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Will mobile phones kill off low-end cameras?

What is your primary camera? Is it a DSLR? A lower-end pocket digital camera? Or is it a mobile phone? Chances are it’s probably a combination of at least two devices, one of which is primarily used as a phone. I use a good DSLR, but for projects like The Best Camera I rely exclusively on my iPhone, which as we all know, is not particularly good at taking pictures.

More and more people use their mobile phones as a camera (or instead of one) as the quality of the images they produce has improved dramatically over the past few years. And according to a recent report by iSuppli, the low-end digital camera market is under great pressure from mobile phone manufacturers who release more better quality camera phones boasting, among other things, high resolution image sensors.

iSuppli forecasts that by 2013 the average mobile camera resolution will rise to 5.7 megapixels. Between 2008 and 2009 this resolution rose by 0.6 megapixels, from 1.5 to 2.1 Mp. Within the next three years compact digital cameras will be able to produce images which are, on average, up to 13.9 megapixels in size.

iSuppli reckons that with better image quality management tools mobile phone manufacturers might be able to persuade those who wouldn’t risk “a precious family photo” to ditch their compact cameras for better performing camera phones. It also predicts that Asian and European users will be more willing to make the jump.

It’s all fine and makes sense, but I’m surprised iSuppli in its report ignored one, crucial aspect of the whole issue: the ability to share your photos with the world instantly.

I guess this will be the real deciding factor here. Whether you’re at a gig, witnessing something newsworthy or just want to take a quick photo of something to share, you are probably less worried about the overall quality (which in most cases wouldn’t be that much better if you had a small compact camera on you anyway), but more about being able to share the image.

Mobile phones allow users to do MMS a picture, email it, share it instantly on Facebook, Twitter, other networking sites, upload to Flickr, Picasa, etc. Yes, in theory you could do the same with any camera and an Eye-Fi memory card, but your average Joe probably won’t bother with that. Plus most smartphones – and the iPhone in particular – have some great photo apps like the above mentioned Best Camera app.

So, yes, mobile phones are likely to put pressure and possibly even kill off lower-end cameras (if they haven’t already), but the number of pixels – even though it’s still used as a strong USP in marketing campaigns –  will probably not be the most crucial of factors in the future.


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