Smartphone as camera

Last week I spent 11 hours in a huge, crowded theme park. I saw rides, sweaty children, overpriced commemorative plastic cups and lots of people taking photographs. There was the occasional weirdo with a DSLR (who can navigate an amusement park with one of those monstrosities?), but most people were point-and-shoot photographers. And most of them were using phones.

As the camera optics in smartphones improve, I don’t know how camera manufacturers are going to keep up. I bought a Canon PowerShot about a year ago and rarely touch it. Why should I? My iPhone 4S is always with me. It’s got 8-megapixel resolution and a flash. It’s small, light and has decent storage. Plus, the iPhone lets me immediately edit and share photos in a huge number of ways. The Canon makes me wait until I’m home. Even then, I must connect to a computer, upload the photos, get them into an app and then work with them.

My own observations suggest that people use phones to take casual photographs more often than point-and-shoot cameras. That’s anecdotal, of course, so let’s look at some empirical data.

Flickr’s Camera Finder suggests that the iPhone 4 is the most popular camera among its users. The breakdown looks like this:

1. iPhone 4
2. Canon EOS 5D Mark II
3. Nikon D90
4. Canon EOS REBEL T2i
5. Canon EOS 7D

Flickr ranks popular cameraphones like this:

1. Apple iPhone 4
2. Apple iPhone 4S
3. Apple iPhone 3GS
4. Apple iPhone 3G
5. Samsung Galaxy S II

The iPhone 3G is still the champ for total number of photos shared by Flickr users at 40,743,567. There’s a caveat here, however, and it’s a big one. Flickr:

“The graphs are only accurate to the extent that we can automatically detect the camera used to take the photo or shoot the video (about 2/3rds of the time). That is not usually possible with cameraphones, therefore they are under-represented.”

There’s more. Last year, MG Siegler noted that Flickr doesn’t count photos uploaded from apps like Instagram as being taken with an iPhone. Therefore, the numbers could be much higher. [1. I don’t know if that’s still true of Instagram, etc.]

Flickr is but one service and its numbers aren’t representative of the photo-snapping public at large, no matter how high. Still, its data suggests that smartphones are hugely popular as cameras. With the iPhone 4S, I’m happy to use a phone as my primary camera, 24/7. Below are some photos I shot with my 4S and some with my Canon. See if you can identify which is which. I’m not a skilled photographer, so don’t judge me on composition and quality, please.

The point is that people seem to be moving away from standalone cameras and embracing phones for their casual photography needs. I’m one of them, and I won’t be looking back.

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