Sunday, February 19, 2012

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What’s new with Cellphone Cameras?

Mobile telephones have progressed a long way from their humble beginnings as the analog “bricks” of the 80's as technology has offered increasingly more complex features and options. Once no more than just a phone, now the average new cellphone has more on-board processing power than the combined computing power used to land men on the moon. Miniaturization, modern programming, and constantly improving technology driven on by a hungry market means that the cellphones of today are not just a phone, or even an organizer, but instead, they are a centralized multimedia platform. They offer many of the same advanced features as a PDA, like Bluetooth, flash card compatibility, radio, and fully featured integrated digital cameras. Much like the cameras found on PDAs, the digital photography offered by multimedia phones is not brilliant, but rather better suited to casual photography of friends at opportune moments. The advantage of having an integrated cell-camera is that as a phone is something that people tend to always carry with them, they will always have a camera handy.

If high quality digital photography is what you're after, then you're better off buying a mobile phone and camera separately. While camera technology is getting there for things like PDAs and mobiles, the range of advanced options for a cell phone camera  don't even translate to the standard set of features for a basic digital camera. A comparison of some prominent models on the market today follows, giving consideration to the cost, feature set, and level of quality offered by each device.

The Palm Treo 650 Smartphone runs the Palm OS version 5.4 on a 312MHz Intel CPU. It has 23MB of user memory available, expandable with the addition of either an SD or MMC flash cards. The display is a 320x320 pixel 16-bit color TFT, and it features a 0.3MP digital camera, capable of taking photos or capturing video. Feature wise, it's impressive, but doesn't weigh up against similar products for the price. The camera in particular is under-powered for the amount of processing behind it. A Smartphone 650 will set you back about $550.

The Sony Ericsson W800i has 32MB of user memory, and comes free with a 512MB Memory Stick Pro flash card. Featuring a display resolution of 176x220 pixels, and a 2 MP digital camera, it is fairly light on the features, and would be best described as a basic high-end mobile phone. The 2MP digital camera goes some way towards justifying the cost, but it doesn't compare to buying a digital camera separately. The W800i will set you back around $480.

The Nokia 7610 is a competitive entry on this list, featuring a fairly rich feature set by comparison to the other examples. However, it has only 8MB on-board memory, expandable via a MultiMediaCard flash card. It comes with a free 64MB MMC, with a 176x208 display in 16-bit color. The 1MP digital camera supports a very wide range of image formats, as well as two modes of video in low or medium resolution. It supports multiple video formats, has a  4x digital zoom. The Bluetooth enabled system itself has a web browser and email client. The main problems with this phone are the relatively short lived battery, and the small amount of on-board memory. But at just $310, the feature set gives this phone serious bang for the buck.

If we compare each of these to a normal digital camera, it is easy to see why they are not a good choice if you intend to focus on photography. $350 gets you a Canon SD500 7.1 MP digital camera. It features 3x optical zoom, along with 4x digital zoom, Television AV/out port, proper strobe flash with red-eye reduction, heavily customizable setup, optional automatic lighting conditions compensation, a tripod mount point, full motion video recorded at effective resolution of 0.3MP. It has an SD card slot, and a host of other features too numerous to name. This is not an elite, professional grade camera, however it outperforms every camera phone listed by at least 3:1. and at a lower cost too.

Cellphones have evolved to a point where they more closely resemble a laptop than anything else, combining a truly impressive range of multimedia technologies into one tiny device. Displays are improving rapidly, as is the level of functionality offered by modern mobile phones. As they become more numerous, these features will become increasingly useful as vast networks of people, all armed with such versatile devices will begin to take shape. As of now, however, they are fairly unfocused in their capabilities, offering a very wide range of features, but not delivering any one of them so well as to replace the technology from which the features first came from. While camera cellphones can have their uses, they still do not lend themselves well to high quality photography. For casual use with friends, or general purpose use, a camera phone can be a lot of fun, and while it combines a lot of devices into one convenient package, it doesn't deliver the a high level of quality.

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