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Do you even need a camera anymore?

(Rodrigo Cordeiro)
There’s a reason Germans call their smartphone a “handy.” With one device, you can pay for groceries, summon a Lyft driver, manage your diet, watch a movie, and call your mother. But can it replace a camera?

Photo enthusiasts say that’s the wrong question.

“I don’t see it as an either/or,” said Marty Becker, who recruits judges for Boston Camera Club competitions. “It depends on what your goal is.”

There are four main factors to consider:

Are your photos for the here-and-now or for forever?

If your only goal is to capture a moment and post it to social media or quickly send it to a friend, a smartphone is not only sufficient but the better choice because it is the easiest and fastest way to share your picture.

It’s also the cheapest if you already own a smartphone.

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To post photos from a digital camera, you must either have a newer model camera with built-in Wi-Fi support or buy a Wi-Fi SD card for your existing camera. The Wi-Fi card looks just like the SD card you already use, only it costs about four times as much.

If, instead, you want to do something more permanent with your photos such as enlarge them for a wall display or create a photobook, our photo experts say your digital camera is the better choice because you’ll get higher quality pictures and photos with more detail. Quality and detail are determined by the width of the aperture and the size of the sensor. The slim size of the smartphone that makes it so convenient can’t accommodate a wider aperture or the larger sensor that produce higher-quality pictures.

That’s not to say a smartphone can’t capture amazing photographs, especially with improvement in camera quality. Check out the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards for amazing examples.

What are you photographing?

Smartphones can take wonderful close-up shots, and newer models have built-in lenses that let you zoom in or shoot wide, although neither option is as powerful as those you get with a camera. You can buy add-on lenses for smartphones, but dealing with extra gear costs you some of the convenience of smartphone photography.

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Saba Alhadi, who founded PhotoWalks Tours in Boston in 2002, shares Boston history and photography tips when guiding groups. Close-up shots with blurred backgrounds look great on a smartphone, she said. “The sharpness is unbelievable.” And when daytime light isn’t great, Alhadi suggests her smartphone photographers switch to black and white for a particular shot, something easily done on a smartphone.

However, if you are photographing your child’s soccer game or wildlife on the move, your camera is the better choice. The autofocus on a camera is faster and can better lock in on the subject, creating an image that is crisp and in focus.

What time of day are you taking pictures?

For nighttime tours, Alhadi recommends a traditional digital camera because the ability to adjust the camera’s shutter and aperture settings produces sharper and properly lit photos.

Bottom line: “Smartphones are very compact and very light to carry. And you can easily edit the pictures on the spot,” Alhadi said. “But their functionality is limited because they don’t work well at night.”

Anna Golitsyna, president of Boston Camera Club, puts it this way: “If it’s really dark, [smartphones] are not yet sufficient. If you want to photograph the Milky Way, the camera is much better,” she said. “I’ve never seen the Milky Way taken by a smartphone. I’m not sure it’s even possible.”

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What kind of photographer are you?

Are you a serious photographer confident with manually manipulating aperture and shutter speed? Do you have the money for a variety of lenses to give you the greatest variety of options? Do you mind carrying a bulky camera and the gear that comes with it? Is photography your passion? If this is you, a digital SLR camera is the better choice.

Or, are you someone who prefers the convenience of the smartphone? Are you more comfortable and satisfied with the limited but easy-to-use editing and shooting tools on a smartphone? Are you mainly interested in photographing life’s moments to easily share with others? If this better captures you, stick to your smartphone.

The bottom line?

“That saying that the best camera is the camera you have on you is obviously true,” said Becker.


Annmarie Timmins can be reached at annmarietimmins2@gmail.com.