Best Camera

image of antique camera


The best camera is the one you have with you when you need it. Big cameras produce the best quality photographs - but who lugs heavy cameras around all day? A camera that can fit in your pocket but still takes great pics is often the best choice.

At one time, one of the main determinants of image quality was the chemical composition of the film and the developing techniques. Even so, the size of the film negative was also crucial as the larger the area of film, the more light that was captured and hence the better the quality of the image. With the emergence of digital photography, chemicals have been replaced by electronic activity but the size of the sensor has remained very important in securing a quality image. Digital sensors that are approximately the size of old 35mm film are referred to as "full frame" although most digital cameras use smaller sensors.

image of sensor sizes

Large sensors require larger and heavier cameras to hold the sensors as well as larger and heavier lenses to capture all the light they can process. Smaller sensors are used in most digital cameras and in phone cameras in order to fit within smaller and lighter containers. The images from many cameras and phones are quite adequate for personal use and usually look good on a phone or computer screen; however they may not look so good if printed on paper. Fewer people seem to print photographs in current times so that this is less of an issue. Professional photographers and high-level enthusiasts continue to use larger cameras to get the very high quality they are seeking, especially if they hope to have the images published in magazines or printed and framed for sale.

Now new developments are making higher quality images available without the weight and size of larger cameras.

Computational Photography

A digital camera is actually a small computer. It does not play computer games or write documents etcetera but it does quite complex processing. The light that hits the sensor triggers movement of electrons though the camera's circuits and the consumer has, almost immediately, a digital image. But there are limits - the camera can only capture and store the information received at the sensor at the instant the photograph is taken.

A recent development has been the incorporation of multiple sensors and lenses in a single device. Each sensor independently captures information but the information from multiple sensors can be combined to produce an image of higher quality than can be obtained from a single sensor. This is part of a larger area of research called computational photography in which computer technology is utilised to maximise the quality of photographic images. The technology does distort an image but simply extracts and utilises all available detail from the multiple sources and merges that into a single higher-quality image. Of course, images can be distorted or modified if the software so directs; for example, users may have options in regard to making colours more vivid, blurring the background, removing bystanders or similar actions to achieve desired photographic effects.

Periscope Lenses

One of attributes desired by camera users has been longer zoom lenses so that they can "zoom in" and get better quality close-up images from a distance. Traditionally this has required longer, larger fixed lenses or shorter lens structures that extend when required. With phone cameras, the requirement that the phone be slim enough to fit in a person's pocket has limited manufacturer's ability to add zoom lenses. A technical breakthough has produced the "periscope lens" which captures light, bends it by, say 90 degrees, in a small prism so much of the lens can fit lengthwise within the phone rather than poke out. This technology allowed one phone to achieve a remarkable 10 times optical zoom, enabling the photographer to zoom in very close to the subject - in other cameras, such feats require lenses which protrude far in front of the camera. However manufacturers have also developed extraordinary software which enables comparable, probably better, zoomed images while using physically smaller components. It will be interesting to see what further developments occur as better software offers manufacturers more choices in balancing image quality with the physical size of components.

Is There Still A Place for Large Cameras?

Is there still a place for large cameras?   Yes, but that place seems to shrink with each new generation of small cameras, especially cameras in phones. There was a time when professionals scoffed at the whole idea of digital photography and insisted that high quality imagery would be achieved only with film. But film is now very rare and most professional photographers use digital cameras, albeit the large ones with large sensors and large lenses. Nevertheless, while they still use larger cameras in many instances, smaller cameras have become part of the equipment carried by professionals and enthusiasts.

Instances where larger cameras are still superior are sports and nature photography where the subjects are moving. While computational photography has achieved signifcant quality in landscapes and portrait photography, fast-moving subjects are not captured with the quality of a larger camera which can capture enough light for a great image in a very small fraction of a second. In contrast, the current generation of smaller cameras needs to capture light over a slightly longer period of time and the movement that occurs in that time leads to undesirable blurring of the image.

Since this was first written, the newest top cameras have started using information from all pixels to enhance autofocus, with groups of adjacent pixels jointly providing data to inform phase detection. This technology produces less blurring although there is still scope for further improvement in sports and nature photography.

Is There Still A Place for Small Cameras?

Much of what small consumer cameras have been providing can now be obtained in a phone. Phone cameras are smaller and more convenient while delivering better photographic quality. And, of course, you can also check emails, browse the internet, play games and make phone calls. It is no wonder that the manufacturers of small cameras are worrying about declining sales of their products. First digital replaced film. Now miniature digital is replacing larger digital.


image of Huawei P50 Pro smartphone and camera
Huawei P50 Pro smartphone camera.


DXOMARK is a website that tests cameras and publishes reviews and ratings. DXOMARK is based in France and has a reputation for providing unbiased evaluation of technology. Smartphones, larger cameras and lenses are rated separately. Visit this website and explore the valuable information it provides.

Early in 2020, Frederic Guichard, the Chief Technical Officer of DXOMARK, presented a conference session Smartphones vs Cameras: Closing the gap on image quality. He concluded that top-level cameras are better than phone cameras, but only just, and were not as good as phone cameras in some particular aspects.

The Best Small Camera

As was stated in the introduction to this article, the best camera is the one you have with you when you need it. Big cameras produce better quality photographs - but who lugs heavy cameras around all day? A camera that can fit in your pocket but still takes great pics is often the best choice.

But, if you use any device which is connnected to the internet, know that you are being watched.



  • The text on this page is provided under CC0 - public domain dedication.
  • The image of an antique camera was obtained from publicdomainvectors.organd there are no restrictions on copying and using the image
  • The image titled "Sensor_sizes_overlaid.svg": Moxfyre derivative work: Autopilot CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
  • The image of the Huawei P50 Pro smartphone and camera from Huawei official photographs

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