Most of us have iPhones, or other smartphones, which have a powerful built-in camera. Especially if you have something like the iPhone 11 Pro, with Ultra Wide lenses and Night mode, you may think that it's all you need for photography (and the iPhone 12 is sure to bring even more camera replacements). But that's not really the case — there is still a place for the best digital camera, such as a GoPro or a high-end DSLR. Is a standalone digital camera worth it for you, though? Everyone has different needs, after all. Let's take a closer look at whether or not you should purchase a digital camera today.
What do you plan on using your camera for?
So you're wondering right now, "Should I buy a digital camera?" At the end of the day, both your smartphone and a digital camera help you capture photos, whether they're memories, intimate and emotional moments, or something artistic for you to express yourself. But what do you plan on doing with those photos?
Smartphones are convenient
The biggest advantage of using a smartphone as your main camera is the convenience factor. You already carry your iPhone around with you, so it's already there — no need to carry something separate. Having your phone with you means that you're always ready to capture a photo at a moment's notice.
Remember that old saying, "there's an app for that?" With photo editing apps, there are thousands of options available for you to download right on your smartphone. This means you can snap your photo, and then jump into an app and make some adjustments for the perfect picture. Gone are the days when you had to plug in your camera to make edits.
In this Instagram and TikTok age that we live in, the photos that we take are likely just going to end up on social media since we all like to instantly share moments with friends and family. With smartphone cameras, we can snap the picture, do some editing if necessary, and then they go directly to our online profiles, without the need to plug in to a computer first. Everything can be done on-the-go.
And thanks to larger screens on smartphones, you can see more of what is being captured or even play it back in greater detail.
Digital cameras capture higher quality
Even with all the advancements made in smartphone camera tech, they're best at capturing static subjects in good lighting. One of the answers when asking yourself, "Should I buy a digital camera?" should be whether or not you intend to capture a lot of moving subjects and in low or difficult lighting, because that's where the best digital cameras shine.
Other elements of a digital camera help it get much higher quality images too, including larger sensors (helps capture more light), a more powerful flash, and lenses that are capable of 10x optical zoom. You just don't get these things in a smartphone camera.
And if you have a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera, you have a lot of different options when it comes to lenses that work with your camera. The lenses affect things like how much light enters, how wide the field of view is, and more. There are tons of lenses out there, and having a few of them can result in different perspectives and tone in the final image, even if it was the same subject.
Though smartphones may be able to let users adjust the exposure, ISO, and white balance, having an actual camera lets you have even more control. With a dedicated camera, you're able to adjust shutter speed and apertures, which make great action shots and portraits with the depth of field "bokeh" effect in the background.
With these higher quality images, they're much better for printing. That's because with smartphone images, if you need to blow it up for a larger print, the noise and grain levels are more noticeable when the image is larger (especially since most smartphones save in JPEG, a highly compressed format). With the higher megapixels and resolution of digital cameras, as well as the ability to shoot purely in RAW (uncompressed), you can print larger prints without noticing a loss in image quality.
Who uses a smartphone camera?
Pretty much everyone. Even if you don't think of yourself as a photographer, you're still probably using your iPhone or Android device's camera to capture special occasions and other precious moments that you don't want to forget. Plus, it's one less thing to remember to carry.
The smartphone photographer prefers using their phone for photos because it's always with them, and once captured, you can instantly edit them to perfection, even while away from a computer. Then, these photos get posted onto your social network of choice, such as Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. And if you desire, you can get them printed out up to about 11x14" — anything bigger and you may notice a drop in image quality.
Honestly, if you just plan on taking still photos and recording some video to share online, then a smartphone should be fine. Advancements in smartphone cameras have come a long way, and the quality with them is great for sharing digitally. And if you just want some prints for a photo album, smartphone photos are perfectly fine for that.
Who uses a dedicated digital camera?
If you want to take your photography more seriously, either as a hobby or for professional reasons, then you should definitely get a digital camera. Doing so allows you to experiment with things like shutter and aperture, which are impossible with a smartphone camera. The photo quality with a standalone camera is also much higher, which means they look great in digital copies, and you can have them come to life with larger prints.
GoPros are great for moving action shots, which are impossible with just a smartphone. DSLRs are great for photography professionals who want to shoot the best images in their gigs, or anyone else who just wants to experiment with photography.
To answer your question of "should I buy a digital camera?" — it's really up to you and what you want to do.
Again, if you just want to take some photos and post them online and maybe print them now and then, a smartphone camera, like the iPhone 11 Pro, should be just fine.
But if you want to take your photography game to the next level, like taking fantastic action shots or amazing photos in general, then you will want to look into a dedicated, standalone digital camera.
Best camera for most people
Capturing photos is insanely easy with the A6100 thanks to its continuous autofocus, which is perfect for capturing action shots and filming. It's also small and compact enough to take anywhere.
The GoPro Hero8 is the best if you want to capture exreme action shots, especially on video. It can capture 4K video at a buttery smooth 60fps, so you never miss a beat.
Great beginner's DSLR
This is an affordable DSLR that is great for beginners. The APS-C CMOS delivers sharp and beautiful photos each and every time you click the shutter button, and it's super forgiving for novices.
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Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.
When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.