As both smartphone cameras and digital camera technologies become more commodified, the question of which is better grows more complex. Over a decade ago, in 2010, the digital camera industry peaked — and then shrunk until 2021. Fortune’s feature on the renaissance of digital cameras offers a philosophical exploration of why Gen Z are picking up digital cameras made in the 2000s despite how “easy” smartphones have made photography in recent years.
Whether for nostalgia or wanting the challenge of using older technology compared to automated and AI-powered cameras, the digital camera industry is projected to continue its growth in the coming years, even as smartphone cameras continue to upgrade. That said, smartphone cameras do provide a level of convenience and quality worth celebrating. Below, we’ll explore which is better between smartphone cameras and digital cameras:
One of the first arguments someone may have for choosing a smartphone over a digital camera is that they are easier and more convenient to carry. After all, most digital cameras won’t easily fit in your pocket and may even require special carrying bags. However, some digital cameras have evolved over the years to come in smaller forms, such as mirrorless cameras. Adorama’s best mirrorless cameras demonstrate how they have smaller bodies compared to old digital cameras.
Case in point, the Sony Alpha 7S III features a new design that prevents overheating through effective heat dissipation despite its compact body dimensions. Most importantly, this smaller digital mirrorless camera doesn’t compromise image quality and performance. The Alpha 7S III has a normal range of 80-102,400 which results in the most high-def images regardless of its more compact body. This is a slight advantage of not having to fit everything in a slim, pocket-sized smartphone.
Speaking of size, a camera’s sensor size matters even more than its body and its megapixels (MP). While smartphones are conveniently small and easy to use compared to digital cameras, the conventional smartphone body limits its camera sensors’ size. In photography, the bigger the sensor, the more light it captures, creating more detailed photos and ensuring better quality photographs in low-light situations. Android Authority’s article on smartphone camera sensors explains this as one of the reasons 16MP digital cameras still look better than 108MP smartphones. For reference, most digital cameras have a more than one-inch sensor to let in as much light as possible.
This may be why modern smartphones have made it a standard to host multiple cameras on their back. With the limited sensor size, some smartphones rely on their computing power to automate and combine images their multiple lenses capture to create as much detail as possible. However, smartphones such as the Xiaomi 12S Ultra have recently pushed this sensor limit, debuting a one-inch sensor size for its 50MP camera.
Lastly, smartphones and digital cameras today can capture good quality video without the film grain and glitches seen in older technology such as camcorders and VHS tapes. In fact, people are even making short- and feature-length films using smartphone cameras nowadays. Both the smartphone and the digital camera can record up to 8K resolution videos at various framerates. To illustrate, a Xiaomi listed on Game News 24 reveals that the new 13 series smartphones offer some of the most impressive phone cameras to date. For instance, the Xiaomi 13 Pro offers 8K video recording and a Dual Video mode to film using two of the phone’s cameras simultaneously, and 4K resolution at 60 frames per second if recording in Dolby Vision — a colour-enhancing HDR mode.
At the same time, the Fujifilm X-H2 records 8K using its high-resolution sensor and in-body stabilization. The only difference? Digital cameras and their bigger form factors allow longer 8K recording sessions without overheating — a feat smartphones are yet to overcome without external cooling fans.
At the end of the day, while their specs may seem similar, the debate between smartphone cameras and digital cameras can easily be settled depending on your needs. Some people want a portable and easy-to-carry camera, and a smartphone fulfils that, along with a range of other features — such as communications, games, and productivity. Meanwhile, other people may photograph or film videos for a living and need a dedicated tool without the other bells and whistles like social media or a compact form factor. Ultimately, the better tool depends on what you need and what you use a camera for.