Are Smartphone Makers Going After DSLR Market?

The improved imaging capability in smartphones has taken a bite out of the point-and-shoot camera market the last few years. Are DSLRs the next victim?

There’s a good chance we’ll approach the 1 trillion mark in images taken by the time 2014 comes to close and a large percentage of those will be captured by smartphones.

And, seeing as the image capture capability in smartphones has already trampled the point-and-shoot camera market, could they be ready to set their sights on the higher end camera category next?

There are persistent rumors that HTC is toying with tech that could place very strong optical zoom capability in their smartphones sometime in the next two years. HTC’s Director of Special Projects, Symon Whitehorn explained in a recent interview that’s one of the major features smartphones have lacked and will need to add to take on the big boys – DSLRs.

“Optical zooming in a smartphone is not too far off at all for HTC,” he said in the interview. “I can’t give too much away, but within 12-18 months we’ll see huge advances in phone optics. That’s why we don’t necessarily believe in doing a high-resolution, photo enlarging solution.”

The imaging features in smartphones are no longer ancillary, they are oftentimes one of the more highly touted features on the device, standing front and center in the manufacturer’s marketing plans.

In the last year alone we’ve seen Nokia come to market with the Lumia 1020’s 41MP capture capability; LG and the G2’s optical image stabilization made a splash late last year; Samsung move to 16MP sensors in the Galaxy line was announced earlier this year; and Oppo recently introduced their new Find 7, a larger screen (5.5-inch) model that boasts a 50-megapixel resolution.

Add to this the fact HTC literally just unveiled their new dual lens tech on the HTC One, with its two lenses on the backside, a feature dubbed Duo Camera, and it’s not a stretch to say smartphone manufacturers may just be getting started when it comes to offering you the only device you’ll ever need when it comes to capturing life’s precious memories.

Yes indeed, the days of hearing about advancements in digital imaging coming from the traditional camera manufacturers are waning, as most of the headlines for image-capture innovations are coming from smartphone manufacturers these days.

Simply stated, the smartphone continues to be the camera you always have with you, and it’s becoming a very capable one. That’s not to say we think it’s time to ditch your DLSR for your smartphone, as realistically we are years away from that device’s imaging capability even coming to close to completely replacing what DSLRs. However, it’s clear smartphone vendors are serious about continuing to push the envelope on the imaging side of the equation and what we’re seeing from them now may merely be the tip of the iceberg.

And, in the event you are indeed one of the many photographers that are finding yourself capturing more and more images with you smartphone these days, Zoner has you covered. Our free app Zoner Photo Studio Edit & Go for Android lets you upload images to Zonerama on the fly, creating a secure backup of your entire mobile photo library.

Photo: Pison Jaujip/Flickr – Image captured with the Samsung Galaxy S2 smartphone camera using a macro lens attachment

Last updated 29. August 2014

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Author: Michael McEnaney

I am a veteran technology journalist with over 20 years experience covering consumer electronics and imaging tech as well as launching, editing/writing content, selling and marketing a variety of publications and websites. Most recently I helped NAPCO launch the Technologytell.com network of consumer tech websites and also helped launch the popular tech website TechTimes.com as well as launching his own website at www.your-digital-life.com that covers all consumers can do with their digital images and videos after they’ve captured them. My true passion has always been photography – both capturing life’s most precious moments as well as covering the pros that capture the world.

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Comments

  • TerryB

    Whilst there is no doubting the significant improvements seen recently with camera functionality in smartphones, there is no way they will ever equal the IQ of a dslr, nor its versatility. The same can be said competing against enthusiast targeted compacts. And it is simply down to the sizes of sensor used which at a basic level dictate IQ, but also impact physically on the size of any lens with the appropriate image covering circle.

    So zooms or even fast prime lenses will be out of the question.

    The real reason for the decline in compact camera sales really hit was when smartphones started to produce results that were “acceptable” and for the majority of smartphone users, once this state existed, an entry level compact, with its similar IQ, was no longer needed. No surprise here. Cameras are more for those interested in quality results and versatility, not for posting web images, merely viewing on a monitor, or sending selfies to one another.

    Undoubtedly, as the image quality of the cameras in smartphones improves, camera functionality will assume a greater role in choice of model, but they will never ever reach the dizzy IQ heights of a proper camera, let alone a dslr.

    • It’s not about sensor size. Today the human eye is a smaller sensor, yet outperforms any DSLR CMOS sensor. Sensors will continue to improve and someday outperform the human eye; seeing beyond the human eye’s visible spectrum and even dynamic range.

  • Michael McEnaney

    Agree, for the most part, with your assessment above but I’m always cautious when using the word “never” within the imaging space. I’m thinking some kind of hybrid device is looming out there that will someday provide the amazing image capture capability of a DSLR at the size and mobility of a smartphone.

    • TerryB

      Yes, I agree, using “never” is dangerous! IQ is dependent upon the sensor and associated electronics (and the lens, of course) so there is always a future path for improvement here. But the laws of physics apply to lens design and unless there is a law pertaining to optics which hasn’t yet been discovered, sensor size will always dictate the physical size of a lens. So for versatility I will push the boat out again and say never will a smartphone equal the versatility of a dslr. There again, unless the dslr is indeed the smartphone itself. :p)

      Since my initial post I am reminded that Samsung tried putting a “proper” camera in a phone many years ago, and it was a dismal failure. The GH800. I bought one. It housed a 3x folded optic design zoom lens, but it was a failure. So much so, I believe, and may explain why we haven’t in the intervening years seen any smartphone manufacturer take the design further.

  • Charles

    I can imagine that the point and shoot camera market will lose a great deal of its market to smart phones, the enthusiast will still want the versatility, flexibility and quality of the DSLR or similar. There is also the issue of the lens – the great range available for interchangeable lens cameras verses the much lower quality of the smartphone lens. A small sensor – no matter what the resolution – is no match for a larger one due to the physical construction.

  • Michael McEnaney

    Agree that the issue of interchangeable lenses will remain a roadblock for the smartphone but I will always feel that somewhere down the road there will be a smartphone that gives the high-end camera market a run for its money.