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As camera phones become more and more sophisticated, will they ultimately replace point-and-shoot cameras?

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closed as not a real question by PearsonArtPhoto, Jay Lance Photography, rfusca, John Cavan, labnut Apr 20 '11 at 8:49

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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The real question is when do we stop calling these things phones? They're computers that just happen to make phone calls as well... –  rfusca Jan 24 '11 at 2:52
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I would like to point out also that this is really a discussion, unless somebody's got a crystal ball, there is no right answer. –  rfusca Jan 24 '11 at 4:44
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@rfusca - I agree, the concept of phone is meaningless, it's a network with devices that interact. –  John Cavan Jan 24 '11 at 4:44
    
@rfusca, @John, We will go on on calling them phones, regardless of added capabilities, because that is their central purpose. We are born to communicate, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_intelligence. Danial Goleman's book 'Social Intelligence' is particularly relevant, see amazon.com/Social-Intelligence-Science-Human-Relationships/dp/… –  labnut Apr 19 '11 at 21:39

12 Answers 12

I don't believe that camera phones will replace true P&S cameras. The limitations of the phone form factor will be the barrier conditions. having the flush lens and small size requirements limit the image quality. It is not to say that camera phones will not continue to advance, it is more that the requirements of being a "phone" will outweigh the requirements for being a camera. Just from looking at my phone with the small flash, the flush small lens, and the battery life of a gnat when shooting pictures I think it is not well suited to being used as a camera.

People will be willing to carry a camera for taking pictures on vacations and other events that provide more control than what the phone can do. It is not a question of the electronics being capable it is just how the technology is packaged and if it will be pleasing to the consumer.

I still have separate music player and telephone as I find that a device can typically do one thing very well, or many things mediocre. I would prefer to have one device that does one thing very well.

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+1 - The question is highly subjective and speculative, but you did well in response and I tend to agree. Cell phones are trying to be jacks of all trades and thus are becoming masters of none. –  John Cavan Jan 24 '11 at 1:19
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Its a matter of time before P&S are no more, see my answer below. Goodbye P&S and hello super new gadgets! –  kacalapy Jan 24 '11 at 1:57
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@kacalapy - Time will tell, but at this point, cell phones are actually quite a ways behind the point and shoot market and it's not a market that is standing still. Yes, there will be some that go to the cell phone as the option, but I'm not convinced it's a large enough market to kill the other. The same kind of claims have been made for many a decades, especially around SLRs and, well, they're still here. –  John Cavan Jan 24 '11 at 3:12
    
Can someone hit fast forward so we can know now... and enjoy the cool new toys sooner. –  kacalapy Jan 24 '11 at 15:18
    
+1 The problem is that my phone is already my MP3 player, calendar, email, text machine and... erm.. phone. The biggest problem with this is using it for many of these functions at once and battery life! –  Steve Fenton Jan 25 '11 at 11:20

I don't think there's any question that camera phones will take over mass-market point & shoot cameras. The question isn't really if, but when.

The iPhone uses a 1/3.2"-format sensor (using the weird standard where 1" = 16mm, so 15.5mm²). This is smaller than what's used in most point & shoot cameras (especially the good ones), but isn't so far off.

In fact, take a look at the specs for the Canon Powershot A200, announced June, 2002. Sensor the same size as the iPhone, and a fixed-focal-length lens of around the same range. But, only 2Mpix, and ISO from 50 to 400 (and we can bet that 400 was pretty bad).

And the iPhone isn't even state-of-the-art for camera phones — for that, look at the Nokia N8, which has a 1/1.8" (36.8mm²) sensor with max ISO of 1200 and apparently very nice optics to boot. This clearly competes with a lot of point&shoot cameras now, at least on some levels.

So, it's pretty clear that the best current camera phones handily beat at least some of the P&S digicam field from a decade ago, and I think it's reasonable to assume that in much less than another decade, phone cameras will beat today's crop.

A larger form-factor may always have room for a level of quality that literally can't be squeezed into a camera phone, but from that direction, there's pressure from low-end dSLRs and especially mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras. Right now, there's a pretty impressive bunch of high-end P&S cameras (more than I would have predicted), but I think it really can't last. Camera phones have two major advantages: 1) people have them already, and 2) the fact that they phones are now software platforms makes them so superior in many ways. Not only can one fundamentally change the camera uesr interface, one can post-process in the field, and instantly share the results.

So yeah: it'll happen. In fact, it is happening. When is an open question, but mostly the discussion over which value of "soon" to pick.


Update as of April, 2011: TechCrunch ran an article yesterday titled iPhone 4 About To Be Flickr’s Top Camera. Point & Shoots? Pretty Much The Opposite. The title pretty much says it all. Of course, Flickr has an inherent bias, since the iPhone can automatically upload pictures with no extra steps, but still, I think it's plenty illustrative of future trends. As TechCrunch puts it:

Six months ago, the data looked bad for point & shoots. Now it looks downright frightening. If the trend continues (and it’s actually speeding up), the point & shoot is finished.

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+1 The phone as a software platform is a very good point. This is one area where camera manufacturers are going to have to pick up their game. –  Benjamin Cutler Jan 24 '11 at 2:20
    
Manufacturers like Motorola will be picking things up in the mobile arena, not canon or nikon. This should help put out better dslr models faster though, I hope. –  kacalapy Jan 24 '11 at 3:04
    
Micro 4/3rds have made similar claims over the dSLR, but I'm not seeing it. Unless there's a massive sea change in the technology, cell phones will be limited compared to dedicated hardware. Now, for a lot of people, that's enough, but not enough, I think, to kill the P&S market as we know it. –  John Cavan Jan 24 '11 at 3:15
    
Which claims does micro 4/3rds have? They're not a device people are already carrying nor are they general-purpose software platforms. The mirrorless category really can't compete with dSLRs until the electronic viewfinders are on par with or exceed optics (which will happen, but maybe not in five years). I don't think camera phones are going to replace cameras in general; there's still plenty of room for larger devices. And the super-zoom P&S still has some breathing room, but the general I-just-want-a-camera-to-put-in-my-pocket/purse mass market just won't be there. –  mattdm Jan 24 '11 at 14:16
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@lindes: again, I don't think cameras are going away, just mass-market point-and-shoots. People who want do do post processing at all are already at the edge of that. Right now, being at the edge is okay, because you benefit from the economy-of-scale, but the mass market moves on, P&S cameras will be split into very-cheap-crappier-than-phone-cam models (which already exist) and more expensive enthusiast and super-zoom models. These, in turn, will get squeezed by cheap dslrs and mirrorless cameras, making them very niche indeed. –  mattdm Jan 24 '11 at 18:05

Actually, the prediction is that within 5 years point and shoot cameras will start to fade in favor of camera's built into mobile devices (they will be less phone and more... well who knows whats going to be packed into them in 5 years). Personally, I think this may take a little longer but is inevitable with the amount of money the mobile market commands today and more importantly the growth it has seen in the past few months and years.

After a fast search it would seem I am not alone in thinking this. See this article title The future of the point-and-shoot (there isn’t one) for more.

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I don't buy it. Cell phones are not up to par in image quality to kill the P&S market in any forseeable timeframe. The same sentiments were expressed with micro 4/3rds versus the APS-C dSLR, and with FF dSLR versus medium format. There's no question that a huge number of consumers will go cell phone, but is it enough to kill point and shoot? Not convinced. They're a long way off in my opinion. –  John Cavan Jan 24 '11 at 3:21

Contrary to looking at the problem from a "when phones cameras will be comparable to P&S", which is inevitable advancement of the technology (although I won't commit to a 5 years time frame), there is another path - P&S cameras will become cellular enabled! I see no reason why a camera like the Digital Elph can't include a mobile phone chipset (kind of what MODU's vision was all about). Then, the above question will become meaningless, as now you have a cell phone with P&S camera quality.

At the bottom line, it does not matter what way you look at it - phones become cameras or cameras become phones. It is all about convergence and there is no doubt that this is the way of the consumer market future.

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I'm going to take a different tact from the other posters... I don't think it matters. There are some certain facts in all of this that are relevant:

  1. Cell phones and P&S cameras will improve.
  2. Some percentage of the population will be happy with the cell phone, some will not.
  3. World population is approaching 7 billion.

Given the above, both formats will, I think, do very well for any forseeable future. They compete, in a sense, but not entirely. However, I agree with ysap, the convergence is clear, but I do think that there will always be a segment of the population that wants the advantages of the dedicated hardware and, hence, P&S will persevere.

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To take it in a larger context, the phones are starting to be called "hand-held devices". They are Turing complete and have specs that leave '90s desktop computers in the dust. How long will it be until I come home, plug my phone/handheld/whatever-it-will-be-called into a a dock that has a power source, keyboard, speakers and monitor and use the processor on it to my web browsing and programming?

I said that so I could say this, low end point n shoots for simple snapshots will be integrated into that and the demand for cheap cameras will drop off, especially as the devices get smarter. But I expect that major camera manufacturers will partner with handheld manufacturers to make a decent enough product.

I don't see the entire compact camera market going away though. I like my 12x zoom. I don't know if that can be out into a the same space as something I want to talk to pull out and start talking on.

But then, I go out with the specific goal of getting a few good pictures to show off. I bought my compact for the specs of picture clarity at large sizes and lower light, the zoom, and the full manual settings.

One final thought:

If I made handhelds, I'd figure out a way to make is easy to mount the thing on a tripod for group photos. The typical screw on the bottom might be too costly in precious handheld device space. ...maybe a special clamp?

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lol no... P&Ss like G12 (bigger sensor), SX30 (35X zoom!) will always be better than any camera phones. And, I agree that camera phone are getting better with every new release, but so are the P&Ss!

If ever, any phone company can incorporate a DSLR within a phone, only that day they will overcome P&Ss :D

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There has been a trend towards multi-function phones that do everything possible. The thing is, people are starting to look towards "appliances", which are devices designed to do one thing well, with the most simplistic controls.

A point-and-shoot camera is simple. You switch it on. Point it at someone and press the big button.

On a multi-purpose devices, the workflow cannot be this simple as you have to tell the device what function you want it to perform and then use one of the multi-purpose buttons to take the picture.

Ergonomically the multi-purpose device has to make similar compromises. People want slim phones, but it is easier to hold a chunky camera that gives you a steady grip.

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There are point-and-shoot cameras that already have many features of a phone - microphone, speaker, touch screen, WiFi connectivity, similar form factor. I see no reason why there would not be a model in near future that is fully capable of mobile networking, including making phone calls. The network rates are already cheap enough to afford this. After all, easy instant sharing seems to be a buzzword for selling P&S cameras.

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Most of the photographers here are being photographers, and are answering "No," because even compact cameras will continue to enjoy image quality and handling benefits over phones, at least as far as we can predict.

But that wasn't the question. The question was will they ultimately replace point-and-shoot cameras, and in the marketplace, I think the answer is mostly "Yes." Most people aren't that picky about image quality, and don't want to carry around a bunch of different devices. Already, the iPhone 4 will soon be the most popular camera on Flickr, and some have attributed the death of Flip compact video cameras to the smartphones. That's not to say that the compact segment will disappear entirely; there will always be something like the S95 and G12 for people who want a more serious compact camera, but I think you'll see more and more people foregoing the P&S for their phone.

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Camera phones will largely replace point and shoots in the consumer and hobbyist markets. However for the prosumer, true professionals and enthusiasts markets, I seriously doubt this will be the case.

Camera phones tend to have the ability to implement many features in software to compensate lack of physical space for some features. On the other hand, cameras may change shape and size drastically to accomadate features while at the same time being capable of any amount of soft-features.

Lenses, sensor size, compression circuitry, real time enhancement circuits such as light and color balance, anti-blur and many similar features are very different implemented as hardware or cannot be simulated effectively.

As I see it, this means there is a need for cameras in general that camera phones cannot fill due to restrictions inherent to the product.

Someone could come out with a phone that had interchangeable lenses or one or two extra features. Perhaps even a phone for photographers, but they still would not have the same depth of features or quality as high-end point and shoot cameras.

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The answer is much larger than a debate about cameras.

The technology is advancing quickly and the cell phone is acquiring a number of capabilities that are giving it a unique place in our lives.
- a phone (obviously).
- a computing device with downloadable 'Apps'.
- a video camera.
- a conventional still camera.
- a credit card.
- a bus/airline/theater, etc ticket
- a navigation device.
- a security access device.
- a payment transfer system.
- an information resource - Internet.
- a book reader.
- a music player.
- a video player.
- a navigation device.
- a personal organiser.

It is thus becoming an essential device that all people must have with them at all times.

So does this mean it will displace the P&S camera?

No, not really. It is extending photography to the vast number of people who were not photographers in the first place. So many more people are becoming photographers, in the limited sense of everyday snapshots.

Some of these people, through exposure, will aspire to better photographs and migrate upwards to more capable cameras. These will be P&S cameras because their experience with cell phones will condition them to expect nearly the same convenience.

Some of the existing owners of P&S cameras will instead use their new cell phones simply because they are conveniently always available and the quality in any case is good enough for them.

And still others will have multiple devices for multiple purposes just as today many DSLR owners also have a P&S camera.

So the market will be layered with cell phones owning a vast proportion. P&S cameras will have lost somewhat to this while it will also gain some of the new converts to photography.

My cloudy crystal ball says that the cell phone will have brought so many new converts to photography that enough of them will upgrade to P&S cameras to offset any losses to the cell phone.

And for many people it is not a case of either/or but rather using different tools for different circumstances.

Photography, as a hobby, will be the winner.

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