The Compact Camera Is Dying Out, But That's OK


The compact camera is stuck between a rock and a hard place, except of course the rock is an iPhone and the hard place is an ever-increasing range of affordable SLR cameras.

Don't cry for its loss though, the compact camera has served us well and is being replaced by a need for simplicity and convenience.

The photo at the top of this article was not taken by a digital compact camera, it was taken by my old iPhone 5. Not a 5s, or even a 6, but a 5.

A smartphone that's no taller than a pencil and no thicker than one was able to take that image and frankly, how do you compete with that?

Now I'm not saying I'm a good photographer by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed I see photography as a very efficient way of getting frustrated in the longest possible amount of time. It's not that I don't like taking pictures, it's just that no matter how much I tinker, they never come out as expected.

In this particularly rare example, the picture came out infinitely better than I had foreseen, mainly of course because I was staring directly at the sunset so couldn't see anything.

The fact remains however that at the right time, and in the right place, I pressed the shutter button and that was what appeared at the end. Why would I go out and spend hundreds of pounds on something else that does that when I already have this? And this makes phone calls as well.

Think about the last time you were on holiday, was it with your phone or with a compact camera that you took the photos? I'd wager that the majority were taken on your phone, or -- for whatever baffling reason -- your iPad.

Smartphone manufacturers know they're replacing the compact camera and they're thankfully taking this responsibility seriously. The iPhone camera is a remarkable feat of engineering, if it were a car it'd be a Volvo: quiet, unassuming and just works, no matter what.

Sony are also making huge strides. The Z3 and Z3 Compact are their best smartphones yet and as a result some of the pictures they can take make you wonder why the compact still sells at all (see below).

So what's filling the gap? Well smartphones, obviously. That's not all though, tech companies are keen to make sure that if there is a gap it can still be filled with at least one more product.

HTC are betting their money on the action camera with the HTC Re. Small, cheap and waterproof these wide-angle cameras can take decent stills but are primarily for taking video.

Rather than risk that £600 smartphone at a gig or by the pool HTC is hoping you'll grab into your pocket and pull a Re (seen below) out instead.

Instantly shareable to your phone which then immediately connects to Facebook and Instagram, this is their vision of the future.

Then there's Sony's altogether more radical solution: The lens camera. In many ways it's cheating because you're still buying a camera, it's just more compact and attaches to your phone.

It's an interesting idea though. The lens contains the sensor, the optics and the memory card, it then streams what it sees to a smartphone or tablet via WiFi effectively turning it into the viewfinder.

You can then clip it to the phone or use it freely, almost like an oversized action camera.

Does it work? Well we took the Sony QX30 out to Winterville for an evening and found that although jarring at first, Sony's alternative broaches an altogether more interesting question: what if you only buy that?

No SLR, no compact. Instead you spend £300 on a giant lens which you then strap to your phone and use when you want really clear pictures. It sounds so ridiculous it might just work.

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