Smartphones are quickly elbowing aside basic point-and-shoot cameras as the device of choice for sharing everyday experiences. In Consumer Reports' recent tests of 45 smartphone cameras, the T-Mobile G2x, $250, stood out with very good still images overall and was among the best for video quality.
"Consumers may be tempted to shoot just about everything with their smartphone cameras, given their capabilities and convenience," said Terry Sullivan, associate electronics editor for Consumer Reports. "However, our tests showed that even the models that produced very good images can't substitute for the image quality and shooting versatility of a dedicated, stand-alone device."
The T-Mobile G2x beat all the phones overall at shooting stills; but in many shooting conditions, it couldn't match the image quality and versatility of a basic point-and-shoot or SLR. The HTC Thunderbolt (Verizon), $250, came in a close second and offers a large display and tap-to-focus feature for better image control but lacks a stabilizer control.
Smartphone cameras have come a long way as manufacturers have upgraded many devices' capabilities by borrowing sensors, other technologies and software from basic cameras, producing better displays and image quality than in earlier phones and adding features such as auto-focus and face detection. Users can download apps that allow them to edit photos on the spot. Some smartphones also boast 8-megapixel photo resolution and 1080p HD-resolution.
Here's what else CR found after testing smartphones plus dozens of cameras and camcorders:
Cameras lead on many fronts. Even the simplest has an optical zoom, and many have wide-angle capability. Smartphones don't offer either. Most cameras also have greater resolution than smartphones, making their images better suited for large prints, such as 11x14s.
CR's tests examined two areas in which cameras edge out smartphones. Many cameras, especially advanced ones, can tailor flash strength to the ambient light and subject matter; but although most of the smartphones tested shot decent flash photos of a subject 5 feet away, images were often too bright at 3 feet and dim at 10.
CR's tests also show that you don't need to pay a lot for high-quality still images and video. Several subcompacts priced at $250 or less had very good image quality across the board. Testers found that you can get overall performance comparable to that of an SLR for a lot less.
The top-rated SLR-like camera (one that accepts detachable lenses but is smaller than a true SLR), the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2K, equaled the top-rated Canon EOS 60D SLR in most tests, yet at $500, it costs less than half as much.
Camcorders are tops in video. Their video quality was better than all the smartphones and cameras, including all of the SLRs tested. In particular, camcorders were better in low light, preserving details in shadows, and better able to avoid over-exposing a scene's brightest portions.
The best-performing high-definition camcorders, CR's tests found, were those with the lowest optical-zoom range, most often just 10x.
But if you need more zoom and are willing to trade off a bit in low-light image quality or auto-focusing performance, a high-definition model with 15x or greater will actually save you money.
Standard-definition models offer a lot more zoom for a lot less, but high-definition models offer better picture quality.
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