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

  • Jeremy Madore

    … because they don’t have a smartphone, maybe?? This is an awfully narrow-minded article guys.

    Reasons for not having a smartphone:
    1.) You don’t want to inundate yourself with even more technology.
    2.) You don’t know how to use one, or have no desire to.
    3.) You can’t afford one. Let’s not forget that they come with a baseline price tag of $70/mo and up for reliable providers. That is one F*n expensive camera.
    4.) You are satisfied with what you have now and want to stick with what you are used to.

  • Richard

    I have many compact cameras as well as an iPhone 4S. I just bought a Ricoh GR (wonderful camera). They’re all useful in different ways.

    While the iPhone is capable of making amazing images there’s nothing like having the control of a camera, if you opt to use it.

  • Ubiety

    We use them at work. I work outside in any weather, with animals. Waterproof, shockproof, easily replaceable.

  • souliere

    Interesting the Olympus is getting out the market. Their stylus tough is the reason I still carry a pocket camera. Advantages over my smart phone.
    Real flash, LEDs don’t reach that far.
    Real zoomable optics, my smart phone only has digital zoom.
    Strap so if someone bumps me I don’t lose the camera.
    How fast to take a picture. Smart phone can be way too slow.
    Battery life. My smart phone can barely get itself through the day.
    Water proof. I don’t care if it’s raining/snowing or in the pool with my Tough.
    Low light sensitivity, Touch blows away my Galaxy SII.
    Much better video quality. Better audio for video too.

  • Nicholas Dunning

    +1 for the above.

    And a canon s100 still has better than image quality than a phone, even considering its $250 price tag… And way quicker to use than a phone.

  • Bruce Horn

    The biggest difference for me is the optical zoom. All smartphones have lenses that are way too wide for many photos and digitally zooming in on an image from that tiny sensor is much worse even than the smallest p&s. As someone else said, the price for a smartphone is a major consideration. I have an iPod Touch with a camera and figure that every year I can hold myself back from getting a smartphone is $7-800 in my pocket which gets me another week closer to retirement. For many people who are not as crazy about photography as I am, carrying around the extra weight or bulk of a DSLR or even a mirrorless is too much as is the cost.

  • iowapipe

    1, zoom capability, 2, crop capability (pixels to spare), 3, typically IQ is still better , 4, no single point of failure if you have both with you, 4, low light without flash is handled better by a few of the compact models for sure.

  • J

    Eerr, first, because it’s COMPACT?! I also have a DSLR and believe me, it gets bulky. Second, because I don’t have (or even need) a “smartphone”. Third, because it’s perfect with/for kids. Fourth, mine takes great macro pictures. Oh, and fifth – the low PRICE.

  • Joji Bronner

    I’ve found Optical Zoom to be fairly useless for maybe 90% of the situation. The majority of the people that own Point and Shoot or Smartphones take picture of other people, so an optical zoom would be fairly useless for a portrait shot. Reasons for an optical zoom might be for taking pictures of birds or sports photography, but you would probably need want an actual DSLR for that.

  • iowapipe

    mmmm, when people go to events and are in the stands or further back in the crowd, they definitely take advantage of their optical zooms. DSLR doesn’t fit as easily in a purse and weighs quite a bit more. And the micro 4/3 cameras have the disadvantage of a relatively big lens sticking off of it.

  • aminucyrus

    Hello,have you heard of the Sony RX100?That’s a solid reason to have a point and shoot. Ohhh wait,a newer one is on the horizon.

  • Jonathan Maniago

    RAW files, manual controls (zoom, focus, exposure), responsiveness, quick swapping of battery and storage.

    If any smartphone could offer these at a price point similar to that of compacts, I wouldn’t mind making the switch.

  • kosherhog

    +1 on that comment … I carry a 5D3 along with my Canon G15. The G15 has plenty of manual control to get shots that I might not be able to get depending on what lens I have on my SLR. When traveling, I like to put my 70-200 on the SLR and then use the G15 for close-up and wide angle shots.

  • Erin

    I was going to say exactly this. I don’t own a phone that takes pictures, and neither do my husband or my mother-in-law. I have several professional cameras, but my husband and mother-in-law do not, and a compact camera suits their purposes.

  • Sam

    Is this article just for trolling with your readers? Feel free to do an image quality-test between a smartphone and the Sony RX100.

  • Nanks H

    Phew. Glad to see I’m not the only who

    a) doesn’t have a smartphone and doesn’t want one.

    b) loves his/her compact camera. I’m not a professional photographer, but I like to take pictures. I don’t want to hike or travel with lots of gear, and my compact Canon gives me the control I need to take the pictures I want.

  • alabi2k

    Because some people like to do more than just post pictures of food on instagram or facebook. Some of us actually care about the quality of the picture, and a DSLR is just not economically feasible. (ie: too expensive).

  • JSMc

    I have a $19 cell phone that I use for phone calls, on which I have a grandfathered plan that costs $7.50 a month which I don’t wish to give up. I have a Sony Alpha 65 that I use for serious photography. And I have a Sony W650 compact camera that I carry with me constantly. The compact is the only one which I might consider upgrading in the foreseeable future.

  • Aaron

    I do a lot of traveling and archeological work. My phone doesn’t get signal at most of the places I travel to. I have three actual cameras I take with me everywhere: Samsung SH100, Nikon P7100 and my Canon 5D MKII. I use my phone sometimes as well.
    Each has it’s own place and uses.

    For some people lugging a heavy-as-a-brick camera like the Canon is not feasible. I have to hike to some sites multiple times so I use the Nikon as my scout camera. Then bring the Canon in later. The Samsung goes with me when I go out with my family and/or friends in the city as it has WiFi built in.

    But then again as Chase Jarvis said; “The best camera in the world is the one you have with you”

    Who cares what people are carrying anyways, GET OUT AND SHOOT! That’s all that matters.

  • Renato Murakami

    I think there are some jobs that requires taking pics with good quality (better than smartphone quality unless you’re willing to buy a 808 Pureview) in several different conditions (low light), when whoever is taking photos is not a photographer.
    For instance: Small real estate agencies, car insurance inspectors, small businesses that sells products online. I bet lots of soccer moms, tourists in general, among others would also rather have something simple and dedicated as a camera.
    You can also include businesses that uses shared cameras among employees.
    All in all, I think there’s still a good market for it.
    Smartphones are getting better, but they are still not there. I’d point Nokia for getting closest, but if you take even top iPhone and Android models, low light is still pretty noisy/crappy. And then, not everyone has top smartphones. Considering the entire cellphone/smartphone market, it’s probably a very small percentage of owners that actually have smartphones with reasonably capable cameras.
    Micro Four Thirds might be better for those considering photography more seriously, but for those who just want good pics in auto settings, it just doesn’t make sense.
    A far better choice without much hassle is a point ‘n shoot with a good all around lens.
    One thing is true: The market for point ‘n shoot is getting smaller.
    But it’s still far from extinct.

  • Jason

    Because you want to print images. And to clarify Olympus is not getting out of point and shoots just out of their lowest end models.

  • Chris Pickrell

    I prefer to have dedicated devices, rather than an all in one. I use my phone to communicate, not listen to music, take pictures, or other stuff its used for nowadays. I can’t post my phone on my dash like my GPS.

  • Mansgame

    If you’re talking a $70 compact, I get it, but if you talk about a G13 or P7700, no cell phone camera is going to come close to that.

    Also, old people.

  • David Becker

    I honestly hadn’t considered “I don’t have or want a smartphone” as a possible response to this. I guess living in San Francisco warps one’s perspective. God bless choosy geeks!

    And to be more exact, I meant to talk here about little silver things that cost $99 — your commodity point-and-shoot. RAW shooting, manual controls, megazoom — those are a different kind of critter.

  • Samuli Vuorinen

    I don’t know about the prices abroad, but in Finland smartphones are often 10-20€/month (assuming eg. a two-year deal).

  • YouDidntDidYou

    Olympus is just getting out of the sub $200 point and shoot segment they will continue to sell their successful Tough range

  • Irving

    The number one reason? Because I’m not one of the lowest common denominator “me too!” types.

    I posted this via a desktop too. Imagine THAT!

  • Gary

    Frankly, I don’t think the author knows a damned thing about these cameras if he thinks the resolution and image quality is no better than a “smart phone.” Check out the Sony RX-1 and then we’ll talk. Some people don’t embrace “convergence” and prefer a real camera to a “phone” that pretends to be a camera in addition to being a phone.

  • alreadyupsidedown

    I think he’s referring to the cheapest strata of compact cameras, although he could have made that more clear.

  • Shaun Culliss

    Because Panasonic made the LX-7. Also smartphones are useless in low light.

  • Tenisd

    Because, it would be hard to believe, but also there still is some people in this world, whos mobile phone has bad quality camera, or no camera at all. Also the mobile phone flash is blinding people all around the world to much. Pointandshoot flash is more humane :D

  • Michael Thompson

    I see so many people now using iPads to take images.

  • Peter Lars

    Manual control of shutter, aperture and iso! Phone cameras are still so lame when it comes to manual control.

  • Jeffrey Silvers

    because I have no need or want a `smartphone’ and am not rich enough to be able to afford a four/thirds

  • lightleak

    If you had ever used your Galaxy SII, Galaxy S3, Iphone etc. indoors in not 100% ideal and blinding sunlight, you would know that in many cases it produces ugly colored center areas. Pink Spot problem. Some are blueish some greenish, some pink, some look like vignetting, others like using a red center filter. The lens and sensor combinations of most available smartphones should not have been allowed to be sold to people because the image quality regarding the colour in said conditions is ridiculously terrible. The worst compact camera will be better for that. At the moment.

    Unless you use the „flash“. Or stupid vintage filters.

  • John

    Because, for a start, all point and shoot cameras have zoom.

  • Jack

    Probably because the quality is substantially better than many smartphones out there. Unless you have an iPhone 5, Galaxy S 3/4 or Nokia Lumia, your smartphone is probably going to take awful photos.

  • tttulio

    Correction: Olympus is leaving the ENTRY LEVEL point and shoot.

  • Ed Stone

    Isn’t it obvious? Smart phones don’t have optical zoom! Yet anyway!

  • Jake

    5.) You’ve seen first-hand that the best way to effectively kill a conversation and suck the fun out of any kind of social interaction is by someone googling the answer to any question anyone ever has. Why bother even talking at that point? I don’t really care who won the 1995 Best Actor Oscar, I just want to chat movies with you!

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    I recently did a two month project in Ljubljana, Slovenia (you can see it on my website). And after that I immediately pre-ordered Ricoh GR. I was using the Canon EOS 5D Mark II on the street and while it is a great camera and has served me well throughout the years, it’s just so big and bulky to use on the streets for a project like the one I did that I am in fact limited.

    So there you go… how come people bother with compacts? Because compacts are moving forward, into the right direction. They deliver DSLR quality in a superb format.

  • mrbeard

    i use a compact when travelling because it fits in my pocket and its easier to get AA batteries than to charge my smartphone every night.

  • Caroline

    I bought a Nikon Coolpix for my 6 year old. Because there’s no way in hell she’s getting a smartphone.

  • Roger Fisher

    I don’t like giving my phone with access to all my personal stuff to a perfect stranger.

  • Conrado

    I use a Canon Digital Rebel but I also use a Canon A1400 p&s. Its got an optical viewfinder and I find that useful in bright light situations. Also, it’s nice to have on my kayak trips. I even put a small tabletop tripod on it. All good photographers use tripods.

  • Marcus T.

    OPTICAL zoom!!!

  • patrick dinneen

    1. Viewfinder (restricted to a few slightly compact cameras/or as an optional extra
    2. extra dials/controls (my LX7 has aperture ring, photo ratio settings etc.
    3. battery
    4. zoom

  • Norshan Nusi

    As observed in the comments, optical zoom is one thing.

    But getting out the camera fro your pocket, starting it up, and quickly pressing the shutter button is much much faster then unlocking your phone, selecting the camera touching the screen to take photo…

    Not to mention tripod mount, and the ability to snap your photo discreetly (shooting from the hip)

    And the price. Canon Powershot A series are cheap and do have great image quality..not to mention the flash coverage is higher ;)

  • Norshan Nusi

    Those cost much more than a regular compact camera too!~

  • James Conner

    If the comparison is between smart phones and compact cameras of the Nikon P330 or Canon S110 genre, the advantages of the cameras are clear: optical zooms, faster and sharper lenses, better low light performance (especially at higher ISOs), better macro performance, more capable image burst capabilities, etc. If the comparison is between smart phones and $100 compacts, the call is a little closer. I think the best approach is assessing one’s photographic needs, and then choosing an image making device that meets those needs. For many people and situations, a smart phone’s built-in camera will suffice. The best camera, after all, is the one that you use.