Phone Cameras Challenge Point-And-Shoot Compacts

  • The following images are a comparison between a Ricoh GR Digital 8 megapixel digital camera (left) and an iPhone 4S (right). The images were taken at the same time and distance at Chinatown Coffee in Washington, D.C.
    Hide caption
    The following images are a comparison between a Ricoh GR Digital 8 megapixel digital camera (left) and an iPhone 4S (right). The images were taken at the same time and distance at Chinatown Coffee in Washington, D.C.
    Mallory Benedict and Cristina Fletes/NPR
  • These images are a comparison between an 8 megapixel digital camera (left) and an iPhone 4S (right) The images were taken at the same time and distance at Chinatown Coffee in Washington, D.C.
    Hide caption
    These images are a comparison between an 8 megapixel digital camera (left) and an iPhone 4S (right) The images were taken at the same time and distance at Chinatown Coffee in Washington, D.C.
    Mallory Benedict and Cristina Fletes/NPR
  • These images are a comparison between an 8 megapixel digital camera (left) and an iPhone 4S (right) The images were taken at the same time and distance at Chinatown Coffee in Washington, D.C.
    Hide caption
    These images are a comparison between an 8 megapixel digital camera (left) and an iPhone 4S (right) The images were taken at the same time and distance at Chinatown Coffee in Washington, D.C.
    Mallory Benedict and Cristina Fletes/NPR

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Nearly every new smartphone has a better camera than its predecessor. One of the latest is Apple's iPhone 4S — but there are plenty of other cellphones with advanced cameras on the market, such as the HTC myTouch 4G and the Samsung Galaxy SII.

The cameras are so good, in fact, that it raises the question of whether it's worth it for amateur photographers to own a separate point-and-shoot camera.

Keith Jenkins, who heads NPR's multimedia unit, says that when smartphone cameras reached the 6 to 8 megapixel range, they started to approach the territory traditionally held by low-end point-and-shoot cameras.

"As our smartphones become more and more the one device that we use to do everything, it's going to become increasingly difficult for anyone who creates a stand-alone product that can be replicated inside of a smartphone to survive," Jenkins tells NPR's Ari Shapiro.

With more megapixels and a decent lens, smartphone cameras can take much sharper photos than they used to. Stand-alone cameras still have an advantage with their larger sensor chips, which allows for more detail and a better depth of field in photographs. And pictures taken with a point-and-shoot tend to look more like what the eye actually sees.

But convenience, and the ability to share those photos — instantly and with anybody — is starting to give smartphones an edge.

That could be trouble for camera manufacturers, Jenkins says. The industry is moving toward connected cameras — housed in smartphones and tablets — and camera manufacturers don't have a strong presence in that market.

"I do think that some [camera companies] will make it, but we've already seen a shrinkage in the market as we went from film to digital," Jenkins says, "and I think as we move from cameras that are stand-alone to cameras that are connected — and that could instantly put you on the Web or have a photo emailed — it's going to be harder to compete."

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