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Cell Phone Cameras: Good Enough to Replace Your Digital Camera?

Cell Phone Cameras: Good Enough to Replace Your Digital Camera?

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Las Vegas, Nevada, January 10th 2007- Could your next digital camera be a cell phone? The cell phone manufacturers would like that, but the US cell phone networks may not let it happen. Modern cell phones shoot at resolutions that dedicated digital still cameras reached only a couple of years ago: The Nokia N95 shoots 5-megapixel images, and Samsung has a cell phone that can shoot 10 megapixel images: the SCH-B600, which also includes a 3x optical zoom.

But these high resolution cell phones aren’t coming out in the US: the SCH-B600 is being sold in Korea and Europe only. This is partly due to the cost (the SCH-B600 costs a hefty $900 in Korea) and the reluctance of the networks to have 10-megapixel images clogging up their networks. "How do I manage those files on a consistent basis on the network?" Says Ritch Blasi of Cingular, whose highest resolution cell phone is the 5-megapixel Nokia N75. "I could sell that camera phone, but if I’ve got one person using it on a cell site and I‘ve got 6 T1 (high speed Internet) connections going in there to accommodate that one person, it doesn’t make sense." Although the cell networks are rolling out new technologies (such as the new high speed data technology called HSDPA) that increase the speed at which data can be transmitted, they don’t want multi-megabyte photos clogging up the network. So, they don’t offer every phone that the cell phone manufacturers produce.

The cameras built into cell phones will continue to increase in resolution, though. "Customers are demanding something a little bit higher" says Drew Crowell of the PR company Golin Harris, who represent Sony Ericsson, who recently launched a 3.2-megapixel phone (the K790a) that hasn’t yet been picked up by any of the US networks. But he doesn’t see a big demand for anything much higher right now. "I think the market here in the US is a lot different to overseas. I think that this phone fits the market in the US".

And for many users, the 2 or 3 megapixel camera on their cell phone may be all they need. "For people that are snapshot users, their phone could easily replace their camera" says Keith Nowak of Nokia. "Is it going to replace an SLR for professional users? No, that’s not where it’s going. But it has replaced the disposable point-and shoot camera". The statistics of photos uploaded to the photo sharing site Flickr would seem to bear him out: their camera finder shows that users of the most popular cell phone camera (the Nokia N73) uploaded around 95,000 images last month, while users of the most popular digital camera (the Canon Digital Rebel XT) uploaded over 8.7 million.

The advantage of a cell phone over a camera is that they can be constantly connected to the Internet, and manufacturers are taking advantage of this: Nokia includes a Flickr client with their N series phones that allows users to upload images with just one click. That’s a lot easier than shooting the image, copying it to the computer and then uploading it. "What happens is that a lot of people take pictures, but they stay on the camera" says Nowak. "After you take an image with a smart phone, the Flickr app takes that image and uploads it without you doing anything." So while serious photographers may not want to throw out their digital camera quite yet, many casual snappers may find a modern cell phone to be all that they need, and that they may actually be more flexible than a standalone camera.

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