Smartphones ready to replace point-and-click cameras
SMARTPHONES are starting to pose an even greater threat to their camera peers, with a host of new features, extra sensors, more megapixels, and manual modes designed to mimic results from digital SLR cameras.
And while professional photographers are yet to ditch their big cameras for slender handsets, they are supplementing their photography with smartphones, and claim the new generation of mobile cameras is capable of replacing compact models.
Huawei became the latest company to up the game with this month's release of an updated, Leica-branded Dual Camera inside its Mate 9 smartphone.
The unique camera uses a 20-megapixel black-and-white sensor in addition to a colour 12-megapixel sensor. The former is designed to record fine details, while the latter captures vivid hues. Together, the cameras can also register depth and more accurately blur backgrounds.
Professional photographer Kristian Dowling, who has shot portraits of Katy Perry, Angelina Jolie and Hugh Hefner, among others, says he was so impressed with the last Huawei-Leica collaboration he approached the phone maker to act as an ambassador.
"It would beat a lot of compact cameras out there in the market, even those from the big brands," Dowling says. "As long as the person behind the lens puts a bit of thought into the photo, there's no reason why this phone camera can't replace certain (specialist) cameras."
Huawei is not alone in adding a dual camera to its smartphone, however. Apple added two 12-megapixel cameras to its iPhone 7 Plus handset this year so they could deliver a 2x optical zoom. The camera is said to be the key reason sales of Apple's larger iPhone jumped 55 per cent this year.
Other smartphone makers are taking slightly different paths to the same destination.
For example, the "special sauce" behind Google's Pixel cameras, highly rated by testing firm DxO Mark, is a software feature called HDR+ that analyses and improves a scene based on its components.
Sony Mobile instead introduced greater hardware into its Xperia XZ, with a laser autofocus sensor to quickly measure depth and an infra-red sensor to correctly capture colour. The company recently held a smartphone photography competition, Colour of Summer, to get its point across.
Sony Mobile Oceania managing director John Featherstone says "there is a place for both" smartphone and camera photography, but the camera in our pockets is adding a lot of technology users would not expect.
Manual controls for elements such as shutter speed and manual focus now feature in Sony phones, Featherstone says, adding to past additions that let users change white balance and resolution.
"We are aware that many people like to take control of the photo they are taking, so we have added more user manual controls to the phone,"
Featherstone says. "Often we rest on using our smartphones on auto mode and now there are so many more features which can enhance the shot you are trying to take."