Are smartphones better than cameras? Smartphones may be convenient and photographically more capable than ever. But to what extent will we end up moving away from dedicated cameras in the long term?
The compact camera market may still be alive, but it’s in a significantly different shape to how it once was. Even as recently as ten years ago, it was rich with options from various manufacturers whose roots could be traced back to many different places, from traditional photographic companies and general electronics ones though to new players keen on disrupting the market with a more leftfield offering.
While a number of those companies still have a hand in the market, their focus has narrowed to just a few niche sub-sectors: DSLR-like cameras with expansive zoom lenses built into them; enthusiast compact cameras with large sensors; and cameras that will happily travel underwater. Many of these are still distinct enough from smartphones to warrant their existence, but outside of these, and cameras designed specifically for children, little else remains.
Camera sales across the world have been sliding for some time now, and many manufacturers have publicly stated changes in direction to help them weather this decline. The fact that cameras on smartphones are so capable these days is no coincidence; it’s hard to deny that this is now the main photographic tool for most people.
So how did it get to this point? And how much more erosion of the traditional photography market can we expect?
How we got here
Over the past decade or so, many attempts were made to converge smartphone technology with photographic hardware. None of these, however, were successful enough in their own right to carve out any kind of pathway for future models.
Nikon’s Coolpix S800c, which was announced back in 2012, combined an Android OS with a long zoom lens and a largely touchscreen-based interface. Panasonic’s Lumix CM1, which arrived two years later, blended a traditional smartphone with a 1-inch sensor – considerably larger than those inside smartphones even today. Sony, meanwhile, even introduced a QX system that allowed lenses for its Alpha system of mirrorless cameras to be used in conjunction with a separate sensor unit and a smartphone.
A more recent stab at fusing the benefits of both smartphones and traditional cameras came in the shape of the DxO One, which combined a 1-inch sensor and lens, and plugged into a smartphone’s charging port, making use of the smartphone’s large display for image composition and display.