5 Reasons Why A Digital Camera Is Better Than A Smartphone For Travel Photos

There is an old adage in photography that says the best camera is the one that you have with you at any given time. This holds especially true in the age of smartphones, which have evolved into solid shooters over the past few years. Owning a smartphone is a lot like having a decent point and shoot camera on you at all times, which has, for good or ill, allowed us to share many more personal moments on Facebook and Twitter.

I’ll admit that on more than one occasion I’ve used my iPhone 4S to take some shots to quickly share with friends and family. It is incredibly fun and convenient to take a photo and then immediately send it along to loved ones to enjoy as well. Image quality is, for the most part, more than acceptable and there is a certain level of intimacy that can be garnered by sharing important moments as they happen.

That said, those that use a smartphone as their primary camera while traveling continue to confound me. Yes they are lightweight and easy to use, but they are also lacking in certain fundamental features that a dedicated digital camera will always bring to the table. Those features make them better suited for travel photography and greatly improve the quality of the images as well. I’m not even talking about higher end DSLR cameras either. A good point and shoot will still be a better tool for travel photography than any smartphone.

With that in mind, here are five reasons why this is the case.Optical Zoom
Most compact cameras will come with at least some level of optical zoom but the same cannot be said of smartphones. Optical zoom uses the physical lenses of the camera to manipulate the image and make objects appear closer. This allows the photographer to get clear images of their subjects even when they are a considerable distance away. The higher the optical zoom the further you’ll be able zoom in, which is particularly handy when capturing just the right shot while traveling.

On the other hand, digital zoom will actually make the image itself larger causing a loss in quality in the process. The further you zoom in digitally, the more the image suffers. Most cameras will have a higher level of digital zoom than optical, but I generally avoid using it at all costs. The loss of detail and image quality simply isn’t worth the minor benefits of digital zoom for me.

Battery Life
Another area that a dedicated camera stands out versus a smartphone is in battery life. I own three different point and shoot cameras and each of them is capable of being used on a weeklong trip without having to recharge their batteries. That comes in awfully handy when traveling through remote places where recharging might not be an easy option. In contrast to that, a smartphone is generally lucky if it can make it through a full day, particularly if it is being used as a camera on top of all of its other functions. True, you can get battery extenders for your phone, but at that point you might as well be carrying a P&S camera anyway.

Simply put, a decent dedicated camera will out perform a smartphone in nearly every way. They tend to start up and shoot faster, offer burst-modes, have much better image stabilization, and reproduce more realistic colors. A good point and shoot will capture fast action shots without blurriness and will autofocus more quickly as well. More sophisticated cameras will even allow the photographer to control his or her shutter speed, aperture settings and ISO levels. In contrast, most smartphones have very few options at all and simply let you capture an image that is processed automatically.

I use my smartphone for a lot of things, and even though it has 16GB of storage, it is usually close to being full at any given time. I have music, apps, movies, photos and more on the device, which means if I start using it as my primary camera, I could easily run out of space before the end of a trip. The memory card in a camera on the other hand is generally only used to store photos and video. They also tend to be very reliable, inexpensive and easy to swap out when they get full. True, some smartphones allow users to add memory cards as well, but they are typically not as easy to access from the device and swapping them can often be a real challenge.

More Than The Sum Of Its Parts
Many consumers are under the erroneous assumption that the more megapixels a camera has the better the images will be. This has led some to believe that their old 5-megapixel point and shoot isn’t nearly as good as the shiny new 8-megapixel camera on their smartphone. The truth is, megapixels are just a small part of the equation. The size of a camera’s sensor, quality of lenses, level of optical zoom, flash and other components all play a role in creating the photo. In most cases, a dedicated camera is still well ahead of the curve in each of those areas when compared to a smartphone.

For me personally, my travel photos are the most important images that I shoot with my camera. Not only are they used to compliment my writing, but they are also shared with family and friends. Occasionally one even gets developed, framed and hung on the wall at my apartment. It is important to me that they are of the highest quality possible and for that reason I simply can’t trust a smartphone to capture the images I want.

As someone who likes to travel light I’d love to be able to shave a few pounds off my luggage by leaving my heavier camera equipment at home in favor of using my iPhone. But I’m not willing to sacrifice quality in my photography, so for now I’ll proudly continue to take my DSLR and a point and shoot into the field when I travel. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

[Photo credit: Tom Photos and Pierre Bauduin via WikiMedia]