Forget Olympus — How Come People Are Still Bothering With Compact Cameras?


The recent announcement from Olympus that it’s dropping out of the compact camera market started us thinking: Why is anyone bothering to make those things anymore?

Certainly the image quality delta between a modern smartphone camera and a point-and-shoot has been somewhere between “negligible” and “who cares?” for a couple of years. And if you’re much concerned about image quality in the first place, you’ve already traded up to a Micro Four Thirds or better.


Why, indeed, would you clutter your purse or pocket with a separate device that by and large replicates a fraction of the capabilities of your phone?

A few theories off the top off our collective head:

#1: You sometimes/often take photos in situations that represent some risk of damage to the device — moisture, sand, clumsy hands, inquisitive kids… Sure, you could OtterBox your phone and theoretically make it impregnable to anything short of a nuclear attack. But that won’t be all that good for spontaneity. And anything short of bomb shelter protection will make you feel like you’re endangering the repository of your entire digital life. Nuke your little silver camera, and it’s a twinge of regret and trip to Wal-Mart.


#2: You find it clumsy and irritating to navigate a crowded touchscreen, especially when the alternative is an actual shutter button and companions. Laugh if you want, whippersnappers, but give it another 20 or 30 years and you’ll understand. Of course by then, we’ll all have Google Glasses embedded in our skulls…


#3: You take a lot of photos and are concerned about adequate power. Even the most consumer-friendly smartphones make it harder to swap out batteries than with a point-and-shoot. And we understand there are some smartphones that won’t let you change the battery at all without factory assistance.

And that’s about where our imagination runs out. Got any more ideas as to why anyone would buy a compact camera today?

Image credits: 8/365 * Baby Blue Compact Camera by susivinh, Yes You Can Yes You Can! by FaceMePLS, Oh My God It’s Bart Simpson! by FaceMePLS, What’s on his display? by FaceMePLS

  • MG

    There are some places where money are not that abundant and not everybody affords a smartphone that is 500 euros or a monthly subscription that is 30 euros. When someone like this wants to take pictures from his/her life events buys a 100 euros p&s. I never had a p&s and my first camera was an iphone 2G that I bought with the money I saved for 3 months… So everything I say, I say from personal experience. There is a market for low cost cameras. Now things are different for me, but I still believe P&S are great when that is all you can afford.

  • Techgeek22

    Well I agree cell phone have come a long way and are handy but most aren’t able to replace a compact just yet… Reasons for me are the optical zoom… This is unavailable in most phones. Another reason is the ability of the sensor in low light situations… Also focus speed on mobile devices don’t seems to be as snappy as those on point and shoot cameras. While p&s camera don’t have great optical quality it still usually better than the tiny “lens” on a phone that get constantly rubbed by what ever in in your pockets. Megapixels is a great marketing ploy… These are not the same across cameras and phones… Need to look at the effective resolution and dynamic range which again I find phones still lag… Then there is optical image stabilization… But new phones are getting close… The Nokia 920 is a cool piece of kit.

  • Stewart Doyle

    Optical zoom. It’s the only thing I can think of a dedicated compact camera has that a smartphone camera doesn’t.

  • Ninja250

    I love my Canon SX230HS. Great snapshots, terrific optical zoom and good battery life if you keep the GPS switched off. Smartphone – are you kidding me? Only Americans are dumb enough to pay 3 to 4 times the monthly fees that the rest of the world pays (although I do have a prepay cell phone that costs me $8.33/month). I love my Olympus EP-1 cameras, and would love the new EP-5 – but not at $999 for the body. If Olympus is planning to convert to a “premium-only” brand, they may find Sony cleaning their clock (Can you say Nex 3n)?

  • Mike

    -better controls
    -optical zoom
    -mechanical shutter

  • Mike

    Excuse me, but any compact Canon has these features.

  • branden rio

    Yeah, our work needs lots of photo documentation. The photos don’t have to be great, but they’re frequently in dark places and we need the flash. Also, giving people a point-and-shoot camera requires basically no training. We can’t hand out smartphones without training, and without a huge additional support burden, and without the smartphones getting used for a million non-photo things.

    A point-and-shoot camera is the correct tool for what we need — why would we switch to something that’s not the right tool?

  • Joey Miller

    It’s amazing to me how many people that read a camera tech blog don’t have or want a smart phone. Who are you people?

  • Darius_Roberti

    Well, I own a DSLR, and use it for work. But I don’t own a smartphone, as I can’t afford one, nor a data plan to go with it.

  • Thiago Medeiros

    My reaction to the obligatory Petapixel click-cow articles:

  • robin

    You like to zoom, and/or you have a job that requires you to have a phone without a camera.

  • D.G. Brown

    I love my RX100 and don’t leave the house without it. Since getting it, my iPhone is relegated to Instagram duty :-P. (I also have a Canon D20 which is generally in my bag in case I’m in or very near water)

  • sayithere

    as long as pentax still produces WG tough camera series, I will buy it. otherwise, I’ll use my smartphone.

  • Nicole Condit

    Definitely the battery issue plus the fact my iPhone “shutter” keeps freezing shut. I’m either carrying my DSLR everywhere or getting a new pocket camera.

  • Darko van Kovacevic

    indeed awfully narrow-minded article, how many people in non western world have a smartphone …

  • Darko van Kovacevic

    in a recent tough camera showdown olympus won it by a large margin from the rest

  • Mantis


  • Roy

    You mean in China for example? Probably not that many…

  • 11

    (.) and the camera sucked all the battery and the phone is dead when I need it the most…

  • Oliver Kealey

    Plenty of people like the feel of a real camera (even a small P&S) rather than a phone. My phone camera stinks!

  • Bruce Horn

    All smartphones have lenses that are too wide for many people pictures. They might work well for small group photos of 3-5 people but for an individual head and shoulders portrait you have to get about a foot away. This is uncomfortable for many people and sometimes logistically difficult. For anything larger than about 10 people, if you try to zoom in on a smartphone photo enough to see individual faces, you will see that the quality is just not there to identify who is who.

  • Rob Gordon

    Sometimes, If you are looking for 4×6 print output and certainly anything cropped or enlarged, phone cameras just don’t cut it. Point and shoots still have a leg up on mobile cameras

  • dav1dz

    It’s hard to measure something like that in a population of over 1 billion people.

    Let’s just say that, everyone that can afford to have a smartphone in China has one. That is about half a billion.

  • William Spell Jr.

    Because a compact camera never rings when you’re just about to snap that great shot.

  • Danceswithdachshunds

    Because my cell phone is only a cell phone … and most of the time it’s turned OFF!

    I don’t text either, it’s a waste of time; I email. If I REALLY need to communicate with someone immediately – I CALL EM!

    When I sit on a park bench I’m looking at clouds and trees to clear my mind – not at a ‘socializing machine’. I guess I’m just too damn independent…

  • Bill T

    I think others on this blog have made a good case for the compact camera. I won’t repeat most of their arguments.

    Interestingly, Ken Rockwell – who of course has prodigious knowledge of photography – also claims that smartphone photos can be more than adequate for almost any level of shooter.

    This is one time where I find his advisement somewhat hard to believe. I spent a long time picking a replacement for my trusty FinePix E550 (which is dated, but still takes amazing snapshots), tried and returned a few cameras, and finally settled on Canon’s highly-regarded IXUS 255 (a.k.a. Elph 330). For my needs, I had decided on an all-purpose point-and-shoot, in that vast murky area between smartphone and DSLR.

    The Canon is small, easy to carry, and easy to use. And produces great snapshots.

    On the other hand, I was just part of a family photo taken with a newer I-phone. It was grainy, distorted around the edges, and had odd-looking colors – and it looked like a typical smartphone picture to a casual, low-knowledge observer like me.

    Until the phones get significantly better, give me my Canon any day. (And like others on this site, my phone is more of a talk-and-text device, even though this Blackberry does take photos)