Smartphone cameras have transformed photography. Almost everyone has a camera with them all the time now, which means that there's little need to buy a separate digital camera: smartphones have effectively killed off the market for low-range standalone digital cameras, and for an increasing number of people, their smartphone is their only camera.
But is your smartphone camera really up to the job? While the resolution and performance of smartphone cameras has steadily improved, the specifications show that smartphones are still inferior to dedicated image capture devices.
Smartphones offer much smaller sensors (in terms of resolution), and have smaller lenses. If you're sharing images electronically, these differences may be negligible on-screen, but when you're preserving the permanent archive of your most treasured moments, it could be a different matter.
Meanwhile, cameras and phones have become more connected. Most cameras now feature Wi-Fi and camera manufacturers increasingly offer a free downloadable app that lets you use your camera with your phone. These apps let you use your phone to store photos or as a remote control for the camera, pairing your screen with the camera's viewfinder.
If you're a one-device photographer, though, you'll want to know which is the best smartphone to buy. TechRadar compares six of the newest - and by implication, best - handsets to decide which is the best for taking pictures. Each has its advantages, while technology in terms of sensor and lens can vary widely, so your choice must take into account not only how well the phone handles as a camera, but also the results it returns.
The six in contention
Our candidates are as acclaimed as they are diverse: the HTC One, Sony Xperia Z1, Apple iPhone 5S, Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, Nokia Lumia 1020, and LG G2. With one exception - the HTC - all feature higher pixel counts than phones of previous generations.
We've looked at the HTC One Android handset before, at the start of the summer, but are re-examining it here by way of comparison. Powered by a 1.7GHZ, quad-core CPU, its features of note are as follows: 4 megapixel "UltraPixel" camera, which generates file sizes that at 1.5MB are smaller than the rest here; a gratifyingly huge 4.7-inch display; 32GB data capacity; handset dimensions of 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3mm; 143g weight; plus HDMI, Bluetooth 4.0, USB, Wi-Fi, and NFC connectivity.
Next up is our second Android OS (4.2 Jelly Bean) machine in the Sony Xperia Z1, a more obvious monoblock design. Powered by a 2.2 GHz quad-core CPU and with up to a 16GB memory, Sony is making quite a claim for this phone as delivering the "best overall image quality of all leading smartphones."
Key features include a 20.7 megapixel 1/2.3-inch Exmor R sensor (a considerable hike upwards from the 13MP Xperia Z), 5-inch Full HD display, dimensions of 144.4 x 73.9 x 8.5mm and 169g weight (so marginally bigger and heavier than the HTC), plus Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, HDMI, NFC and microSD card slot by way of connectivity options.
Our third contender is the iPhone 5S, naturally powered by Apple's refreshed iOS 7 and new A7 chip. The comparable specifications here are 8-megapixel iSight camera with larger f2.2 aperture, 4-inch Retina display, handset dimensions of 123.8x58.6x7.6mm, a weight of 112g (exactly the same as the iPhone 5) and both Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi.
The fourth phone up for a look-see is the Android powered Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, a more deliberately camera-like version of the plain S4 with a proper optical zoom lens (other smartphones use digital trickery to give the appearance of zoom). The back of the handset exactly resembles the front of a camera, making this one of the closest examples of tech convergence yet.
Key specifications include a 16-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor, 4.3-inch AMOLED screen, 8GB of memory with microSD slot for further expandability, handset dimensions of 63.3x125.3x15.2mm plus USB 2.0, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4, microSD card slot output.
Our last but one option is the Nokia Lumia 1020, which for our purposes came with a matching camera grip-come-body shell which slots onto the handset via its charging port. A second port is provided within the grip itself, so you don't lose out on any functionality. A clever if hardly high tech add-on, it feels like another step towards making phone photographers feel like real photographers.
Coming after the 808, this time around the handset's core specification again comprises a whopping 41-megapixel sensor, on paper at least kicking all others into touch as a photographic tool, plus Qualcomm Snapdragon 54 processor, 4.5-inch 1280 x 768 pixels resolution AMOLED display, Xenon flash, handset dimensions of 130.4 x 71.4 x 10.4mm, a weight of 158g, wireless charging option, and Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, micro USB, NFC output.
Finally, the LG G2 - another recently released high-end Android 4.2 Jelly Bean smartphone. Upping the competitive ante, key specifications include a Snapdragon 800 2.26 GHZ quad-core processor, 13 megapixel optically image-stabilised camera, biggest-on-test 5.2-inch display (1920 x 1080 pixels Full HD resolution), 32GB internal memory of which 22GB is available to the user, handset dimensions of 138.5 x 70.9 x 9.1mm plus Bluetooth 4.0, USB 2.0, NFC and Wi-Fi connectivity
The comparison will go into the above features in detail, focusing on how well the phone can be used as a camera in terms of its user interface, handling and performance.