Smartphone Vs Camera – Why Is This Still A Problem?

May 7, 2018

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

Smartphone Vs Camera – Why Is This Still A Problem?

May 7, 2018

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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Man using a smartphone to photograph the "Painted Ladies" homes in San Francisco

It’s 2018 and it blows my mind that we still have to choose between using a smartphone camera and a real camera.

Why hasn’t a single camera manufacturer added mobile data and standard smartphone apps to a real camera?

Why hasn’t a single smartphone manufacturer made a smartphone with a real camera attached to it?

How hard can this possibly be?

In this article, I will outline what I want in a smartphone/camera hybrid and why I think it would be an instant success.

Let me know if this situation sounds familiar…

You’re out photographing or filming something great with your professional camera: on assignment, on vacation, with the family etc.

You also want to share what you’re doing on social media right? So what do you do?

You pull out your smartphone and snap a few photos and film some short clips of the exact same thing you’ve already photographed/filmed. Or even worse, you forget in the moment and resort to sharing a few phone snapshots of your camera’s LCD screen.

Your smartphone photos/clips get a quick edit on your phone and then go straight to social in real time. Your professional camera photos have to be downloaded and imported to Lightroom, and then edited, and then if you’re on the ball, might get uploaded to social media in a few weeks.

Of course, by then, it’s yesterday’s news.

Smartphone Vs Camera – Why Is This Still A Problem?

Right now you can go out and purchase a real camera with a nice big sensor, great low light performance, interchangeable lenses and even a touchscreen, GPS, wifi, but no built-in mobile connectivity – think something along the lines of a Sony a6500.

Or you can purchase a smartphone or tablet with a (comparatively speaking) crappy camera but with mobile data, editing and social media apps – for the sake of argument, say a Samsung Galaxy S9.

Sony a6500: amazing camera – does pretty much anything you’d want to do for photography or video.

Galaxy S9: killer phone – does anything anyone could possibly want to do on a smartphone.

But you can’t have both.

Man using a smartphone to photograph redwood trees in Muir Woods National Monument

Minimum Camera/Mobile Phone Hybrid Requirements

Here’s a crazy idea – take a camera – like a Sony a6500 – and add on just the most basic smartphone capabilities.

Camera manufacturers – all you have to do is slightly upgrade the camera’s processing power, and install Android as the operating system (or keep the existing camera OS and just add “phone mode”).

Problem solved.

I mean, the camera already has a touchscreen, microphone, speakers, wifi, GPS, battery…it’s almost a smartphone anyway!

If the best camera is the one you have with you, I would much rather deal with posting to Instagram on a budget phone that also features a Sony a6500 level camera rather than taking pictures with a crappy camera that is also a top end smartphone.

People walk around in public with those stupid Apple earpods, so I’m sure nobody will think twice about texting on or talking to their camera.

Here are my requirements for a camera/mobile phone hybrid:

  • Minimum APS-C sized sensor
  • Minimum 25MP RAW still photos
  • Internal 4K video capture with log color profile
  • Internal 4K slow motion to 120 fps in a log color profile
  • In body stabilization
  • Interchangeable lenses (with a standard Canon/Nikon/Sony mount)
  • Eye autofocus
  • Low light stills and video to ISO 6400 or better
  • Professional level dynamic range
  • Automated wifi upload of image/video files to Dropbox (come on – why isn’t this standard on all cameras right now!)
  • Onboard social media apps including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, 500px, Flickr etc.
  • Touchscreen image editing and file management apps including Lightroom Mobile and Snapseed
  • GPS and Google Maps
  • Specialty photography apps like Easy Release, Stellarium, LR Timelapse, qDSLR Dashboard, DJI GO etc.
  • Onboard AI assist auto mode – like Arsenal
  • Mobile network connectivity for data, text, and talk (because I’d rather not have a phone at all).
  • List price between $1000 and $1500

Is there anybody out there that wouldn’t buy this camera?

And if anybody tells me that it would be too expensive or the technology would be too complicated – my two year old Sony a6300 already does most of the camera features listed, and my four-and-a-half year old Samsung Note 3 easily handles the mobile phone capabilities – they just need to be together in one device.

Viewfinder of a twin-lens reflex camera shows a view of the sun setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge

Why Can’t I Buy A Real Camera With a Built In Mobile Phone?

In all seriousness, why can’t I buy this camera right now?

Don’t camera manufacturers talk to cell phone manufacturers?

Couldn’t a cell phone manufacturer just buy out a less popular camera format like Fuji, Olympus or Pentax and Frankenstein a base model mobile phone together with an existing camera line?

Why are camera manufacturers still battling with mobile phone manufacturers for camera market share?

Why do mobile phone manufacturers still insist on tiny sensors and crappy lenses? (It doesn’t matter how many cameras they cram into a phone 2 or 3 or 16 – a tiny sensor, a crappy lens and buggy compositing software is still a tiny sensor, crappy lens and buggy software.)

Why do mobile phone manufacturers insist on trying to solve all their crappy phone camera’s hardware problems with software –  portrait mode, long exposure, dynamic range, noise reduction, AI scene modes…they all suck. Just build a phone with a real fu#king camera, real lenses and a real sensor!

What would you rather have – a great camera connected to a serviceable phone or a great phone connected to a mediocre camera?

Leave a comment below and share your thoughts!

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JP Danko

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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30 responses to “Smartphone Vs Camera – Why Is This Still A Problem?”

  1. stewart norton Avatar
    stewart norton

    Great point. How about a DSLR that has a removable screen that is actually a mobile phone that clips into the back and gives you functionally of both but you can just unclip the screen if you don’t want to take the whole body out.

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      That’s a fantastic idea! I’d buy that in a second too.

      1. stewart norton Avatar
        stewart norton

        I’ll get on it ?

    2. Jouni Rinne Avatar
      Jouni Rinne

      Otherwise a great idea, but the screen size would be a problem; what is good for DSLR use is too small to use as a proper smartphone, and vice versa.

      1. stewart norton Avatar
        stewart norton

        Yeah…you would have to find a compromise between too large a camera screen and too small a phone screen. Should be easier to once they have totally bezeless phones which won’t be long.

  2. john myers Avatar
    john myers

    It’s not exactly the camera you envision, but the Fuji cameras have an app that transfers your jpegs to your phone via a peer-t-peer wifi connection or tablet. From there you can process them in LR, or Snapseed or whatever and post away. Takes a minute, but it works.

    1. john myers Avatar
      john myers

      And your specs are whacked. There isn’t even just a camera that shoots 4k, 120fps, APS-C 25 MegaPickel images for $1500

  3. Eli Levitt Avatar
    Eli Levitt

    I have an a6000 and I simply use the wifi capabilities to instantly send the beautiful photos I take, sync them to my phone, edit on mobile apps, and upload to Instagram. The process takes only a few seconds longer than if I shot with the phone camera, and that said I can’t imagine needing a phone-camera hybrid, altough it would be really cool.

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      Ya…I do that too, but it’s really not the same seamless experience as with a mobile…plus I just really don’t like Sony’s app or menus.

      1. Glenn Zucman Avatar
        Glenn Zucman

        Agreed. I also have an a6000, and the wifi works WAY better than my Nikon D750. I LOVE the D750, but I don’t even try to use the wifi it’s so bad. By comparison to that Nikon low bar, the a6000 wifi is fantastic. But exactly as JP wrote in the article, why do we have to fuss with all of this. Isn’t the Phone-Camera hybrid he describes OBVIOUS? Exactly as he lamented, how can it possibly be 2018 and this device doesn’t exist???

  4. FairlyReasoner Avatar

    Well, I guess you told them.

  5. Glenn Zucman Avatar
    Glenn Zucman

    I ask this question every day! Thanks for posting about it!

  6. Richard McGrath Avatar
    Richard McGrath

    Samsung released the NX20 a few years ago and it was DSLR powered by Android with all the data connection and apps since it had Google play store, the biggest problem with that camera was it could only be charge with micro USB like most phone and it was very hard to find batteries for it. I used for about 6 months and it was good fun but only for travel did not see the value in it as a main dslr

  7. Ella Avatar

    Because people dont want to carry bulky camera as their daily phone, and not everyone is into professional photos (most people are happy with camera phone quality as they only use for social media sharing urposes).

    When I am travelling, I carry my DSLR, transfer to my phone wirelessly and have no issue with posting instantly to social media. Your argument of needing to be edited in Lightroom etc works the same if you have that standard even if you have sim card on your camera so this is invalid argument.

    At the end of the day its not about “why cant manufacturers do so?”, but “would people be willing to pay for it?” I know you would, but my guess is that you are minority that its probably not making financial sense to do so right now. Dont get me wrong, I am sure as technology gets better and cheaper phone manufacturers will put bigger and bigger sensor in, but my guess is that it will still take a while to have DSLR quality sensors in phone size.

    My two cents.

  8. Jouni Rinne Avatar
    Jouni Rinne

    I have to say I disagree with some of the points above…

    First, I definitely do NOT want a touchscreen+Android on my camera, at least not with current display tecnology. The screens would have to be much larger – too large for easy transport & handling – for that to work, and much, much better quality. The current displays on cameras are total crap, they are completely unusable on bright sunshine, for example.

    Second, a better camera on a smartphone is pointless – a smartphone as a camera is an ergonomical disaster anyway. Regardless of how good a camera it has, it is still a total pain-in-the-a** to use. For a smartphone to properly work as a camera it would need a handle, a non-touchscreen remote control and… well, then it would already be a camera instead of a smartphone.

    (I suppose it shows that I hate touchscreens… :-) )

    Instead, I’d like to dispense with the on-camera LCD altogether. Just a video viewfinder and mechanical controls. But – it would need to be able to be remotely controlled (“tethered”) by a smartphone or a tablet, either via USB cable or WiFi or any other wireless technology, somewhat along the lines of Olympus AIR A01. That way you are not tied to the crappy on-camera screen, but can choose your own control device. That also provides instant social media connectivity, and you are not tied to the apps installed to the on-camera Android.(I somehow doubt that the manufacturers would allow full Google Play support on those devices…)

    THAT kind of camera I would buy!

  9. Ralph Hightower Avatar
    Ralph Hightower

    I think the barriers are for the better. Can you imagine holding a Canon 1Dx II up to your ear to carry on a conversation. Having DSLR capability on your cellphone would make it difficult to carry the cellphone in your pants pocket.

    I can think of one place where cellphones are not allowed, but cameras are: at practice rounds of The Masters golf tournament. Now, during tournament play, cameras are not allowed on the course, except for news media. It would make it more difficult to determine what is a cellphone and what is not to the gatekeepers.

  10. Paddy Avatar

    I don’t see the point, I hate cell phones and love my cameras.

  11. Alex Bujorianu Avatar
    Alex Bujorianu

    It’s actually much easier to make a camera work like a phone than the other way round, you’re right about that. It’s not feasible to put a large sensor and high quality (multiple elements) lens in a phone—it’s simply too big and sucks too much power. Even a M43 camera with a pancake lens is too large to fit on a typical “slim” smartphone.

    As for why camera makers don’t do it—well, some of them do. The Zeiss ZX1, recently announced, will run Android and let you edit RAWs straight from the camera. I personally wouldn’t find much use for such a camera, though: you try uploading to social media when you’re on top of a mountain, with no connection, working in 40mph winds with sub-zero temperatures. But then I shoot landscapes and wildlife; my needs are obviously different from a portrait and events photographer.

  12. Lev Avatar

    Why people don’t understand that professionals don’t need to instantly upload or share taken pictures? First thing most if not all pros do is upload content in their PC, pixel peep, correct, adjust colors, contrast, make some distortion corrections as well etc etc and then publish finished photograph. If I want to share something in seconds I have my smartphone with me anytime anyways.

    1. ve Avatar

      why dont people understand not everyone who takes pictures is a profesional. most people go out, see that its a nice day, and take some pictures

      1. Geoffrey Johnson Avatar
        Geoffrey Johnson

        I think people do understand that objectives differ, some desire high quality images, and for some snapshots on a lovely day suffice.

  13. ve Avatar

    you use those big clumsy cameras as an example. nobody wants to carry a brick around

    1. Geoffrey Johnson Avatar
      Geoffrey Johnson

      For the most part, phones will not generally produce a high quality image. Thus, pros use cameras for this purpose. Yes, cameras are larger than phones.

  14. Skyhawk Avatar

    I rather a solid and to the point Camera that isn’t bloated with a bunch of features I’ll probably never use. I also wouldn’t want to edit photos on a tiny smart phone screen of questionable quality when I could use my 30 inch color calibrated monitor.

    Having Android or IOS on my DSLR or having it work like that just sounds revolting. Using my DSLR as a phone? – sacrilege!

  15. lauratiffany Avatar

    The Nikon DSLR I bought in 2016 has a touch screen and allows me to instantly toss pictures over to my iPhone wirelessly without an internet connection, and then I can instantly post them to social media. Takes a few seconds. I don’t see the problem.

  16. Rachel Humphrey Avatar
    Rachel Humphrey

    Motorola is on their way to getting the good mods with the camera

  17. Rachel Humphrey Avatar
    Rachel Humphrey

    how all the Motorola has to do is hire on safe Canon or Sony or one of the bigger brands for cameras and make mods with them and everything will be fine

  18. Edwin Spectra Avatar
    Edwin Spectra

    A real camera built into smartphones was made es Nokia Lumia 1020 and Symbian Nokia 808 purewiew but the sensor and lenses was bulky the phones not was stable on the table and was commercial failure
    The cameras not have fully smartphone pheature because the smartphone chip is expensive and the hot and battery consumption and a refresh system make cameras bulky and expensive…

  19. zormpas Avatar

    Why would I want this?
    I take pictures for myself, not for so-called “Social Media” which is a toxic morass at best. My pictures stay in my camera until I offload them into iPhoto to adjust, fix, rotate, and crop as needed as another poster here points out. Unfortunately, Apple is pushing for less “programs”, and more limited-use, crippled “Apps” – hence the iPhoto to “Photos” fiasco that was driven by the snapshot crowd.
    No thank you.

  20. Sami Faltas Avatar
    Sami Faltas

    Surely all we need is a camera that can send pictures to a phone or a computer. Such cameras are available. Right?