Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ultra Compact vs. Camera Phone

Lumix DMC FH-27

Samsung Galaxy S-2

Canon EOS 7D

I don't mind using my camera phone at all, as it is usually the camera I have with me all the time. I have often said here that its image quality is respectable, even surprisingly good, given the miniaturization of the camera, but I've never before compared it to anything. 

Last February, I bought my wife a very small camera for her birthday - one which she could keep in a jacket pocket or whatever. It is the Panasonic Lumix DMC FH-27, seemingly just another "forgettable" compact. It must be forgettable, because I actually had difficulty finding reviews about this camera when I bought it. But spec-wise, it's not too bad, given it's 8X optical zoom, 16 MPix sensor, and fully touch-screen operation. I got it on an open-box clearance at just under $100. Not bad. Aside from thickness, it is physically smaller than my Samsung Galaxy smartphone, yet they managed to cram in a 28-224 (8X) equivalent f3.3 Elmar lens.

It's not my purpose to review this camera, but just to do a simple quick comparison. In doing this comparison, I believe it can be seen that they both take decent photos under normal conditions. I had the Lumix set for 5 Mpix, not it's native 16, to make it a bit closer to the Android cam's 8 Mpix. It's my opinion that cramming 16 Mpix onto a small sensor is self defeating anyway, so 5 is actually the better choice, as it goes.

Seeing the results above, I regard the shot taken with the Lumix as better, but not by much. These are straight out of camera, both cameras set fully automatic, with their standard defaults. To me, the Lumix has better contrast, a bit less lens distortion, shows more detail and better colour balance, as seen in the sky - more true blue, and with enough contrast to show a bit of cloud in the sky, which the smartphone missed.

All the latest buzz from digital camera makers this year seems to be toward getting big sensors into smaller packages - a very good direction, for those who can afford it. I personally lean toward smallness. The camera industry's aim is to try take full advantage of miniaturization, as it should be, and there is a huge spectrum of consumers out there whose requirements indeed range from the very small and discreet, through to the large equipment required by full blown professionals. Personally, I cheer the loudest when something very small is made into something very good. Here I have compared two of the smallest options available - the results were as one would expect, with the dedicated small camera with a good lens making a better picture than the smartphone. I also feel I have once again shown that a smartphone camera is nothing to be embarrassed about either.

Finally, just for sport, I included a different view of the same scene taken with my DSLR. This will be used in a future comparison of the 7D against my newly procured 1952 Rolleiflex with Ilford B&W film. Very different pictures, taken on an overcast day, at Normal (50mm Lens Equivalent) views. Still though, it's interesting to see how a smartphone and an $100 ultra compact can somewhat hold their own against a $1000 DSLR.


  1. Cool Dave. The Lumix certainly is better, but that being said, as you point out, nothing wrong with the Smartphone camera. As they say, the best camera is the one you have with you :)


  2. The Lumix is really small - pops right into a shirt pocket and you hardly know it's there. They did wonders getting an 8X zoom into such a small space.. yet I read of even further miniaturization progress within the past 3 months! A person should really think seriously about what kind of photography they'll be doing 90% of the time. DSLR's are built for the extremes - low light, fast action, good DOF - but if one is seldom, if ever taking pictures under these conditions, why spend $1000 when you can get what you need for $100, or maybe even "free' as with some Smartphone contracts!


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