Smartphone cameras vs. traditional cameras

June 28, 2011 5:18:44 AM PDT
If you like taking pictures with your cell phone, no doubt you've wondered if you still need a regular camera.

Consumer Reports decided to get a little snap happy in order to answer that question.

Georgette Strobel uses the camera on her cell phone all the time.

"The last thing on my mind is carrying a huge camera bag, so when I realize I have my phone, it's perfect," he said.

Snapping shots with your phone is a great option because you almost always have it with you. And you can store your favorite ones - like a portable photo album.

But can a smartphone camera take the place of a real one? Consumer Reports' photography expert Terry Sullivan wanted to find out.

"I decided to use a birthday party, since that's a great example of a tricky lighting situation," he said.

Terry used two smart phones that perform well in Consumer Reports tests - the iPhone and a T-Mobile G2X - to take pictures of the kids singing happy birthday.

For comparison, Terry also took pictures with two top-performing cameras - an SLR that costs more than $1,000 and a point-and-shoot that costs about $300.

The results? Well, the pricey SLR camera did the best, with vibrant colors and lots of detail in the shadows.

The point-and-shoot photos were also pretty good, with nice color. But the camera couldn't get in as many people in the picture because it didn't have a wide-angle lens.

The smart phones didn't have a wide-angle, either - and the zoom and flash were not camera quality.

That said, with both of the smart phones, Terry was still able to get some OK shots.

"Cell phones are great for when you're on the go," he said. "They're easy to use and offer a way to share and store photos. But for a special event, you're probably better off with a camera."

That way you have a better chance of taking photos that will preserve life's special moments.

Consumer Reports says a good choice for an SLR camera is the Nikon D-3100. It costs about $600. It delivers very good photos, even in low light, and very good video also in the same conditions. For much less, Consumer Reports recommends a point-and-shoot from Canon - the Powershot SD 940 I-S Elph. It costs about $200. While it doesn't take great photos in low light, it takes very good flash photos and video.