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Should I buy a new cell phone or a new digital camera?

My family and i are going to Germany, Austria and maybe a little bit of northern Italy in April.
Right now I do not have a cell phone that will work in Europe. At the same time my old manual Pentax that is in need of repair, and it is difficult to find places that repair them.
Since I am traveling with my husband and kids, there may be times when we split up to do separate things, so I feel I must have a functioning cellphone.

I know that I want to have a decent camera, although I know I cannot spend the money on the high end digital camera right now I would like to have. (we need to pay for the trip!)
In my day to day life at home in the states, a plain and simple cell phone is fine for me. I don't care about having the latest technology.
I am thinking of buying a used iphone or another type of cell phone that has a decent camera in it.
I do not have the budget right now for a new cell phone and a new camera. So I am torn.
Should I by a low price camera, or a cell phone?
Are the photo qualities similar?
Any recommendations on the types of cell phones that take the best photos?

Posted by
8605 posts

Phrases like "high end" and "low price" are subjective terms.

You may get better answers if you provided a budget expressed in a $$ amount

Posted by
4928 posts

I think you need first of all to try out some cell phone cameras and see what you get. It's hard to judge based on what other people say and show you, especially if you are used to using an old Pentax!

Yes, some of the newer iPhones and Pixels and Samsung have amazing cameras (or so I'm told). But, what are your needs? What are you planning to take pictures of in Europe? Shapshots of your family and some sights? How serious are you as a photographer? When I travel, I take a tripod and go out and night and shoot long exposures etc. It wouldn't be impossible with a phone - but I wouldn't want to bother. I have a good "regular" digital camera with a big sensor (low noise, so I can get good quality images with high exposure and/or low light). But...if this is something you wouldn't bother with, maybe a phone would work.

A good test for any camera is how it does in low light. Most cameras will take really nice pictures on a bright sunny day with plenty of light. But what about on an overcast day, or at dusk, or inside a church? If you find the camera can't take sharp pictures (or they are all "pixelated"), then maybe it's not so good.

It sounds like you need a phone no matter what. FYI, smart phones don't have to cost a fortune. I just bought a new Moto X4 Android; I paid $165 on sale, for the fully unlocked version that works on any carrier, in the US or Europe. There's no way the camera(s) will be as good as the best iPhone and Android cameras, but that wasn't my goal. I did want a better phone camera for taking snapshots of my cat at home, and the X4 is nice improvement from my old phone. It actually has two cameras: a "regular" lens and a wide angle lens; you can switch between them. I haven't tried the phone in low light yet. But this phone is otherwise really nice for the money (as a smart phone) - plenty of storage, not slow, a nice screen, etc. and might fit your budget. (I got mine from B&H Photo Video online; they had this price again about two weeks ago and probably will again.)

Could be you could buy a phone like this AND a decent P&S camera to boot - best of both worlds.

Posted by
2559 posts

A good smart phone will take very good pictures, work as a phone, has navigation, can translate language, help you with currency conversion, allow you to text and email. A camera will take pictures. If you can only buy one, buy a cell phone. I’m very pleased with my iPhone 6S. Apple is no longer selling them but they are available through resellers. The newer models have better cameras and Apple has a pretty good installment method for paying. They are expensive but you can get many years out of them. Apple has classes on iPhone photography that I found very good. They are free. There are many hidden tricks and I find a new one or two with each class. I have a Nikon DSLR and it takes great pictures. But I never take it to Europe. Just too cumbersome.

Posted by
2705 posts

If you are willing to learn to use new features, a smart phone is an amazingly handy device. I use mine for:

-maps and real-time location GPS (downloaded, so they work even with no internet)
-mark places of interest on said map so I can go if I’m nearby
-place to store notes for the trip so I’ll always have them. Notes I write. PDF of articles I find useful. Etc
-Storage of reservation confirmations
-conversion calculator (currency, weight, measure units, everything)
-language translator
-Internet access (research sights, pick restaurants, email etc)
-kindle for reading books and guidebooks
-music player
-probably a lot more

If you are interested in doing a variety of things like that then get a phone with a good camera. If all you want is calls/texts use your existing phone and buy a camera. A new smartphone with good camera is expensive and not really worth it if all you want out of it above and beyond your existing phone is a camera.

Posted by
4449 posts

Hi Amelia, I have an iPhone 6 that I took to Italy last year, and I was very pleased with the photos. I even enlarged a couple of special ones to printed canvas (through Costco) for our den and family room.

I like being able to carry a small item vs. a heavier, bulkier camera because I want to capture photos but not have my camera visible all of the time - accessible but not intrusive to just enjoying the moment!

I am not a professional photographer, but In my 20’s I printed/(developed in a darkroom) B&W and color photos as a hobby.

Posted by
3177 posts

There was a thread awhile back where a professional photographer said he takes only his iPhone on trips. Honestly, when we trade in our iPhones for new ones, it's the better camera that we want. I thought this was an old person's iPhone priority, but my 23 yr old daughter is upgrading her iPhone for the same reason and Andrew, the most frequent subject of her photos is her cat! If you get the iPhone, be sure to get an editing app, such as Camera+. I'm a packing light person so there's no way I would lug a camera around. I resisted getting an iPhone because I didn't want to pay for data. That was 3 iPhones ago and now my iPhone is my brain-navigation, color-coded calendar, flashlight, watch.

Posted by
101 posts

I have a Samsung S9 and it can shoot raw and takes fabulous photos. But, beware the battery life. You won't get the same battery life as a camera. In fact, far from it.

Posted by
2 posts

I agree with most of the other folks. Unless you are a professional-grade photographer, buy the best smart phone you can afford. The pictures I took in Italy with my iPhone 5 were really good, and I just upgraded to an iPhone 10, which is phenomenal . Plus you can do all that other stuff with a smartphone! And a camera danging around your neck identifies you as a tourist, and it is bulky to lug around. It's so much easier to whip that phone out of your pocket. The small compact digital cameras are not that great - if they don't have a dedicated viewfinder, it can be hard to frame your shots when you are in bright sunlight, and the compact digitals have never held up very long - something always breaks down. I have a big fancy digital SLR camera, and I did miss having the zoom lens for Italy photography, but the iPhone was fine. PLUS it is easier to post pics to Facebook or message them to friends.

Posted by
743 posts

Should I by a low price camera, or a cell phone?
Are the photo qualities similar?

A cellphone takes good pictures in daylight. A decent camera can take sharp pics in low light (like inside a church or museum). The pocket digital cameras have a sensor not too much bigger than those in better cell phones. I would not get one of these instead of a cellphone. . But if you step up to a micro 4/3rds camera it is jacket-pocket size and has a sensor with 5x or more the area of a cell phone. See

You can get usable pictures with a cellphone even in lower light. You can get better pics with the camera, plus it will have some other features (although from your post above it sounds like those are not important to you). It sounds like you will be satisfied with the cellphone and that gives you one less thing to carry. You might want to borrow a digital camera from a friend and take a few low-light pics with both a phone and it, then compare and see if it matters to you.

Posted by
279 posts

In my experience the biggest advantage of a camera over a cellphone is that most cameras have some sort of optical zoom. Phones do not have optical zoom. Even an optical zoom of only 3X or 5X gives you a lot more flexibility in framing a picture. Otherwise a phone that is a model that is only two or three years old will give you pictures that are as good as any camera that costs less than $400. One advantage of the phone is that there are plenty of apps that will allow you to “post process” your picture to fix a lot of technical issues.

Ignoring the photo issues, a good phone is essential for travel. Be sure to play with all the features and apps you plan to use before you go!

Posted by
841 posts

If you decide to get the smart phone (a decision you will never regret) get it NOW. You will need a few weeks to figure it out.

Posted by
138 posts

Hey, you can buy used DSLR - Cameras like Canon EOS 500D or anything similar, they're quite old in terms of technology for now, but cheap and allow you to take great photos, I think you can easily find one used around 400 bucks on Ebay with lens included. I bought mine new, never regretted of having one.

Modern cell phones cost a lot and if use phone just for calling and texting I don't think its worth money to buy phone now.

Posted by
5 posts

I think a used i Phone unlocked is the answer. I did some cell phone reasearch and it seems T mobile and At&t are GSM, so they will work in Europe.
Thanks for the feedback.

Posted by
2 posts

Buying a Cell Phone with better camera quality is better option, as it provides benefits of both in one. A used Iphone is a good option. Also better camera phones are One Plus and Google Pixel.

Posted by
1492 posts

Are the photo qualities similar?

In no way. If you want to take more than snaps take a real camera with a professional lense and a large sensor. Both things are not available in a smart phone today and likely will stay because a good lense need depth. You can see it very easily when you look at zoomed pictures, if the light conditions get more complicated or the object of the photo is moving during photo.

Regularly I have to provide my photos to all participants of bird and whale watching tours because with a smartphone you have rarely a chance for a good and high-detailed zoom shot; only if object is so near that you will not need a zoom and nearly does not move.

Should I by a low price camera, or a cell phone?
Depends on your behaviour and on what you want to take pictures of.

  1. If you just take some snaps a good smart phone is enough. Avoid the closed eco-system of Apple as long as you are not fully euqipped with Apple products already.
  2. If you want to take a few real good photos go for a travel zoom camera (care for optical zoom) and really learn how to use it. On top buy a low / medium class cell phone ( +/- 200 USD), e.g. from Samsung.
  3. If you want to make some advanced pictures you can think of a DSLM camera but you need extra equipment for that. More something for advanced amateurs. DSLR is high-end (even the cheaper ones) with expensive lenses. Really worth the money. DSLR vs DSLM later on request.

A) For landscape, city and people photography, also some macro situations #1 is OK, #2 is better.
B) For (A) plus macro, effect and landscape / architecture zoom photography #2 is minimum solution.
C) For (B) plus night, sports, nature, super-macro and portrait photography #3 is necessary.

Posted by
2564 posts

I say, get both. Check out compact camera tests in Consumer Reports (or look it up in the library), compare with Amazon reviews and spend about $150 on a compact digital camera. Then get the cellphone you want to use for the next few years, don't base it on its camera (it will be fine).

I hate to say this, I went to film school so I'm a semi-photo snob but dang, the photos my current phone (and my wife's iPhone) take are damn good. Certainly good enough for someone's vacation snaps.

Posted by
5784 posts

Right now I do not have a cell phone that will work in Europe.

Our cell phones do not have cell service in Europe but do work with Wi-Fi and work as a camera taking and store pictures. You will just not be able to make calls or download data. The phone should works without cell service. Put it in airplane mode to save battery because it will use power searching for a cell signal.

Posted by
4928 posts

The OP posted this question in February for a trip she was taking in April. So, perhaps she can report back on what she wound up choosing. More advice is probably not going to help her at this point.

Posted by
37 posts

The best camera is the one you have. Personally, if I were in your position, I'd buy the phone. The quality of photos even in mid-range phones are good. Also, you'll have more use for a phone while traveling.

Posted by
2534 posts

I have an Apple iPhone SE, had it over a year now and use it for most of my photographs when I am travelling ,also allows me to do live videos on Facebook.Only downside is that the batteries deplete quite quickly when using the camera on the phone but I counteract this by carrying a small power bank.

Posted by
31467 posts


I'm assuming your trip is now finished. What solution did you eventually decide on for taking photos?