inside the phone thinner than ever. That's great for a phone, as slim means portable.

Packed with apps and combining phone, camera, music player, TV and web browser, the smart phone is a very clever bit of kit indeed. We wouldn't be without one. We wouldn't even start banging on about jacks of all trades mastering none, because smart phones have come pretty close to mastering the Internet, video, games, maps, social networking, and generally organising our lives. Crucially though, the smart phone does these things well for a portable device -- it's a compromise.

While iPhone games are great, the iPhone is no replacement for a games console. While watching videos on your phone is a great time-filler, it's no replacement for a full-sized high-definition TV. Just because you can now watch a video or play a game when you're jammed onto a bus, you're still going to choose to watch a movie on your big-screen HDTV with ear-melting sound once you get home.

Put the phone in the camera

So when you have the choice between a camera and a phone, why would you choose a phone? Because it can upload to Facebook? Make cameras 3G -- problem solved.

The difference between a televison and a camera, or between a games console and a camera, is that the TV and the console don't look anything like a phone. But a camera does look like a phone, so when the phone does what a camera does, we start to wonder if the camera is superfluous.

Cameras should be more like phones. Touchscreens came of age the moment the iPhone came along, with its elegantly slippery scrolling and intuitive gestures. Touchscreens on cameras are becoming more prevalent, but unlike their smart phone counterparts, camera touchscreens aren't as refined and elegant.

And most importantly, it's clear that we want to share photos online: 70 billion snaps were uploaded to Facebook last year. Wi-Fi in cameras is nothing new, but it's far from the norm either. Camera manufacturers are obsessed with sticking GPS in their cameras, which is all well and good if you want to pin your pictures to a map after a trip abroad, but frankly I couldn't care less about GPS. I'd rather have 3G.

Yes, 3G. It would take ages to send a proper high-resolution picture to Facebook over 3G, but what if a camera could send a low-res, online-ready version of the picture to the web while preserving the high-quality photo on the memory card -- and replace it automatically when you connect via Wi-Fi.

That sounds like the best of both worlds to me. You'd get a better class of Facebook photos because they've been taken with proper kit, but they'd still have the speed and convenience of a mobile phone when it comes to sharing.

And once we've put 3G in a camera, we may as well make it capable of browsing the web and running apps. And when you've gone that far, why not let it make phone calls as well.

So there's your answer. Let's not put cameras in phones -- let's put phones in cameras.

Has your mobile phone completely replaced your camera? Have you compromised your standards or is a camera phone good enough? Tell us your thoughts in the comments, or on our pixel-perfect Facebook page.

Tags:
Phones
About the author

Rich Trenholm is a senior editor at CNET where he covers everything from phones to bionic implants. Based in London since 2007, he has travelled the world seeking out the latest and best consumer technology for your enjoyment.

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Don't Miss
Hot Products
Trending on CNET

HOT ON CNET

See the world with Smithsonian Channel iOS app

Watch free videos and full episodes of original series and documentaries with the new app.