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Should I buy a camera or a camera phone?

Is it worth buying a compact digital camera now that the cameras in mobile phones are so good?

I've got an old compact digital camera that has just given up on me, so I need to buy myself a new one. But I've heard that camera phones are so good now that I don't need to buy a proper camera. Is that true?


There's been a spate of 5.0-megapixel camera phones hitting the market recently, including the Samsung G600, Sony Ericsson K850i, LG KU990 Viewty and Nokia N95. These high-end phones offer many of the features you'll find on dedicated cameras. Not only do they have sensors with a high megapixel count, but they also boast other extras such as autofocus to help you avoid blurry shots, burst settings to capture a quick succession of action snaps, and preset scene modes.

The benefit of a camera phone is that you're likely to carry it around with you all the time, so you'll have it on hand for those candid moments when the kids pull funny faces or granddad's dentures drop out into his soup. They're also great for taking spontaneous pictures for use in blogs or on Web sites.

Camera phones also have a number of limitations. Even those with 5-megapixel sensors tend to have quite basic lenses. Sure, some models use Carl Zeiss optics, but even these can't compete with the lens found on most compact digital cameras. There just isn't enough room in a phone to fit a proper lens. This also means most phones don't have optical zoom, or if they do, it's much more limited than the zoom lens on a normal digital camera.

Another consideration is the sensitivity of the image sensors used in camera phones. Because they're so small, most of these sensors aren't very good at working in low light, so shots taken in dimly lit bars and clubs suffer from a great deal of digital noise.

The result is that if you directly compare the photos from today's best camera phones with those of the top compact cameras then there's little doubt that the cameras will come out on top. However, the pictures from the 5-megapixel camera phones are more than a match for the cameras of just a couple of years ago, so for many people the convenience of a camera phone outweighs the sacrifice in picture quality.

We reckon most people would still want to use a dedicated camera for shooting in low light or for taking pictures at special occasions such as weddings or birthday parties. For shooting quick, spontaneous snaps, however, you'll find one of the new breed of camera phones hard to beat.