Should Cameras Be Phones?

By Doug Mohney July 30, 2013

The Nokia Lumia 1020 hit the U.S. media stream last week. The Lumia phone sports a 41 megapixel camera and image stabilization, prompting comparisons between dedicated digital cameras and the Windows Phone device.  But the high-resolution "phonamera" feels more like a gimmick designed to appeal to a niche audience than something that will make a big impact with consumers.

Strike one against the 1020 is the implementation of the 41 megapixel camera on the back of the phone. The "bump" on the back to hold the high-resolution camera electronics means the phone doesn't lie perfectly flat, according to all the reviewers.

Strike two is that sucking in all that imagery results in a delay in taking pictures, as the 1020's camera ends up creating a pair of pictures, one at the full 41 megapixel resolution and 11 MB and another "small" shot at 5 megapixels. According to all accounts, photos are beautiful in outdoor shots, and the camera does a very good job in indoor low light conditions. But still, there's a delay in taking the picture, defeating the purpose of whipping out your phone and quickly taking a couple of shots, then moving on. 

Image via CNET

For people who are serious about photography, the Lumia 1020 will be a hit with its rich photo software, image quality and ball bearing-driven image stabilization. Those people may be the ones who shell out another $200 for better photos over the $99.99 list price (with the obligatory two-year contract) for a stock Nokia 920 or 928 phone.  The Windows Phone operating system is likely to be a footnote in the decision-making process since it's about the pictures.

Or not. Photo purists may see the lack of a focusable lens to not be worth the extra $200, instead bringing along a dedicated camera with Ye Olde Glass optics to provide zoom, with the hardcore just showing up everywhere with DSLR and camera bag. 

I'm more intrigued by the coming Samsung Galaxy NX Digital Camera. The Android-powered camera starts first as a camera with changeable lenses, a 20.3MP sensor, and is fast enough to take 8.6 frames per second. It adds 3G and 4G LTE cellular service, Bluetooth and 802.11 a/b/g/n connectivity, so you'll be able to take still photos and video from anywhere.

At an estimated list price of around $2,000, the Galaxy NX isn't an impulse buy. On the other hand, it isn't hard to imagine a more consumer-friendly-priced version coming onto the market in the next couple of years, providing easy connectivity with photo quality and glass-optics reach. Camera phones provide convenience, but they will be hard pressed to match the versatility of a camera that is designed to take pictures as its first function.

Edited by Alisen Downey

Contributing Editor

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