All I Need Now Is A Camera Phone?

On the recent occasions where I’ve been out for a walk without a “proper” dedicated camera, and found something interesting to capture, I’ve just reached for my camera phone.

Currently this is an Android Realme 6 Pro which I introduced previously.

The Realme houses the most sophisticated camera I’ve had in a phone.

A relatively large sensor (a Samsung 1/1.7″, larger than nearly all of my digital compacts) means decent scope for shallow depth of field, something I usually rely on my DSLRs for.

This is no new venture for me though, and I’ve had perhaps five or six phones over the last 15 years that have perform well enough as a camera.

The Realme 6 Pro just does it better, in terms of output.

Even the colours are pretty pleasing straight out of camera, especially for family pictures.

So if I was happy with my camera phone five generations ago, why do I continue to use other digital cameras, and digital compacts especially?

Well, despite the Realme 6 Pro’s rather large (to me) screen, which really is very lovely, and gives a larger viewing/composing surface than any other camera I’ve ever used (except my iPad but that’s pretty rubbish as a camera all round), the handling just isn’t there.

I nearly get myself convinced, then pick up something like my Ricoh GRD III or Pentax Q, and they just feel right straight from the outset.

You know, they’re shaped to fit your hand, the grip is rubberised, the shutter button is a proper button on the top where your forefinger rests, with a half press to autofocus and full press to shoot.

Just simple features that are all entirely down to the ergonomics of the object, and make it feel like going home to photography somehow when you use them.

A modern plastic and metal dining room chair does a perfectly adequate job of keeping you seated while you enjoy your next meal. But a comfy old sofa is far more pleasurable to sink down into.

Plus perhaps I’m becoming a bit of a traditionalist, but I just like buttons and dials. Anything touchscreen (even my phone, which as you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of generally) is too fiddly sometimes with a touchscreen.

I’ve never used a camera with a touchscreen and the thought seems to go against the things I hold dear about a proper camera.

So whilst in terms of convenience and the final image, yes a camera phone is all I need, I still miss that feel good (literally) factor that cameras like the GRD III and others give.

And I don’t intend to give them up anytime soon.

How about you? Are you happy with just a camera as a phone? If so, let us know why, and if not, why not?

As always, please share your thoughts below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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36 thoughts on “All I Need Now Is A Camera Phone?”

  1. My iPhone X is the only camera I use for digital photography, and the only camera I use for color photography. Even the most user friendly proper digital cameras have so many controls and options that I find a major distraction, even if I don’t use them. With my old film cameras I choose a film, set the aperture, set the shutter speed, focus manually, and choose a developer – five choices total. The iPhone comes closer to that level of simplicity than any proper digital camera I have used albeit with a completely different user interface.

    1. Counterpoint.

      With my Fuji X-T3 digital cameras, I choose the film simulation mode, set the aperture, set the shutter speed, focus manually, exposure compensation – five choices total. iPhone camera apps often come with an overwhelming list of options and filters.

      1. As others have pointed out, the day to day operation of any digital camera, be it a smartphone, a point & shoot, a DSLR or whatever, can be as simple as the user wants. Set it up once and get on with it. I am just more comfortable ignoring the options and controls on the iPhone than on the “proper” digital cameras I have used. FWIW all the camera options on my iPhone are set to their default values.

    1. There must be a market for a small compact digital that works well ergonomically as a camera, but also has a touchscreen and the technology to be used as a phone… Maybe three years ago though, perhaps the current camera tech inside phones is so evolved now it would be seen as pointless backward step.

      1. I have a weird sense of humour. When I bought my first iPhone (iPhone 4) for me it was a mobile computer with a decent camera. Now I upgrade just to get a better camera. It’s a camera with a mobile computer. My iPhone 11 Pro cost me about the same as a Fuji X100F/100V. The iPhone fit in my pocket and the Fuji did not. 😁

      2. We’ve definitely passed that tipping point where the cameras in phones are more than good enough to not need a digital compact as well. Or arguably any other camera, which is how this discussion started.

        Whilst I haven’t ever spend what I consider too much on a phone (the highest was my previous Sony Xperia, around £300, the current Realme 6 Pro was around £230), I do spend more easily than on a camera, just because a phone does so much more. It’s incredible that £230 (or less, there are very good £150 Realme and other brand models) can get you a device that you can do so much with.

      3. For a 35mm camera with a diagonal of 43mm, “Normal” basically encompasses anything between 40mm and 45mm. The 50mm focal length was chosen by Oskar Barnack, the creator of the Leica camera, and we’ve been stuck with this vendor definition of a standard for decades.

        In the motion picture industry, the 25mm focal length was the standard for many years. I think the 26mm equivalent focal length on the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro is designed for just that. It’s also an excellent approximation to the 28mm lenses shipped with most traditional point n shoot 35mm film compact cameras.

        Traditional 35mm film portrait lenses are 70-90mm. The 77mm eq on the iPhone is designed for portrait photography. Apple offered a 52mm equivalent on the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro for portraits, but it was too short. The 77mm equivalent lens is also a macro lens.

        The 13mm equivalent is, of course, for landscapes.

        All that to say that the popularity of a particular focal length has more to do with marketing and the ease of manufacturing of early lenses than with actual popularity.

        https://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2011/03/the-development-of-wide-angle-lenses/

      4. Yeh I’ve read the Leica 50mm standard a number of times before. I’ve come across many who like 42/43mm best as a focal length, the “normal” you talk about.

        I didn’t know that about movies, and of course it makes more sense with the wider lenses we’ve increasingly seen on phones – many/most people shoot more film than stills. In fact with my current phone, it’s the first time where I’ve intentionally shot a few seconds of film of one of our kids doing something, knowing I can extract stills from it afterwards, and get far better images than if I tried to follow their motion and capture perfect moments with still shots.

        However I do usually still zoom in with movies (I wrote about this in a blog post about the phone, go to the 2x zoom, then take it one notch back to 1.9x to re-enable the main, superior, faster lens) as I really don’t like those shots where people’s faces are elongated or otherwise distorted because of the wide lens being used.

        You see so many “selfies” where people looks like horses, so long are their faces with a 25mm or wider lens!

      5. Ha yes I just mean it stretches people’s faces out longer than they are in reality, because if the wide angle lens.

        One if my favourite jokes that appeals to my generally quite silly sense of humour is – A horse walks into a bar. The barman says “Why the long face?”.

      6. For a close group shot of say three or four people, or a child in action, 50mm is fine. But yes for a closer head and shoulders portrait 70mm onwards is about right. Definitely nothing wide angle!

  2. I replaced my unrepairable Fuji X-T2 with a Fuji X-T3. The X-T3 has a touchscreen. I turned it off.

    My iPhone 11 Pro (my fIfth iPhone) is a software algorithm based camera system with three lenses and a large 4K touch screen. It also does some computing tasks. 😂

  3. Counterpoint.

    With my Fuji X-T3 digital cameras, I choose the film simulation mode, set the aperture, set the shutter speed, focus manually, exposure compensation – five choices total. iPhone camera apps often come with an overwhelming list of options and filters.

      1. I missed out on a really affordable Fujifilm XQ1 a while back. This camera not only has the Fujifilm modes, it has an XTrans sensor as well. I think it makes a difference and is better than other CMOS sensors.
        I still look around to see if I find a good deal on one (or the XQ2), might get one as a pocket camera eventually.

      2. That XQ1 looks like it has plenty going for it. Design is a bit slab like though, no sign of any kind of hand grip (you know how I love the perfect form of the Rioch GRD!)

  4. I think I mentioned this before: if I could only use one camera, it would be my phone cam. No doubt. I enjoy shooting the α6000 sometimes and my Holga very occasionally – but I do miss the convenience and liberating feeling that mobile photography brings.

    Ergonomics-wise, my Xperia has the advantage that – like other Sony mobile phones – it has a dedicated physical shutter button. Major plus.

    1. Robert, in what way(s) is phone photography liberating, compared with a small mirrorless camera? Do you mean the simplicity and the directness of the device itself, or the anonymity and discreteness it gives compared with wielding a “proper” camera on the street?

      A while back I dug out one of my old Sony Cyber-shot camera phones, one of the last that was designed to be used in landscape orientation and with a proper shutter button. Some of those pre-touchscreen phones from the mid to late 2000s weren’t much removed from a small digital compact in use, which was a major plus for me. Glad to hear Sony still offer that with new phones. I think I can set my phone so the volume buttons act as a shutter button, but not with the half press, so I stick with using volume buttons for zoom and the on screen touch button to release the shutter.

      1. Magnum photographer Gueorgui Pinkhassov once said: “Good pictures are the mistakes of bad pictures.” In other words, you have to take a lot of bad photos to “accidentally” get a good one.

        With traditional cameras – however small – I am too busy trying to get only good images. I don’t feel that “pressure” with a phone cam. I shoot a lot and I delete a lot, but I end up with a few really good ones. Probably the reason why my favourite photos of the past decade were all taken with a mobile phone.

      2. Well you do get some very good ones!

        Yes this reminds me that the “great” film photographers of course generally only published their very best work. We might be seeing only 1 in 100 or 1000 or 10000 less good pictures they actually made.

  5. My phone (Samsung A51) has a good camera, I guess, as far as phone cameras go. Not as good as yours Dan, but pretty decent with a 1/2″ sensor and f2 lens that is not too wide – the main lens and sensor are decent, the others are rubbish because this is not an expensive phone.
    But I still don’t use it all that much, why would I when I can make use of a larger sensor and fantastic lenses. Even if it is more work, because I have to shoot RAW (I recently gave up completely on in-camera JPEG because I am getting much better results in RawTherapee very quickly these days and JPEG engines frustrate me – but that’s a different story…).

    1. I think if we take phone cameras as an excellent family camera and a pretty good back up if we don;’t have our preferred “proper” camera(s) with us, they’re pretty faultless.

      For some reason I’m much happier spending 30 seconds in Snapseed tweaking a phone camera shot, than one made by a regular camera. I think partly because with the phone, the image is already there, it’s effortless, no downloading or transferring.

      And partly because I expect the regular camera to give me a rendition I like straight of camera, so it’s only very begrudgingly I turn to post processing.

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