Smartphone vs Digital Camera – When Do I need to Buy a Digital Camera?

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Nikon D5100 Digital SLR Camera + 18-55mm G VR DX AF-S Zoom Lens (refurbished)

With the advent of the smartphone and rampant photo-sharing on social media outlets, combined with the ever-improving quality and capabilities of smartphone cameras, you may believe digital cameras are on the way out. In 2012 digital camera sales were down a whopping 30%.

Indeed, since every smartphone already has a built-in camera that can take pictures and record video, it can feel like it doesn’t really make sense to have a separate digital camera! Smartphone vs Digital Camera is the question at hand.

But hold that thought. Yes, it’s true that smartphone cameras are getting more advanced and are easier to access (since they are contained within your smartphone itself), but are they as good as, or even better than digital cameras?

The answer is: It depends. And it depends largely on:

a) who you are, and

b) what you are taking pictures of/what you need the camera for.

Here are some of the people who should consider supplementing their smartphone cameras with digital cameras and why!

You Talkin’ to Me?

If you are one of the many mainstream users who is thrilled with your smartphone camera, this discussion may not necessarily apply directly to you. However, if you are one of the following, listen up:

  • Parents / People with children
  • Athletes / Parents of athletes
  • Action photographers; (Even pets)
  • Nature photographers (with still subjects like flowers, plants, scenery, trees, etc.)
  • Wildlife photographers (with moving subjects like animals, birds, aquatic life, insects and butterflies, etc.)
  • Bloggers, especially food bloggers
  • Hobbyists, especially those with craft skills (where details really count!).

Smartphone vs Digital Camera - What are some digital camera advantages?

Even though smartphone cameras are improving, they still haven’t caught up to digital cameras in certain areas. Some of the benefits of digital cameras include:

  • Better picture quality
  • Better video quality
  • Less shutter lag – this feature is especially important in action shots when a fraction of a millisecond is the difference between a great shot and a fuzzy blur
  • More lens options – zoom, wide angle, close-ups, etc.
  • Better low light capabilities – good in restaurants and night shots, to name a couple of low light scenarios
  • Better flash
  • Larger storage capacity – since the separate camera only stores pictures and video (as opposed to phone numbers, media, data and pictures/video storage on your smartphone) there’s automatically more room!

What are my Options?

Despite the improved resolution through increased megapixels (smartphone resolution ranges from 3.2 MP – 13 MP+), the picture quality remains unaffected and therefore, superior in digital cameras. The camera’s sensor size is a big determining factor on how good picture quality is.

Camera Sensor Size:

          iPhone 5                                               1/3.2-inch – 4.54 x 3.42 mm

          Typical Point and shoot camera           1/ 2.3-inch – 6.17 x 4.55mm

          High End Compact Sony RX100            1 inch – 12.8 x 9.6 mm

          Canon T4i DSLR                                    22.2 x 14.8 mm

          Canon 5D MkIII DSLR                           36 x 24 mm

Here are some of the types of digital cameras you might purchase:

  • Digital SLRs (Single Lens Reflex) with interchangeable lenses – these are the most versatile and advanced cameras available on the consumer market - they are also the largest and the most expensive
  • Hybrid cameras or ILCs (Interchangeable Lens Camera) that are compact but still have interchangeable lenses – since these types of cameras are “mirrorless” they do not have the large mirrors taking up internal space and are therefore, much smaller than SLRs
  • Point and Shoot cameras – these Digital Compact Cameras are prized for their small size and ease of use
  • Super zoom point and shoot cameras (also known as Bridge or Advanced Compact cameras) – some have a zoom lens range as high as thirty times (30x)
  • High end point and shoot cameras with manual controls and raw mode – these functions allow the photographer to focus in on an exact area in a scene when auto focus is not as precise as you would like.

Bonus Buy!

Why not supplement your savings by buying your digital camera when it is the most discounted? New models are announced in January and September, so the previous year’s cameras start going on sale in February and October; however, the best time to buy them is on a Monday (when manufacturers apply their rebates) in March-April and November-December!

Which digital camera are you considering purchasing and why?

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