iPhone 4 and the demise of the digital camera

- June 21st, 2011

cell phone camera

Don’t go getting too attached to your digital camera. If reports out of both the Flickr and PCWorld camps are any indication, they’ll soon go the way of the Betamax thanks to smartphones.

The problem the humble digital camera faces is that it does exactly what it says: it takes photos, with maybe some video thrown in for good measure. The iPhone 4, on the other hand, is primarily a phone but team its 5-megapixel camera with a number of clever, affordable, optimized photography apps, and you’ve got yourself a lethal one-two combo.

So what is it exactly about the iPhone 4 camera that’s capturing people’s hearts and minds? During last year’s keynote speech at WWDC, Steve Jobs announced the phone’s 5 million pixels installed onto a 1/3.2-inch backside-illuminated CMOS sensor. It’s this feature that allows the iPhone 4 camera to out-perform smartphones boasting more pixels.

The iPhone 4’s low-light performance is also far superior to most competing smartphones. It has larger pixels to thank for this. Where other manufacturers have opted to shrink pixels to fit more in, Apple hasn’t.

Of course the iPhone 4 camera’s fixed f/2.8 aperture may not win over professional shutterbugs, but for point and click enthusiasts it gets the job done very nicely indeed.

So what do the world’s camera giants, like Canon, make of the iPhone 4 threat? Unsurprisingly, they’ve been largely quiet to date, although it’s no secret that digital camera shipments have been on the decline this year.  In the sage words of WirelessGoodness.com ”While there’s no question that DSLRs and micro 4/3 cameras have found a space at the higher end of the consumer photography market, I wouldn’t be surprised if growth in the low end of the consumer digital camera market slows to a crawl over the next few years.“

Still having trouble imagining a world without digital camera? Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that people said the Kindle would never catch on.

To make the most of your smartphone’s camera, check out AppTV’s guide to the best photography and video apps. To see the growing dominance of the iPhone 4 in the digital camera world, take a look at the infographic below.

iPhone 4 World's Most Popular Camera

Thanks to Geekaphone for the iPhone 4 Infographic.

Source: Natalie Chandler, GetConnected

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16 comments

  1. OJA | June 21, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Smartphone photography has only one basis: laziness – another basis is an ignorance or un-caring of what good photography is.

    The convenience of a camera in your pocket shouldn’t be confused with good photography which is another level up. Unfortunately you have to carry another instrument designed for this purpose with you.

    Anyone who knows what good photography is, accurate framing so you know exactly what is in the shot at the edges, sometimes fast quick reflexes to capture a moment, overcoming difficult lighting conditions such as low light, or backlighting, good bounce lit flash exposures to soften glare on people’s faces, using an extreme wide angle or telephoto zoom to capture that sunset in the Himalayas or that gazelle on the horizon; these are beyond the capability of the i – or any smartphone camera.

    I think most people realize this, but statistics and articles like this one are simplistic and do a disservice to the medium.

  2. romy | June 22, 2011 at 6:12 am

    i agree with you Oja. Good photography needs the appropriate camera. i own a Nikon D70 and an iPhone 4. i also have an HD video camera (Canon). i had to travel to Cameroon and i took all the cameras. i should recognise that for convenience sake, i have been using the iphone 4 more than 90% of time.
    it is cumbersome to carry around the hefty Nikon or the digital camera. i am very happy so far with the results i must confess.

  3. Jesse Michaels | June 22, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Dictating to people what camera/lens combo they should carry doesn’t help the cause of “good photography”.

    Great photos can indeed be taken with an iPhone or similar – witness http://www.flickr.com/groups/takenwithiphone/

  4. alex | June 23, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Ya i would really love to see someone with an i-phone do sports photography/wildlife photography/macro photography/portrait (specific lighting needed). this is such a dumb article

  5. dmi | June 23, 2011 at 8:52 am

    While I’m not a professional photographer I have sold a number of photos over the years that have been used in advertising and part of the decor in restaurants and hotels. Not one of those photos could have been taken using a cell phone and all but the most high end point and shoot would have struggled.

    Under ideal conditions most point and shoot and many cell phones can take really good photos. But the best photos are quite often not taken under ideal conditions.

    I happily lug 20lbs of gear all over the planet because I want the best photos possible under any conditions and I want the creative control that is only available with an SLR. When the SLR is not an option I bring my Canon G12. I have many cell phones and rarely use them to take photos as I’ve just never been happy with the quality.

  6. John | June 23, 2011 at 9:53 am

    I agree with the majority of writers, this article is way too simplistic. It is nice to have a gadget that does multiple tasks but such gadgets are jacks of all trades and masters of nun. Truth be told smart phones aren’t even good phones. Many folks don’t appreciate good photography and they will use their phone, not knowing any better. For those who appreciate photography, a camera is a must. You can’t replace the value of a good lens, a good sensor. As for sales being down, could it be due to the fact that the market is saturated with digital cameras, and now just about everyone owns one and doesn’t need another.

  7. slype | June 23, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Wow.. that infographic is a total fanboy invention. I’m really surprised that it was posted with this article because it is heavily biased, incorrect and poorly written.

    That aside, I have a Rebel XTi that I use with several lenses and I’m sorry, the photos I take with my portrait and telephoto lenses are way beyond anything that my iPhone and other smartphones can do.

    Sure it’s great if you are more worried about drinking or smoking up at a party than taking pictures. It’s also great to take pics of prices in stores, boardroom whiteboards and other simple things but no way in hell is it ready to replace SLRs. Give it another 5 years and then maybe we can talk. The author should have written that they are BEGINNING to replace them but are a ways off. I think the best thing going for the smartphones right now are the built-in apps.

    I think that Canon and Nikon should have similarly built-in apps into their cameras (and allow them to be updated). To do that, they would contact the authors of the camera apps and sign them to a deal. I’m sure it would be a big hardware change for those companies but it would be a good step for them to future proof their consumer markets. Otherwise, they will be relegated to the high end folk while 99% of the population makes due with their iPhone 11s and Android 15′s (Peanut Buster Parfait).

  8. Tony | June 23, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    This article isn’t talking about the Iphone replacing someones professional photography gear. It’s talking about the Iphone replaceing the average digital camera that the average person takes photos with. I have absolutely no use for my digital camera anymore.

  9. johnny | June 23, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    this article must have been produced by steve jobs because it is so very biased. It is this type of ‘reporting’ that reduces journalism to advertising. They should put warnings on articles like this; something like “warning: the following article has no basis in reality and is a complete fabrication of a soon to be unemployed writer”

  10. Lil' Mikey | June 23, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    I notice the link from the main page spells Canon as “Cannon”. LOL!

  11. John | June 23, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Do I take picture more “often” with my IPHONE4 than with the several digital cameras I own? Yes. Do I take more pictures with the IPHONE4 … not even close. The IPHONE to the point is there with me almost all the time. I use it to “document” I do not use it to “take pictures”.

    The sensor is at best “tolerable” in the IPHONE4.

    This article: — first, low light performance has absolutely NOTHING – NADA to do with pixel size. Let me repeat nothing. Low noise performance is a combination of read-noise of the sensor (not pixel size dependent) and lens size. The IPHONE “may” have a low noise sensor (comparatively), but it’s lens, though fixed F2.8 sounds great, but realistically it’s a small piece of glass and cannot capture much light compared to a real camera, point and shoot or not.

    And there is the crux of every cell and camera phone …. the lens. When they incorporate a tolerable zoom lens, then yes, point and shoots for me may become something I do not use as often. However, I have a small camera with a 10x zoom … never likely to be in an IPHONE.

    Will the IPHONE cut into very low end point and shoot …. probably, but for documentation, not taking pictures… there is a difference.

  12. Kevin Carpenter | June 23, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    I took the bait and read the article that appears to be an iPhone ad.

    Surprisingly some reviews of these phones seem to gloss over reception and dropped calls while spending more time on the retina displays, the app store or the processor. Maybe phones should work well as phones before they worry about being a good compact camera?

    On sites like Flikr or Twitter the connectivity and unbiquity of smart phones will show more uploads than dedicated cameras perhaps. However the stats on Zenfolio or Smugmug most likely would show the opposite.

    The larger sensors and faster lenses of some compacts and SLRs give more quality and flexibility. Each has it’s place.

  13. JJ | June 23, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    I read the article because I was sucked in by the headline. What a waste of time. Without a doubt, this is an ad for Apple. This whole Canoe website sucks. I’m switching my homepage over to Google news. It may not be the best, but it’s better than this right wing propaganda sewage they pump out every day.

  14. Don H | June 23, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    I just bought the iPhone 4 and it does take nice pictures. I also have a high quality DLSR. If I want to make a phone call, I use a phone. If I want a good picture, I use my Nikon D300s. And if I want to take video, I will get a proper video camera. So the right tool for the job still applies. Nothing can match my DSLR for good photos. However, I do like Apple as a smartphone and is the best in my opinion. This concept applies to all things in life.

  15. Greg Gazin | June 24, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    Since I have an iPhone, I do use my point and shoot much less, but I still use it. However, if the opportunity arises I will carry more than one device; I’m certainly not a professional photographer and you never know if the shot will come out, so I often take multiples. Digital storage is cheap these days.

  16. Canon Shooter | July 5, 2011 at 5:02 am

    The Iphone will never replace the profesional photogarpher, or the professional camera. I have both, and for snap shot the iphone works well, but for good photographs you will need a dslr and some knowledge.

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