Compact camera vs smartphone camera

Wondering why you should still buy a proper camera in the age of the smartphone? Check out our Q&A with a former professional photographer...

05 Jul 2015

Flagship phones come with powerful cameras built in. If you’re only planning on taking holiday photos, pics of landmarks and scenery, and pals doing daft things then why bother buying a separate compact camera? We put this question to our expert, who has 15 years’ experience as a professional photographer.

In the age of the smartphone camera, is it still worth buying a compact digital camera?

Definitely. You’ll usually get much higher-quality images, a much better flash and much longer battery life from a compact camera. They can generally take between 400 and 600 pictures before needing to be recharged, and are much more versatile than smartphone cameras.

What type of photos (or photographers) are smartphone cameras great for?

People will nearly always have their phone with them so they're good for unplanned, spur-of-the-moment shots: selfies at famous landmarks, a friend eating the world’s biggest ice cream. They’re more about capturing the moment than taking high-quality, well-composed images. Of course such photos lend themselves to sharing on social media, and that’s easy to do from your smartphone.
If you only look at your photos on Facebook or on your phone’s screen, you won't notice the difference in quality because the resolution isn't sharp enough to show it.

What features can a compact camera offer that a smartphone lacks?

A compact camera will give you greater control over your photography: optical image stabilisation, optical zoom and a decent flash. The iPhone 6 Plus, and certain Nokia Lumia cameras, have optical image stabilisation technology. A couple of phones even have optical zoom – it looks pretty weird though. But generally these features are not found on average smartphone cameras. 

Taking photos in low-light – which performs best?

Compact camera. They have larger sensors which give better quality at all light levels. Wider apertures let in more light than most smartphones can offer.

Zooming in to take a photo – which performs best?

Compact - because of the mechanics involved, as well as the size and weight. Smartphones use digital zoom – this only makes the image pixels bigger. Compacts use optical zoom - this really does increase the size of the image. 

  • A smartphone will take the picture using the whole chip and then enlarge part of it to create the zoom
  • It will enlarge any imperfections as well - loss of sharpness, camera shake, etc…
  • An optical zoom uses the whole chip to take the zoomed-in image - this gives much better quality.

A compact will also normally have a much larger zoom ratio than a phone - most go up to 10x optical zoom, and some go much higher. Many also have macro mode to get very close to objects to pick out tiny details –petals, flower buds and insects up-close.

Shooting moving objects – which is best?

Compact again. Wider apertures give a faster shutter speed which helps to keep movement sharp. The optical stabilisers are a massive help here as well.

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