Photography – Choosing a Camera Part 1

Part 1 – Camera Versus Smartphone

These days, we all have a cell phone so (almost) all of us have a camera in their pocket. Why purchase a dedicated camera? They’re bulky, often expensive and more obtrusive than a phone. Yet photography remains a very popular hobby, with strong camera sales despite the popularity of smartphones. This article is squarely aimed at beginners interested in getting into photography. I’ll explain why a dedicated camera allows you to take much better pictures than a smartphone can.

Sensor Size

Despite the marketing hoo-hah around number of megapixels, this is not a feature that should influence your digital camera purchase. Any (dedicated) camera produced in the last 8 years will have more than enough megapixels for your needs. A more important and less advertised feature is that of sensor size. 

Camera Sensor Size
Differences in sensor sizes. Apple iPhone 5 cell phone on the left, followed by ‘point and shoot’ camera and a DSLR camera on the far right. Generally, the bigger the better.

This is where cameras really differ from smartphones. There are many benefits offered by larger sensors, with the most obvious being the ability to take good photos in low light and the capability to blur the background. Do you like to take photos of children or pets? Focusing on the eyes and having the background melt into nothingness is a trait that a cell phone camera cannot achieve. (At least not without software intervention).
Some ‘point and shoot’ cameras at the low end of the market have sensors similarly sized to cell phones. Manufacturers have seen sales of these cameras plummet in recent years as they do not offer many benefits over cell phone cameras.

Lens Selection

Many cameras offer the ability to remove one lens and screw on another. Why would you want to do this? The main reason is because different lenses provide very different looks. It’s dependent on what you wish to achieve. As an example, a friend of mine recently took his own passport photo. Now, his nose doesn’t normally break any size records, but, because he used a cell phone camera, the resulting image looked like he had one gigantic honk. A camera with interchangeable lenses would have allowed him to use a longer focal length, and therefore have provided him with a more flattering passport photo (if that’s indeed what he wanted!).

Puss On Bed
The right lens provides a nice perspective for portraits. Also notice the background blur. (This is difficult to achieve using a camera with a small sensor such as a cell phone)


It’s rare for cell phone camera to offer even a dedicated shutter button (being the button you press to take the photo). Dedicated cameras offer nice grips, buttons for various features, and are simply much easier to take photos with.

So, that’s three main reasons why cameras kick the proverbial backside of cell phones when it comes to taking photos. Of course, cell phones have their advantages too; you often have one on you, and you can easily share images via email, mms or social media. But cameras are catching up in this regard, with most new models offering connectivity features such as Wi-Fi, NFC and even 4G.

Of course, you may not need or care for the features I’ve described above – your cell phone camera probably suits you just fine. Otherwise, stay tuned for the next article in which I’ll explain what to look for if choosing to purchase a dedicated camera.

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