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Do cellphone cameras match up with digitals, SLRs?

June 28, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Most new cellphones have a camera and it's easy to get the photos off your phone. That raises the question: Do you really need a regular camera?

One of the toughest challenges for any camera, whether it's a regular one or the one on your phone, is to take pictures in low-light conditions, such as a child's birthday party. So Eyewitness News teamed up with Consumer Reports to put them to the test.

Georgette Strobel uses the camera on her cellphone all the time.

"The last thing on my mind is carrying a huge camera bag, so when I realize I have my phone, it's perfect," said Stroebel.

Snapping shots with your phone is a great option because you almost always have it with you. And you can store your favorite ones like a portable photo album. But can a smartphone camera take the place of a real one? Consumer Reports photography expert Terry Sullivan wanted to find out.

"I decided to use a birthday party, since that's a great example of a tricky lighting situation," said Sullivan.

Sulllivan used two smartphones that perform well in Consumer Reports tests, the iPhone and a T-Mobile G2x, to take pictures of the kids singing "Happy Birthday."

For comparison, Sulllivan also took pictures with two top-performing cameras, an SLR (single-lens reflex) that costs more than $1,000, and a point-and-shoot camera that costs about $300. The results?

The pricey SLR camera did the best, with vibrant colors and lots of detail in the shadows. The point-and-shoot photos were also pretty good, with nice color. But the camera couldn't get in as many people in the picture because it doesn't have a wide-angle lens.

The smartphones didn't have a wide-angle lens, either, and the zoom and flash were not camera-quality. That said, Sullivan was still able to get some OK shots with both of the smartphones.

"Cellphones are great for when you're on the go," said Sullivan. "They're easy to use and offer a way to share and store photos. But for a special event, you're probably better off with a camera."

That way you have a better chance of taking photos that will preserve life's special moments.

Consumer Reports says a good choice for an SLR camera is the Nikon D-3100. It costs about $600. It delivers very good photos, even in low light, and very good video also in the same conditions.

For much less, Consumer Reports recommends a point-and-shoot camera, the Canon PowerShot SD940 IS Digital ELPH. It costs about $200. While it doesn't take great photos in low light, it takes very good flash photos and video.

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