Why smartphones are not great cameras

I love smartphones, they’re insanely useful, but when it comes to taking pictures, they just haven’t been very good in my experience.

When I had my LG CU-500 flip-phone, it took decent-enough pictures, but the best part about it was how fast I could take a picture. I flipped it open, hit the camera button, and snapped a picture. This took maybe 3 seconds. Nowadays, on every smartphone I’ve used (including the iPhone), it’s a laborious process that takes at least 5 seconds to do the same thing.

I have to hit the power button, unlock the phone (or by swiping/pressing the camera button), wait for it to initialize (which is still slower than my flip-phone), then press a virtual button on the screen to take the picture, which is more accident-prone than a hard button. With the flip-phone, the button was a hard button that was not easy to slip with, and the phone grip made it easier to press this button accurately. Every touchscreen smartphone has a virtual camera button, on the bottom or side making it awkward to hold the phone and push the button at the same time, especially one-handed.

My original Motorola Droid was a slight exception to this; it had a dedicated camera button on the bottom right (or top right in landscape) that allowed me to hold the phone securely and easily snap a picture. If the phone was on and unlocked, I could just press and hold the camera button to initiate the camera. While this would have been an acceptable alternative to the flip-phone’s camera, the Droid was so slow (over 5 seconds just to initiate usually) it was frustrating just to get it started. By the time you could take the picture the opportunity was long gone or people’s faces were starting to solidify.

Other smartphones added the hardware camera button, but the trend went to removing the dedicated camera button for whatever reason, so now taking a picture just isn’t that easy or effective of a task anymore.

Whenever I see a device that can do something that it doesn’t, that could make my life easier but doesn’t for no apparent good reason, I have to think that the device is not good enough. I know smartphones can take better pictures more easily and faster, but I don’t understand why they’re not. If the button is in the way, simply make it flush and more difficult to accidentally press. The Droid 2 was a perfect example of this. The buttons were more flush and part of the body material so were harder to accidentally press but still easy to intentionally press. The goal is to be able to take a good picture of the subject while it’s still relatively in its same state.

This is similar to not having media buttons on the phone, like the Blackberry or iPod does, since many people listen to music or podcasts on their phone and it seems like a no-brainer to put these kinds of buttons on the outside of the phone.