iPhone 4 vaults to the top but begins to trail off in recent months
If you follow the Flickr Camera usage statistics, then the answer to question of smartphone vs compact camera is smartphone. Last year compact camera sales fell by 30% as fixed lens smartphone cameras started to displace fixed lens compact cameras [in 2010 48% of compact camera sales were fixed lens, by 2011 that had dropped to 37% - see here]. So it is no surprise that the most popular camera on Flickr is not a digital SLR or compact camera but the iPhone 4.
Look at the follow table for smartphone camera specs vs a top of the line single lens compact camera:
|zoom||4x digital||3x digital||4x digital||1x|
|focus||auto tap||auto tap||auto tap||5 modes|
|Screen type||Retina||AMOLED||AMOLED||TFT LCD|
|Photo Editor||3rd party||Own||Own||Simple|
|Other||face det.||Non destr.
And the ratings for the smartphone cameras puts iPhone4s at the top of the smartphone heap for overall sharpness, color punch and exposure. However, the FinePix X100 gets top notch marks for image quality but mixed remarks on its overall operation at DPreview. Just a year or two ago one would not even bother to consider a smartphone camera in the same ballpark as a good compact camera. However marked improvements in the sensors, lensing and touch control of the smartphone cameras have changed the ballgame.
Lets look at each advantage profile – the smartphones as a group versus a top of the line compact camera as represented by te FujiFilm FinePix X100.
0)The smartphones still concede image sensor size and quality plus lens capabilities to compact cameras and the FinePix. But at 8Mpixels and some great picture taking apps the smartphones are getting a lot closer to the best compact camera images for a wider range of shooting conditions.
1) Th thinner size, 1/3 the weight and extra functionality of the smartphones make them much more likely to be ported around than the FinePix
2)Digital zoom over a narrow range gives greater photo composition flexibility than FinePix;
3)Focus by tap on screen is the ultimate customized focus system; speed and accuracy has improved with better algorithms and faster processors;
4)Image stabilization in smartphones reduces blur and camera shake errors;
5)AMOLED and Retina displays make image composition and viewing in bright daylight conditions more practicable;
6)Touch screen operations on gorilla glass displays making picture-taking more intuitive and feasible on the big LCD screens;
7)Surprise – the video operations are better on the smartphones in size and frames per second;
8)GPS and other sensors give more context in creating and documenting images:
9)the whole 3rd party app system provides picture taking control and post image processing opportunities just not available on the FinePix;
10)Posting images and videos to through the Web to clients or colleagues is a key smartphone plus.
Advantage Fujifilm FinePix X100:
1) electronic sensor is bigger with consequent larger basic imagesize and image quality;
2)The lens is better with faster f-stop for greater depth of field options and low light imaging than smartphones;
3)The Fuji delivers better macro-shooting capabilities;
4)The rangefinder provides users with 3 picture taking options: optical view, electronic in viewfinder, plus the outside TFT LCD versus only LCD with the smartphones;
5)The sophistication of the autofocus and auto-ISO controllers is distinctly better than the smartphones;
6)More creative control over shutter speed [wider range of settings] plus program, manual, or shutter priority shooting modes], aperture[again wider fstop setting range with aperture-priority, program and manual shooting modes], auto-iso setting for exposure control, and auto-white balance settings. Add to this 4 metering modes, 3 auto-focus settings, and 49 selectable autofocus points – one can build up almost foolproof image taking for all operating conditions. This is at the core of what $1200 gets FinePix users;
7)continuous image shooting at 3 or 5fps with bracketing options;
8) a whole range of camera extras such as shoe for external flash, built-in 3stop neutral density filter, high caliber lens coating, 2 or 12 sec self timer, provides for good picture taking in the widest possible shooting conditions/situations.
So considering the above ledger of advantages, the bottom line is that the FinePix is truly more likely to deliver better pictures in a wider range of shooting conditions than any of the smartphones. True, for good daylight or indoor shots needing marginal fill flash, the smartphones will probably match the FinePix. But for challenging shooting conditions, actions shots, poor or changing lighting, and depth of field challenges – take the FinePix with you. Finally, with their apps orientation, smartphones are more likely to see innovations in the art of picture taking – remote control, auto-bracketing, sensor driven exposure control, and post image processing than most compact cameras.
However, the latter is the point – smartphones because of their utility and more mobile size + weight are more likely to be on hand when picture/video taking opportunities arise. And smartphones can more readily deliver the images/video once taken if they are needed immediately somewhere in the World. In sum, it appears that at the moment, smartphones [and even tablets] have the innovation advantage over compact cameras. But stay tuned.
The saying is ”close only counts in horseshoes”. But right now smartphones and tablets through the magic of apps,better sensors+lenses, and Moore’s Law [chips and storage are doubling in power for the same price every 18 months or less] - smartphones+tablets are getting close enough to threaten a variety of gadgets: PCs, video cameras, radios+TVs, tape recorders, and still cameras. Right now smartphone cameras have gotten”good conditions close” for a essentially a fixed lens, very limited zoom camera. But smartphones offer portability and ”end delivery in one convenient place” capabilities that go well beyond not just compact cameras but also top end SLR cameras. The question is now whether a)cameras can take away the smartphone advantage by becoming more like them and b)cameras can improve their image taking capabilities such that they become indispensable enough to consumes/users. Now as for this reviewer, my loyalty still stands with a compact camera for 3/4 of picture taking at 1000-1500 images per month - it is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3. But that may change.
While doing the research for this post, the following chart was discovered on Flickr.
Apple dominates camera usage on Flickr among the smartphones. What is interesting is that fragmentation means that no one Android smartphone can come close to matching the iPhone dominance of camera usage among Smartphones.