Do you have framed photos on your wall that were taken with a camera phone?
We didn't think so. Most of those now on the market can barely capture a decent image to email or view on a tiny LCD screen. But that could change with the latest phones packing 2 Megapixels or more.
In fact, amateur photographers shopping for 3 to 5MP digital cameras might take a phone alternative, especially if they plan to make just 4x6- to 8x10-inch prints.
And some serious shooters might opt for a phone that takes decent pictures for the times when they've left their real camera behind (we won't tell).
What makes a respectable camera phone? We would start with a 2MP or higher sensor, a good-fixed focus or autofocus lens with low distortion, and decent color accuracy.
As with compact digital cameras, there are many other variables to consider. As a rule, camera phones still don't do well in low light, with noisy shadows and low powered LED "flashes" that are good to only about 3-5 feet.
But image quality and flashes are improving (with one model offering a real xenon flash). And in bright light it's hard to see the difference between some top camera phones and a compact digicam.
large swiveling LCD monitors are also a plus. Currently, most camera phones have 1.3MP or VGA sensors- too low for our consideration as real cameras.
But several 2MP models are available in the U.S., with more on the way. The first 3MP models could arrive by the time you read this, including one with a 3X optical zoom and improved video features.