Ask LH: Is A Smartphone OK As A Travel Camera?

Hey Lifehacker, I'm going overseas for a year backpacking and working and I don't want to carry a big DSLR camera. Should I just stick with a smartphone or add a smartphone lens? And how should I back the photos up? Can I set it so it only backs up on Wi-Fi? I would be looking for a point-and-shoot phone with GPS. Thanks, Camera Confused

Smartphone selfie picture from Shutterstock

Dear CC,

Smartphone lenses are a great way to boost the quality of your photos via improved optical zoom, a higher megapixel count, better image stabilisation and a higher ISO sensitivity. However, the drawback is that you have to carry around a delicate and awkwardly shaped gizmo.

This is obviously a nuisance while backpacking, especially if you like to travel light. Most camera lenses, such as the DSC-QX100 are reasonably bulky and may require a protective case or carry pouch. In other words, a proper compact camera will only take up slightly more room in your bag.

In addition to the portability issue, smartphone lenses can be quite fiddly to set up. This can lead to missed photo opportunities — instead of taking a quick snap with your phone, you're arsing about with the lens attachment. Some models also restrict the phone's other functions while in use, which obviously isn't ideal.

All in all, we reckon you're better off sticking to a standalone, high-end camera phone. As long as you don't require large-sized prints of your photos, this should be perfectly serviceable in most situations. (Two notable exceptions are low-light environments and distant subjects — but a lot of this can be rectified via inbuilt filters and cropping. The results won't look perfect, but should be fine for Facebook and Instagram uploads.)

When it comes to backing up photos, we're pretty big fans of Google Drive. You can easily set this up so that it only syncs over Wi-Fi or perform all your backups manually. You can find out more about how this storage app works via our Google Drive tag.

Another thing to be mindful of is power conservation. Camera applications are power-hungry and can drain your battery surprisingly quickly if you're taking lots of photos. The last thing you want is to be stranded on the road without a camera or a phone. Take the money you were going to spend on a smartphone lens and invest in a second battery instead.

If any readers have their own suggestions for lightweight travel photography, let CC know in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    "Take the money you were going to spend on a smartphone lens and invest in a second battery instead."

    Or a portable battery too :)

    The camera on my Samsung Galazy note 3 was adequate for the majority of my holiday in the US. There are certain things that camera phones just can't handle and like the article said, low light is one of them.

    It all depends on what you want to use the photos for. If they are just basically mementos then a smart phone will do you 99% of the time and the 1% probably doesn't justify lugging around another piece of equipment.

    I have a DSLR but I didn't bring it (I don't use it for memento type photography anyway) and I'm glad that I didn't. There were moments where I was frustrated or disappointed with my smartphone camera but life is all about tradeoffs.

    Last edited 12/06/14 2:30 pm

      All in all, we reckon you’re better off sticking to a standalone, high-end camera phone.

      What standalone, high-end camera phones are there?

      Thank you

      Last edited 18/06/14 8:41 am

    Smartphone lenses are not going to make any improvement to "higher megapixel count, better image stabilisation and a higher ISO sensitivity".

    1. The resolution of the camera won't change
    2. The image won't be stabilised (unless the additional lens has image stabilisation, which is rare)
    3. At best, the ISO sensitivity will be the same - more likely it will be reduced.

      Actually, it depends on the lens attachment. For example, the Sony model I linked to has all the functionality of a proper compact camera; just without a viewfinder or camera body.

        That's not just a lens though - it also has a sensor - so it's more like a camera.

          Yes, but they are marketed as lens attachments/mounts and are therefore worthy of inclusion.

    Sorry but nothing you can do to your phone will come within a bulls roar of a Canon pocket camera which weighs not much more than your phone. You will get better photos in more places and it's a 100 times easier to whip out and use.

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