- Posted by Paul Nuttall
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Are mobile phone cameras good enough to beat the best sub-£100 compact?
Until fairly recently if you wanted to take pictures you'd need a dedicated camera - with either compact or DSLR being more or less the full commercial end of the spectrum. But it's not just in the dedicated camera market where imaging technologies have been advancing...
When manufacturers first introduced cameras into mobile devices, the quality was, generally speaking, good for little more than sharing candid moments and snaps of your friends to other devices with tiny screens that wouldn't amplify the limitations of the quality. However, the new wave of recent cameraphones have advanced so much in recent years that they can, at least on paper, be seen as genuine challengers to the compact camera market.
Resolution now extends up to 12MP in some devices, though, as we know, this is by no means a guarantee of decent image quality. And it's not just still images where improvements have been seen: HD video capture is now pretty much as standard, as are dedicated camera buttons on handset bodies. Optics have also been considered in this new revolution, with partnerships formed between phone-makers and lens manufacturers such as Carl Zeiss.
With significant marketing campaigns often touting these new mobiles as the be-all and end-all of your photography needs, the question is whether all these developments have truly taken the cameraphone's imaging abilities up a notch - are they good enough to do away with the compact camera altogether?
I wish that there was a simple answer to the question ‘Is the cameraphone now as good as a compact?' but it's really hard to reduce it to a yes or no answer.
Compact Canon A495 vs cameraphone Nokia N8
In our November issue of WDC we comapred the Canon A495 compact to the top camerphones. The best camerphone was the Nokia N8, beating Apple's iPhone 4 by just a fraction. Obviously with the iPhone you're able to enhance your images with apps but the Nokia N8 just edged past the iPhone 4, owing to the slightly better image quality and more dedicated camera functionality. But then how did the Nokia N8 compare to the Canon A495?
In many areas the Nokia N8 is now preferable to cameras such as the Canon PowerShot A495. For example, the N8's 3.5in TFT touchscreen dwarfs the A495's 2.5in 115k-dot LCD screen in both size and quality. Furthermore, the availability of ‘apps' in the Ovi Store mean that the functionality of the N8 is readily improvable - and I wouldn't be surprised if this concept was adopted by the larger camera manufacturers in coming years.
However, for certain things you really can't get past the Canon A495. The 3x optical zoom trumps the fixed-lens digital offering of the N8, and while the camera controls of the N8 are best-in-class, the control layout of the A495 is still preferable.
Finally, and to some most importantly, is image quality. Images with the N8 are the best I've seen from a cameraphone to date, but for fine detail, colour and tonal range the A495 wins it. So, if you're looking for the best photos and the best camera experience, you'd best stick to the compact - though for some the cameraphone is a stronger option than ever, if not the winner.