Just because you leave the house every day with your cell phone and not a camera doesn't mean point-and-shoots are dead. Six of the 10 highest-traffic cameras reviews on CNET are point-and-shoots, with the No. 1 spot going to the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V.
After reading countless blog posts and comments about the death of the category, I can say for certain there are a lot of people who are completely unaware of what current compact cameras offer.
And this isn't just about photo quality. If you're OK with your soft, blurry, noisy photos from your smartphone that only look good viewed on a small screen and slathered with effects, that's fine. I totally get the "good enough" culture that Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites have created.
What I'm talking about are the other benefits that you get from having a dedicated camera. That includes obvious things like a better lens and controls, and lesser-known stuff like slow-motion video capture, high-speed burst shooting, or multishot image processing. Basically, if you think scene modes and better photo quality are all current point-and-shoots have to offer, it's time to check out just what's available.
With that in mind, here's my list of 10 things (although I can come up with more) that make a point-and-shoot camera better than your phone's camera.
For a lot of people, optical zoom is the biggest feature missing from smartphones; with rare exceptions, the only option on mobile devices is image-destroying digital zoom. A good zoom lens, of course, can be used to bring distant subjects closer. But it can also be used for several other things, such as changing the relative size of subjects or compressing the distance between them, or, in the case of this photo, creating an out-of-focus background -- no dSLR or software needed.
Even a sub-$100 point-and-shoot can take better macro photos than a smartphone. Many models can focus at less than half an inch from a subject and, depending on the quality of the camera's high-resolution photos, you can enlarge them and view sharp fine details. Plus, with a camera's slightly larger sensors, you're actually able to create a shallow depth of field.
Anyone who's tried to capture a picture of a fast-moving child or pet with a smartphone knows how tricky it can be. Even when you think you've gotten the shot, chances are if you look at it larger, it's blurry, soft, noisy, or all of the above. Camera makers have been improving all aspects of shooting performance, though; startup time, shutter lag, and shot-to-shot times are much better than they were even a couple years ago. Plus, since cameras have a shutter release button, it's easier to hold the camera and quickly prefocus again and again until you get the shot you want. That's not exactly easy to do when you're trying to hold your phone and tap a screen.
One of my favorite Android camera apps is Fast Burst Camera, which lets you fire off shots at up to 30 frames per second. However, that's at a significantly reduced resolution, whereas a camera like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V can shoot 10fps at its full 16-megapixel resolution. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 is even better, shooting at up to 60fps at reduced resolutions, 10fps at full resolution, and up to 5fps with autofocus.
Obviously, if you're only going to take a couple snapshots or a 30-second movie clip, it won't eat up too much of your smartphone's battery. But if you're out shooting at an event, on vacation, or simply while out and about for the day, using your phone's camera will drain your battery.
Apps, music, movies, they all take up valuable storage space on mobile devices. Like battery life, storage space is one of those things that most people don't think about when it comes to shooting photos and movies all the time with their phones. Again, if you're just taking the occasional snapshot or movie clip, it's not a big deal. But if your smartphone's become your only camera, it's something to consider. With a dedicated camera, you can shoot as much as you want without worrying about running out of space on your phone. And for those who want the instant gratification of mobile uploads, Eye-Fi's Mobile X2 cards will let you do that with Android and iOS devices.
Optical or sensor-shift image stabilization
Smartphones only have digital image stabilization, which, like digital zoom, degrades image quality. Cameras, except really low-end ones, have either optical or sensor-shift image stabilization to help with camera shake, and it has no impact on photo quality and is much more effective. In fact, image stabilization has gotten so good that manufacturers are able to offer longer lenses that are actually usable handheld.
High-quality filters and effects
Likely in response to the abundance of filter apps, camera manufacturers started adding more and more effects and filters to their cameras. The two examples above are part of Canon's options: Miniature Effect (also known as tilt-shift) and Color Accent, which lets you highlight one color and turn the rest of the photo monochrome. These effects and many others can be found on a wide variety of cameras, high- and low-end, and the results are generally better than you'd get from most apps. Plus, you can typically shoot with a preview of the effect onscreen -- not just applied after the fact -- and capture at the camera's full resolution.
If you thought the only reason to hit the Play button on a camera was to view your shots, you're missing out. Most new compacts allow you to crop, resize, soften skin, correct exposure (such as Nikon's D-Lighting feature used on the photo above), remove red-eye, and sharpen. You'll also find options for applying effects, color filters, adding frames or borders, and even drawing on photos with some touch-screen models. Basically, you'll find plenty of ways to tweak your photos in camera so you don't have to touch any desktop software before uploading or printing.
While video used to be an afterthought on point-and-shoots, that hasn't been the case for some time. Shooting movie clips with a camera gets you benefits like use of a zoom lens, optical image stabilization, and the capability to capture stills while the camera continues to record video. The 13-megapixel photo above was taken with the Sony HX10V as it was recording full HD video at 60i. (Oh, and just because your phone captures full HD movies, doesn't mean the actual quality is any good; more goes into making good-looking video than resolution.) Many cameras let you record video with filter effects or shoot high-speed video for slow-motion clips, too.