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My friend has a natural knack for taking photos and I would like to encourage this skill by buying her a better camera along with a photography book.

Currently, she uses a cheap smartphone camera and has no training in photography. I am not sure if I should get her a better smartphone camera or a compact camera. One reason to get her the phone (e.g. a Samsung galaxy, price range 400 - 600) is that it would be on her always and I have heard that the quality of smartphones can rival high-end cameras these days.
However, I would imagine that there is more flexibility that one can get from a stand-alone compact camera, and perhaps this would give more room for her to explore/learn and take control of the photography process. A compact camera that I'm looking at, to give an example of what kind of price range I have would be a Canon Powershot G.

My intuition on the topic is that given that she would be going from square one, it seems that all the benefits that she can get in improving her photography would actually come from the book part of the gift, and that and room for improvement in terms of camera quality would come later on after she is more advanced...

Any tips I can get on this would be very much appreciated. It's an overwhelming field...

This is not a duplicate of What are the advantages of a low-cost compact camera vs. a high-end smartphone for photography? because I am interested in the comparison between high-end smartphone cameras and HIGH-END compact cameras. Additional this question focuses on what's the best for someone who is starting out learning about photography. Any ideas on what's best for such a person would be greatly appreciated!

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One difficulty in buying 'surprise presents' is you have to guess what the recipient will want from it, long-term.

Let me try explaining how my initial decision-making process went, & add a 3rd option to your confusion ;-)

I bought my first real camera in years, after becoming tired of what I could achieve from a Phone camera.

I hate selfies. Arm's length is about the worst possible distance to take a picture of someone's face. Big nose, little ears.
Stand back with a phone & the lens is so wide you quickly leave portrait & arrive at full-body shot with far too much background.

So, first decision made - I wanted a longer lens. Any dedicated camera can give you that... but I wanted the choice of length, so it would need to be a zoom.

Right, a camera with a zoom. Good.
First thing you discover when you get a zoom is it's a limited zoom, you always want more from each end, it's not short enough or it's not long enough for what you want the next shot to be. So, you need a longer or a shorter zoom.
If you bought a compact, you're stuck already.

So, you need an interchangeable lens camera.
At first you start with a couple of cheap zooms covering roughly the ranges you need, or a single superzoom but that sacrifices a little on quality & ability in low light.
Whichever way you go you'll always want more/better later, but if you started with an interchangeable lens system you can add to it as you need & can afford.

Even starting with a body & one superzoom so you can try out all the lengths you could ever need gives you more flexibility long-term.

So, personally I'd leave out the single lens systems, because they're 'all or nothing'. If you want to upgrade, the whole lot has to be changed at one time.

That leaves you, imho, with phone vs entry-level mirrorless or DSLR.

Assuming that whether or not she gets a new camera she'll still always have a phone with her, for opportunistic pictures; but taking out that shiny new body & lens specifically to take photos is going to be a whole lot more exciting!

If she really catches the bug, there will come a time it needs two people to carry all the gear, but by that time there's no stopping you.

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Buying someone a big expensive toy is always fun. But this isn't a toy - it's a tool. People use cameras for so many different things that this tool has been customized into hundreds of configurations with different pros and cons at all different price points - so you can find your perfect one.

You should not buy your friend this gift as a surprise.

Instead, you should tell her that you would like to support her photography but only if she wants to learn more and grow as a photographer.

She may be perfectly happy with the smartphone. Or, you'll end up having a conversation about what is important to her.

Now that you know what's important to her, you can go shopping for product advice.

Don't make this a surprise gift, instead, be a part of the journey - if you really want to help. You may find that your initial assumption about a compact camera is dead wrong.

I gotta say, I'm getting a lot of feedback regarding people's opinion on whether I should get this gift at all, but that's completely besides the point of the question. The question posed is regarding the value of a smartphone or a camera for a beginner photographer. Lets just take it as a fact that the person wants to get into photography and wants camera advice. (Perhaps a daughter asked her father for help on this issue...) No offense, but your answer has been the most upvoted of all the given ones here, yet it addresses the posed question the least

Your question is not simply, tell me the difference in cameras. You are basing your purchase decision on a lot of assumptions - the biggest one apparent in the way you wrote your question is that your friend wants to grow as a photographer. That is a huge assumption that makes the rest of the question mute; it's also the part of your question that I chose to address. Clearly, I'm not alone in my assessment.

But, alright - let's take your assumption.

No I would say that that's too specific, though that's not to rule it out. capturing moments might be better e.g. family moments. but for example I would imagine that she would use it a lot when traveling.

Family snaps were the hallmark use of P&S disposable film cameras, then P&S digital cameras, and now cell phones. If this is the primary use case - my advice is to stick with the phone. Ease of use and share-ability will trump the (small) gain in resolution.

As for travelling - the same may hold true. How likely is she to want to share photos over take and then edit them (or at least transfer to a computer first)? Is carrying more gear a problem? When you say travel photos, are landscapes likely to be in the use case or are we still talking about street photo and snaps?

As you can see from the above - there are many more questions to drive this purchase decision. And only she will have the answers.

IMO - a multi-purpose device that can capture snaps, is wildly user friendly, and allows near instant upload for share/backup (a phone) beats a compact camera any day of the week.

If your friend is truly looking to grow as a photographer - then a mirrorless ILC or SLR will be the definite way to go. Though, there's potential that a bridge camera could suffice for a while.

Spending less than $600 to dive into this world is very possible, especially if you hit the used market. I got lucky with a 5dmkII for $600 in pristine condition - though you're more likely to find 40/50/60D's below that. Toss in a 24mm pancake lens, a 50mm, and a 85mm - or a kit zoom and you've got a base kit that'll take you far.

The absolute best thing you can do is come up with a list of the top 5 things she wants to shoot, and get her opinion on the pros and cons of a compact, mirrorless, slr, and bridge as it pertains to her future use cases.

Then you can make an intelligent purchase decision. I'm sorry if this still doesn't help you. It's very hard to make a recommendation when there are so many assumptions/speculations about the buyer.

  • We are already in communication about this gift. But thanks! – steve zissou Feb 20 '18 at 15:21
  • @stevezissou - fantastic! What are the most important aspects of photography to her? – Hueco Feb 20 '18 at 15:31
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    I would say taking pictures mainly of people and the settings they are in. – steve zissou Feb 20 '18 at 15:47
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    @stevezissou - taking of people as in, taking portraits - or as in, street photography? When you say settings - google "environmental portrait" - is that the type of shot she's primarily concerned with? – Hueco Feb 20 '18 at 17:03
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    I gotta say, I'm getting a lot of feedback regarding people's opinion on whether I should get this gift at all, but that's completely besides the point of the question. The question posed is regarding the value of a smartphone or a camera for a beginner photographer. Lets just take it as a fact that the person wants to get into photography and wants camera advice. (Perhaps a daughter asked her father for help on this issue...) No offense, but your answer has been the most upvoted of all the given ones here, yet it addresses the posed question the least. – steve zissou Feb 21 '18 at 9:46
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As you suggest, the learning aspect has the most potential for growth but the phone is limiting since much of what you can do to exercise the newfound knowledge can only be done with a camera. Sure a phone can be used to apply composition principals, but with always the same field-of-view, there is much more than she would learn about photography.

Essentially the quality of a high-end cellphone and a low-end compact is the same, they often use the same sensors even, although camera optics remain better. Compared to a high-end compact though, quality is vastly superior. Even the cheapest premium compact such as Sony RX100 and all Canon G ?X (G5 X, G3 X, G1 X and Mark II/III versions) will deliver immensely better image quality, control over depth-of-field, focus, choice of metering and of course full manual-controls.

The best is to at least have full manual controls and a lens that lets such a person experiment with different depth-of-field and focal-length. Combined with a good photography book, this can give her much potential to develop her photographic skills. One of the best cameras that fits the bill is the Panasonic LX100 which is honestly nearly perfect. Not only does it deliver on image-quality above many other premium compact, it is also incredibly versatile due to its fast lens and multi-aspect ratio sensor which gives additional potential for experimenting photographically right in the camera.

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price range 400 - 600

I'd say you might get in a cheapo DSLR at that point. And that will blow everything out of the water, with the exception of mirrorless and other ILC systems. if that is in dollars.

That being said the difference between compact camera and smartphones exist. The size difference in sensor can not be denied.

Bigger sensor is usually better.

The degree of freedom may be same in both, but the image quality is better for a compact camera.

And of course that does not means a top of the line smartphone with the cheapest compact camera you can find. But that is not what you are looking for.

IMO if the person in focus is really interested in taking photographs, he/she will realize that they need an SLR. But then again, that's my opinion.

  • As someone that was in that situation, I second this.... I was tired of trying to get photos with my phone/Point and shoot and missing terribly. A T6 with a kit 18-55 and 75-300 for less than 500US (B&H) later, I'm way more into photography and my photos are way better... I started walking around with it to not miss anything (now I'm saving for a better camera bag, like the alta rise 45) – Fábio Dias Feb 20 '18 at 18:43
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It depends on how you define the term "compact camera", but in most cases, the main advantages are going to be:

  • A larger sensor (1" vs 1/2.3" or so — about 4× the light-gathering area)
  • A zoom lens

The smartphone camera has several advantages of its own:

  • Connectivity! You can post right to Instagram and other photo-sharing sites
  • Post-processing apps right there, with an infinite array of options
  • More compact than any compact
  • You already have it with you; it's not a second thing

If your friend is into social media sharing as an important part of photography, don't underestimate these things. For a while, I often found myself taking a picture with my "real" camera and then immediately taking a snapshot of the same thing with my phone to put online right away. If I didn't really love my real camera and the act of using it, it'd be pretty easy to resolve the duplication in favor of the smartphone.

Many cameras now have some kind of wireless-to-phone transfer ability. You can also use special card readers, but that's enough fiddling that I don't think they really help. If the sharing aspect is important but other things are too, make this a priority. And, one step further: go with bluetooth rather than wifi. (Most ­— maybe all — cameras with wifi work as access points, requiring your phone to actually switch away from whatever wifi they're on, use a special app to transfer, and then switch back. In practice, this is annoying and less reliable than it should be.)

Personally, I don't find the advantages of a compact camera vs. a smartphone to be overwhelming compelling. If your friend is really looking to learn photography, I suggest skipping the compact and going right to an interchangeable lens camera — either mirrorless or DSLR. This will generally give:

  • An even larger sensor
  • A huge array of lens options
  • Much better controls (especially if you go for higher-end options)
  • Other accessories, and in particular, wireless flash triggers
  • At the medium/higher end, a nice viewfinder (either pentaprism or high-quality EVF)

If your friend is used to a smartphone, it might be nice to start with a moderate-wide-angle prime lens — this will give the same view as a smartphone camera, which your friend may find makes for a nice transition. (Or maybe not; that's kind of down to taste.)

  • "In practice, this is annoying and less reliable than it should be." On my Sonys all it takes is tapping the phone on the camera; yes, the phone must connect to the camera's access point, but it only does so for about a second, which makes it barely noticeable. – fkraiem Feb 20 '18 at 17:27
  • @fkraiem It uses NFC for the connection? – mattdm Feb 20 '18 at 17:31
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    Yep, I also think that discerning between "interested in easily posting pictures to social media" and "really interested in using a bunch of glass to capture a scene in creative ways" is the crux of this question... I had a "camera-curious" friend who lost interest quickly when she realized that the path from click to Instagram was going to require more effort. If this isn't the case, then skip the compact and go directly to something with more creative potential... especially if you're planning to "throw a book at her", so to speak. ;) – junkyardsparkle Feb 21 '18 at 7:16
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My friend has a natural knack for taking photos and I would like to encourage this skill by buying her a better camera along with a photography book.

It's useful to explore e-books in addition to a conventional book as it can be read on a smartphone. Numerous photography assistance APPs are also available for her phone; making a phone a useful tool for photographers.

Currently, she uses a cheap smartphone camera and has no training in photography. I am not sure if I should get her a better smartphone camera or a compact camera. ... A compact camera that I'm looking at, to give an example of what kind of price range I have would be a Canon Powershot G.

I'm guessing that by the "PowerShot G" you are referring to is the "PowerShot G9 X Mark II", reviewed by DPReview; where they complain about the battery life and poor lens, and not the old "Canon PowerShot G9 X". So you mean ~U$550 for a compact camera, and 4-6 for a phone.

"I am interested in the comparison between high end smartphone cameras and HIGH END compact cameras.".

Something to remember: A phone will always be (at least somewhat) "compact", but a compact camera (much like a phone) represents a compromise for a camera (unless you spend over 2x your budget).

A 4-6 hundred dollar phone is by default mid-range, the camera might be mid-range or poor. It will be more than several hundred dollars for a better camera, unless you want to try the Google Pixel 2 (for U$650), reviewed by DPReview; despite their long list of complaints most can be fixed by 3rd party APPs or upcoming Firmware updates (which hit Google phones first and more frequently). It would take another two hundred bucks to beat that phone, and that's out of budget.

A better choice, for a better camera, is a bridge camera; since it's not so compact you're not paying extra for small size and there's room for better features (including a decent lens, for what it is), room for batteries too. Since it's not 'small' (like a compact) or something you're going to want to always carry, like a phone, you need to pack it wherever you go ...

Another 'better' compact camera choice is a compact ILC, like the Fuji X-A5 (U$600, with kit lens), not yet reviewed by DPReview but Imaging Resource has a preliminary review. It's got a 24MP APS-C sensor, up to ISO 51200, 4K video, 180° tilt 3" LCD touchscreen for selfies, and 450 shots per charge.

Better than your average compact, lens choices, and a separate camera that you'll want to carry.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1O_Nq-Bd2o

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