Compact camera vs phone camera: Do you need both?
Have leaps and bounds in phone camera technology made compact cameras obsolete?
With smartphone cameras better than they've ever been, photography enthusiasts have an interesting dilemma on their hands. We all know that for the very best images, premium mirrorless and DSLR cameras are the way to go. But if you're on a smaller budget, is it worth picking up a compact camera when you've likely got a decently powerful alternative in your pocket?
Let's compare and contrast compact cameras vs phone cameras to decide whether purchasing both is really worth it. For more information, check out our guides to the best digital cameras and camera phones in Australia.
Compact camera vs phone camera: Image quality and resolution
Compact cameras generally deliver 20.1-megapixel (MP) resolution images, though more premium offerings can go up to 26.1MP. At the absolute top end of town, some point-and-shoot cameras offer 47MP resolution.
Top-of-the-line camera phones absolutely blow their compact counterparts out of the water in this area. The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra features a 108MP rear camera and 40MP selfie camera.
Some photography fanatics will rightfully point out that resolution isn't the be-all and end-all, especially if you aren't making huge prints of your images. But the simple fact is that if it's raw image size you're after, smartphones have compact cameras beat.
For video, plenty of cameras are quickly gaining ground on and surpassing the industry standards for compact cameras. The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra can record all the way up to 8K, a resolution so huge it's basically pointless because almost no consumer tech can even display it. It and a litany of competitors can also record in 4K/60FPS – Apple has been offering it since the iPhone 8.
4K/60FPS is a pretty tall order in the point-and-shoot world and compact cameras aren't known for offering great stabilisation. So if you're mainly interested in raw image resolution and especially in video recording, there isn't much of a case to be made for purchasing a compact camera.
Compact camera vs phone camera: Functionality
Any photographer knows image size isn't everything. For example, compact cameras are still well out in front on zoom quality.
Compact cameras rely more heavily on optical zoom, using the mechanics of the camera to get a closer shot. Phone cameras are more reliant on digital zoom, an inferior process that essentially crops an image to magnify a particular area, thereby losing precious megapixels. Point-and-shoot cameras also outstrip their smartphone cousins on dynamic range.
Compact cameras also boast control wheels and mode dials that no smartphone touchscreen can compete with. While automatic phone camera settings like Apple's Portrait Mode can be really helpful for novices, if you know what you're doing compact cameras are seriously superior.
Compact cameras are known as "point-and-shoot" for a reason. They're supposed to be simple and accessible compared to DSLR alternatives.
So for a compact camera to be right for you, your interest in image control would have to sit above what your smartphone provides but below what a DSLR camera offers. It's a precarious position, but it's certainly right for some consumers.
Compact camera vs phone camera: Price
Smartphones can cost anywhere from $200 to in excess of $2,000. There's a huge range depending on how much you want to break the bank for the latest and greatest tech. For a phone that offers a camera that photography purists won't instantly turn up their nose at, you're likely looking at at least ~$700.
Decent compact cameras start off around the $450 mark and go up to $7,000 and beyond if you really want to go wild. It's definitely possible to find some great value with a compact camera if you're moderately interested in photography.
Of course, the key point here is that you probably already own a smartphone. And if it breaks tomorrow, you aren't going to consider buying a compact camera in its place.
Photography is just one of the seemingly infinite number of functions that a smartphone offers. That's not to mention the convenience of taking a picture and instantly sharing it with friends or posting it on social media.
With phone cameras quickly gaining ground, compact cameras find themselves in an awkward position between smartphones and DSLR cameras. If you're going to splash out on a point-and-shoot on top of owning a smartphone, why not go all out with a more premium style of camera?
The verdict: Are compact cameras worth it?
All in all, most consumers are unlikely to find much value in owning both a smartphone and a compact camera. If your phone camera simply doesn't have the user control you desire but you find upscale DSLR and mirrorless cameras too intimidating or expensive, then compact point-and-shoot cameras are for you.
If you aren't in this rather specific boat, then carry on snapping away with your smartphone.
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