Four Ways Camera Phones Are Better Than Cameras

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Aside from telling you when the bus will arrive, keeping tabs on your location, and maintaining an always-on connection to your various social networks, your phone takes decent pictures. It's always in your pocket, too. If your phone offers that much functionality in addition to snapping serviceable photos, is there any reason to carry a dedicated camera with you?

Well, yeah. There are plenty, actually. Superior image quality, manual controls, and high-zoom optics are the obvious ones. Oh, and we've yet to see a smartphone camera that accepts interchangeable lenses, has optical image stabilization, provides good high-ISO performance, or supports high-speed burst shooting. In short, DSLR owners should stick with a DSLR.

But beyond that, it's getting harder to make the case that a stand-alone camera is a must-have device for casual snapshooters. In fact, there are several ways in which a puny-lensed, small-sensored camera phone offers a better overall photography experience than a dedicated snapshot camera.

Point-and-shoot cameras, are you taking notes? Here are four ways that smartphone cameras are beating you at your own game.

App Stores

Is your camera jealous of the downloadable extras that your phone has at its disposal? It should be. Smartphone apps are even making forays into areas involving some cameras' core controls: You can find iPhone apps that let you wirelessly control a DSLR and use the iPhone screen as a remote viewfinder.

When you buy a camera, you're effectively locked into the modes and features included in the preinstalled firmware. Some great workarounds, such as the Canon Hacker's Development Kit, let you add useful features to lower-end point-and-shoots. But nothing matches the simplicity of visiting an online marketplace, downloading an app, and installing it on your camera.

Camera-specific app stores would take care of many of the shortcomings that point-and-shoots have in comparison to smartphones. You could introduce RAW-shooting capabilities to lower-end cameras. You could add full-featured in-camera editing suites such as Apple's iMovie and Adobe's Mobile. You could download in-depth in-camera tutorials and field guides for the types of photography you're most interested in. You could tack on new scene modes and creative filters to experiment with, and you could delete the ones you don't use.

It's high time for in-camera features to go à la carte. Though the app store model counts as only one way that smartphone cameras are outdoing dedicated cameras, it actually represents infinity-plus-one ways, because that's the number of features it could add to your camera.

Wireless Sharing Features

The Eye-Fi series of Wi-Fi-enabled SD Cards does an admirable job of bringing the convenience of the cloud to compatible cameras, and we've also seen a few Wi-Fi-enabled cameras that try to do it all by themselves; for instance, Samsung just announced the Wi-Fi-capable ST80.

We've yet to use a Wi-Fi-enabled camera that can equal the painless wireless sharing most smartphones permit, however, owing to limitations on browsing within the camera (usually a camera supports only a handful of sharing sites) and to user interfaces that tend not to be as polished as the ones you'd find in a phone.

Today's phones beat any camera's Wi-Fi-based sharing options by offering the upload-anywhere convenience of a 3G or an EDGE connection. They let you switch to Wi-Fi when you need it, and they support full Web browsers and more-refined interfaces for uploading photos and videos to sharing and social-networking sites. After all, phones are designed to be big-screen mobile communications devices, while Wi-Fi-enabled cameras still seem to treat Web access as an afterthought.

Stand-alone cameras have a lot of catching up to do in the realm of wireless sharing, as they're three steps behind the smartphone curve: no cellular data options, no full Web browsers, and inferior interfaces for accessing the Web. The only hope that stand-alone cameras have of evening the playing field on sharing involves the emergence of a free, Amazon Whispernet-like wireless service for cameras or the ability to tether your camera to your phone.

In Video: Four Ways Camera Phones Are Better Than Cameras

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