Why Camera Brands Shouldn’t Worry About the Evolution of Phone Cameras

Why Camera Brands Shouldn't Worry About the Evolution of Phone Cameras


Out of all platforms that have a social element to them, YouTube has the best recommendation algorithm. Besides ‘The Wire is the best TV show of all time’, this is another hill I’m willing to die on. So, as someone who spends an unhealthy amount of time on YouTube browsing camera gear, role-playing video game walkthroughs, and tech hardware, these last few weeks this video platform has bombarded me with how amazing the cameras are on Oppo Find N2 Flip, Xiaomi 13 Pro and the OnePlus 11 5G. See? YouTube even knows I’m an Android guy.

At work, we fiddled around with an Oppo Find N2 Flip. At home, I gave in to temptation and ordered a Xiaomi 13 Pro. One thing’s for certain – the hype is real. The cameras these phones have are quite simply pathbreaking. The sadness I felt when Sony decided not to commercially release the Xperia 1 III phone in India quickly evaporated. On top of that, phone brands now partnering with names like Leica and Hasselblad to develop their camera hardware have made it more obvious where the future of camera tech seems to be heading – higher quality in more compact bodies.

So where do legacy camera brands such as Sony, Fujifilm, Canon and Nikon stand – with the advent of all this amazing compact camera system tech? Should they be worried? Not necessarily. I know, I know – that sounds like the opposite of what I just said in the previous paragraph, but hear me out. Here are two big reasons why camera brands should not only not worry about the rapidly evolving phone camera tech, they should in fact welcome it. 

The sensor-size pecking order is still untouched

For those who are not too familiar with the sensor size pecking order when it comes to portable cameras, at the top of the ‘quality of image’ food chain are medium format cameras. Where the sensor size is usually around 53.7mm x 40.4mm. Fujifilm GFX 100S, Hasselblad X2D 100C, Pentax 645Z – these are some top-of-the-line names in the medium format range, and yes, they are some of the most expensive professional grade portable cameras in the market. Then comes the Full Frame range, with sensor size typically around 36mm x 24mm. Leica SL2, Sony A7RV, Nikon Z9, and Canon EOS R5 are currently some of the best full frame cameras out there. Then there are APS-C or cropped sensor cameras, which are typically around half the size of their full frame counterparts. Sony’s A6000 series and Fujifilm X-series (this writer was lucky enough to snag up the oh-so-rare Fujifilm X100V while it was still available) are the champions in that lightweight division.

This sensor size difference can have an impact on the image quality and characteristics, as larger sensors generally offer higher resolution, better low-light performance, and a wider dynamic range. However, larger sensors also tend to come with higher costs, larger and heavier camera bodies and lenses, and potentially slower frame rates. As you can see, the general thumb rule is – the bigger the sensor size, the better the image quality. Now the Xiaomi 13 Pros or the Oppo Find N2 Flips or even the flagship Samsung S23 Ultras or the highly popular Google Pixels of the world might be pathbreaking when it comes to phone cameras, but when it comes to pure image quality, they barely manage to compete with APS-C sensor cameras. Sure, they’re way more portable and hence more inconspicuous, and they have their own place in the arsenal of photography enthusiasts, but there are levels to this game and the name brand pro-cameras still rule when it comes to quality. 

Fancy phone cameras change the way you click photos

My first smartphone was the cute 4-inch Zenfone 4, and then I moved onto the Zenfone 2, then  Redmi K20 Pro, and now I’ve exchanged that for the Xiaomi 13 Pro. But it’s only now that I actually see photography in a whole different manner. High end camera phones including the Xiaomi 13 Pro not only have more camera features, some of them also let you click photos in RAW format once you enter the Pro mode. Pro mode was not something I ever thought of, because a) the camera hardware in my earlier phones wasn’t worth the effort of learning the pro mode, and b) it was much easier (and still is) to simply point and shoot. But now that I’ve spent over 60k INR for the first time in my life for a phone (thank the e-commerce gods for exchange offers and not making me shell out almost 80k), it’s only natural that I want to get the most out of this camera. 

Before I knew it, I started snapping everything in RAW and installing Adobe Lightroom for post processing these files. That’s not something most phone camera users do, but here I am, pretending I’m the next big thing in street photography (I’m not, but you get the point, right?). If I didn’t already have a dedicated camera, I’d wager I’d buy one after getting hooked to photography concepts such as framing, composition, playing with lights and shadows, etc.

And that’s exactly why phone brands should welcome the idea of more people buying high end camera phones. The fraction of people who’d want to take the leap of investing in a dedicated camera, whether it’s an affordable APS-C camera or a more professional full-frame setup, are more likely to invest in the camera gear ecosystem. Before you know it, they’ll start buying special airtight cabinets to store their camera lenses, rugged tripods, and fancy flashes. Isn’t this what camera brands want?

The author of this article now uses a Sony A7IV for professional gigs, a Fujifilm X100V for the streets, and has now wishlisted a 600mm super-telephoto lens on Amazon, because bird photography and astrophotography are the next frontiers he wants to conquer. Gear acquisition syndrome is a real thing and this is why he’s broke.