What are cameras used for today?

What is the difference between a Leica camera from 1950 and one from 1970? Not too much. At least the differences seem small when you look at how digital cameras have evolved over the past 20 years. In 1994, with the few devices that existed at all, it was only possible to capture coarse pixel images that were just barely good as snapshots. Its only appeal was that it didn't need to be developed. Simply press the shutter release and the image immediately appeared on the monitor or could be sent by email.

And today the digital revolution has swept away manufacturers like Agfa and Kodak. For the most part, film photography has returned to being a matter for experts and artists. The bulk of the images has long been created with digital cameras, of which the bulk again with the tiny devices that are built into cell phones. And the best thing about it is: In many cases, the quality can no longer be distinguished from that of an amateur camera. So do you still need a camera, and if so, what for? What can real cameras do better?

Anyone who used to use a compact camera with a wide-angle lens, who didn't want to worry, but just wanted to quickly capture the moment, really doesn't need a camera these days. Because smartphones can now also do that. And a whole lot more.

The picture quality of the cell phone flagships is astonishingly high

You can not only take photos with them, but also record videos - some of the new devices already record in 4K resolution, which is sharper than HD television. Top devices such as the iPhone 6 also have image stabilization. This calculates camera shake out of the images so that videos that were created while walking, for example, still look good on the screen. Or they make recordings in super slow motion. The little wonder devices can even send these videos and of course photos to TV sets. It couldn't be more practical or convenient - and the quality of the cell phone flagships is surprisingly good.

That applies at least in daylight. When it gets darker, the cell phone cameras reach the limits set by physics. And that's mainly due to their small size. Since cell phones are supposed to be flat, the lenses and image sensors have to be very small. As soon as it gets dark, the quality of cell phone pictures suffers.

However, that is not the only shortcoming. Some cell phones allow you to zoom in on subjects, but this is usually only possible electronically. The quality is therefore modest. So that leaves the wide-angle lens. This only covers a large angle and distorts faces if you get too close. You cannot achieve this effect that is so often admired in professional photos: The main motif, for example the head of a person portrayed, is so sharply depicted that every pore and every hair can be seen. The background, on the other hand, is completely blurred.

The less wide-angled a lens is, the better it works. This is exactly why sports photographers or paparazzi have tubes on their cameras for so long. You can use it to bring distant subjects in and also work with sharpness and blurring. Which area of ​​a photo can be seen in focus is also influenced by the aperture. The higher the aperture value, the larger the area that is in focus, and vice versa.

If you want to use these and other effects in a targeted manner, you cannot avoid the right camera. Some cell phones even allow manual interventions, but you can only really tweak the settings with a better camera.

Larger cameras are often easier to hold than small ones

Since the leap from the cell phone to a compact camera is no longer all that great (if at all), a new class of cameras has been established in recent years that successfully tries to combine small size with high quality. We're talking about mirrorless system cameras. Their image recording sensor is approximately or even the same size as that of entry-level SLR cameras. The image quality is also comparable, and the lenses can also be changed. Many do not even notice their main disadvantage because they do not know any other way anyway: There is no viewfinder, only a small monitor - but in bright sunlight this becomes a problem. For some of these cameras there are therefore electronic viewfinders that can be attached.

SLR cameras are larger because they send the image from the lens through a penta prism into the viewfinder, and that takes up space. The mirror also folds up with each shot to clear the way for the light that can then fall on the sensor. While their size makes them less portable, the larger gadgets are often easier to hold than their miniaturized little relatives. In addition, there are usually more accessories, especially more lenses. But even that is not enough for the real enthusiast. He uses cameras where the recording sensor alone costs more than some people spend for a not-so-bad camera.

In cameras with so-called full-format sensors, the light-sensitive chips are just as large as a photo on 35mm film used to be, namely 24 by 36 millimeters. For comparison: The sensors of entry-level SLR cameras are usually only 15.7 by 23 millimeters - less than half that.

And what's the point? A lot, in terms of both quality and effort. Because of the large sensors, the lenses also have to be larger (and therefore heavier). Since there is more space for the many millions of light-sensitive points, they can capture more light. Great photos by candlelight? This is no longer a problem with these cameras.

The more such cameras are aimed at professionals, the less automatic functions can be found in them, which can make life much easier for inexperienced photo enthusiasts. So simply spending a lot of money doesn't necessarily and automatically bring you the best photos. Then it is already a matter of collecting knowledge, reading manuals. In other words: then it becomes a real hobby. And that's only fun if you do it right.