Reasons You Should Abandon the Camera Phone That Have Nothing To Do With Image Quality

Reasons You Should Abandon the Camera Phone That Have Nothing To Do With Image Quality

Recent research shows that there are excellent reasons why you should abandon the camera phone that have nothing to do with how good the pictures are. There’s a darker side to camera phones that we ignore at our peril.

Smartphones are brilliant devices; they do an array of things that would have been unheard of when I was a child. Besides being able to take photographs and instantly share them with the world, they can navigate us to a specific location, can help you identify where to stand to see the sunrise behind a particular landmark, help you with the exposure settings when you attach your ND filter, and act as a tracking device so your family knows where you are. There is a better than 90% chance that you are reading this article using your phone.

If you’ve arrived at this website, photography is probably a big part of your life. There’s a good chance you will take your camera wherever you go. If you don’t, you probably grab your iPhone or Android device and snap away with its camera.

I’ve always been a proponent of photography being good for our mental health. It gets us outdoors, we socialize, we move and exercise, and we exclude other thoughts from our heads by concentrating on what we are doing. Photography is a mindful exercise and allows you to switch off from the outside world and all its stresses. This isn't necessarily true of camera phones.

Various estimates suggest that, on average, people in the western world use their phones between three and five hours a day. That is a physical problem, as it affects our posture. We also know the blue-white light of the screen can add to sleep deprivation. But there is more to it than that. That amount of screen time can affect our mood and our productivity too. Phones may damage our cognitive abilities, too.

The human brain can only do one thing at a time. There is a myth that people, especially women, can multitask. They cannot. Research has shown that just having the phone in the same room as you can draw your mind away from the task at hand. They are a massive distraction. Consequently, replacing a camera with a cell phone means that the mindfulness benefits of photography are diluted because the phone distracts us from concentrating on the moment.

In 2018, a University of Pennsylvania study showed that by reducing social media use to 30 minutes a day, there was a significant reduction in levels of anxiety, depression, loneliness, sleep problems, and the fear of missing out (FOMO). Those results occurred in just three weeks.

Results: The limited-use group showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression over three weeks compared to the control group. Both groups showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out over baseline, suggesting the benefit of increased self-monitoring.

Discussion: Our findings strongly suggest that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.

No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression

Melissa G. Hunt,  Rachel Marx, Courtney Lipson, and Jordyn Young December 2018

There is no suggestion that we should give up our phones. They are enormously helpful tools. However, research has shown that cutting the time we spend using them has enormous benefits. Reducing phone usage by one hour daily significantly increases mood and cognitive abilities. You don’t even have to be using the phone for it to have a negative effect. It isn’t enough to turn the phone’s notifications off or have it on the other side of the room; for the benefits to be fully effective, it should be out of the room in which you are working.

The University of Texas’ Doctor Adrian Ward in Austin discovered that just the sight of your phone has a powerful impact on your cognition. Those who had the phone on the desk while they carried out tests performed significantly worse than those who had left the phone in a separate room. Doctor Ward suggests that we have a limited cognitive capacity that we can apply to whatever task we have at hand. When we have phones with us, that capacity is reduced; our minds are pulled away by their allure. They have a powerful attraction because they represent everything good in our lives, such as communications with our loved ones, videos we like to watch, music we enjoy, etc. Just resisting the urge to get that short-term good feeling from accessing our phone uses some of our cognitive resources, thus lowering our performance.

Other studies looked at Text Neck Syndrome and muscular-skeletal injuries. There are vastly increased pain levels that directly result from phone usage. One study highlighted the case of a 16-year-old girl who was admitted to a hospital because of a medical history of headaches, dizziness, and acute neck pain. After a host of tests, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of the cervical spine was obtained. It showed an “inversion of physiological cervical lordosis and posterior disc protrusion at C4–C5 level.” In plain English, the neck’s natural curve had flattened and squeezed the disk between the vertebrae, causing it to bulge. The girl was spending six hours a day studying, using screens. She was discharged with the instruction to only watch touchscreen devices for up to two hours per day. She was also advised to work sitting in a better position, paying attention to her posture.

Excessive use of the phone has also been shown to reduce respiratory function.

If you are a landscape photographer like me, you should weigh the risks of not carrying a phone. If I am shooting from the pier, frequented by dog walkers from very early in the morning until late at night, I will leave it at home. However, when I am heading out during the early hours to catch the sunrise on a deserted, rocky beach, then I will have the phone with me. Even then, it will be switched to silent and hidden in a pocket.

However, it is now recognized that rewarding ourselves with a little treat helps give us self-control. That treat could be a surprise gift or watching a funny video. Giving more to yourself means you can ask more of yourself, too. We can feel burned out, depleted, and even resentful if we are not rewarded. So, getting the endorphin hit from using the cell phone is good, right? Maybe. However, research has also shown that the mental health benefits of rewarding yourself are far greater if you have worked for that reward first. You will get far more joy over an extended period from buying that new lens if you work for it first.

Similarly, the good feeling you get from that cappuccino will be bigger and longer lasting if you have it after a brisk walk. Likewise, spending time using your phone to share and like photos on Instagram will boost your mood more after you have worked for that reward. Have you ever caught yourself scrolling through countless meaningless videos on Instagram, and the next thing you notice is that night has fallen, and that valuable time you will never get back has disappeared? Cell phones are time vampires.

Smartphones can be a force for good. The cameras in them are getting better all the time. I have seen magnificent images shot using phones. Furthermore, the functions built into them can and have improved our lives. But they can also be a like a drug, giving us a short-term reward at the cost of long-term mental, social, and physical harm. People who have reduced their phone usage by one or two hours a day found they had increased productivity, higher mood, improved cognitive abilities, and more social interactions. Humans have been around and excelled as a species for 300,000 years without smartphones, so maybe it’s time to put them away and get out our cameras instead.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Earning a living as a photographer, website developer, and writer and Based in the North East of England, much of Ivor's work is training others; helping people become better photographers. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being through photography. In 2023 he became a brand ambassador for the OM System

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Cell phones really suck for almost all internet usage. I spend a good amount of time online, but much prefer to use a real computer for things like engaging with others on Instagram, reading articles on Fstoppers, writing detailed posts on photography forums, doing research about wildlife, and watching videos about things I am interested in.

I have my phone with me at all times, because some of my work depends on being able to respond to a call within 60 seconds, and if I miss the call, I miss an opportunity to earn a living. But unless I am on a trip far from home, I wait until I am at my real computer to do anything meaningful on the internet.

A 5k 27" screen is nice to read and watch things on, whereas a little 3 inch by 5 inch screen absolutely SUCKS FOR EVERYTHING. Anyone who thinks that watching a video or reading an article on a cell phone "isn't too bad" really, really just doesn't get it.

A high quality experience should be of the utmost importance to everyone, and convenience should not be very important to anyone. Do it right, or just don't bother doing it at all. And doing the internet right means having a nice big high resolution display, a dim room for the best screen viewing, speakers that play the full range of the sound spectrum at high quality, and use of a full, generously sized keyboard. Even laptops pretty much suck, and don't provide as high quality of an experience as a real full size computer.

I only use my laptop for working on photos. I hate reading on the desktop, it feels so weird. I do all my reading on my phone and I'm not sure why that would make a difference, as text is text. It doesn't need to be on a large screen to be more legible, the font is still the same size ln my phone. But i can shift around and lie down and stuff while I read, like a book. Can't do that with a laptop. Video, I can't speak to, as i don't watch it. But reading articles on my phone is a great experience for me, personally.

Text is absolutely bigger - much bigger - on my nice big 27" monitor than it is on my tiny cell phone. On the desktop, I set the view to 175%, so that the text is nice and big, and I can still see a few paragraphs at a time, instead of having to scroll and scroll and scroll the whole time I am reading. In fact, the text is so small on my cell phone that I have to zoom in and read half a screen's worth of text, then scroll sidewise to see the rest of that line ...... repeat repeat repeat every single line of text .... this is a nightmare for anyone who prefers that the actual size of each character space be at least 1/4 inch or larger (preferably 5/16"), for the very easiest of reading and no scrolling necessary.

For viewing videos and photos and maps on a small screen, how do you see the entire scene, PLUS all of the small details, at the same time? You can't. You have to zoom out to see the entire scene, then zoom in to see the details .... what a freaking nightmare that is! Can't believe that people have become conditioned to the point where they think that is acceptable, because it isn't.

I love it. :) But i don't think it's being conditioned one way or another, it's simply what I prefer. I'm literally sitting on my laptop editing photos rn, but I'm using my phone to read and have this conversation with you, simply because I prefer it. Just a matter of taste.

You know how the whole open-office thing ended up making people less available because they had to [pretend to] be available all the time? I think something like that happened with cell phones.

I think you are right. It's why I turn my phone off.

That's why I leave mine at my desk, instead of sticking it in my pocket.

I have never once caught myself scrolling through endless videos on Instagram. I absolutely hate watching videos. I don't listen to podcasts or watch tv, either. I just really don't like that stuff. I have an account, but only to get ideas for locations. I don't post on Instagrsm and i don't have a Facebook, TikTok or twitter. But, i do like taking pics with my phone, along with my main camera. It helps me decide if a shot is worth spending more time on with the tripod and main cam. I kind of see it as my "scout" cam and i love that process. I also use it as my wireless tether screen when doing longer landscape shoots that require focus bracketing or exposure bracketing. It's awesome to be able to click focus spots on my phone with Canon connect and not have to risk touching the camera. I'm definitely not giving it up.

You bring up great points. Having a cell phone with you is NOT synonymous with spending lots of time on social media and "checking in" every 10 or 15 minutes. There must be a few people who live that way, but I surmise that the vast vast vast majority of serious photographers are nothing like that at all. Most of us have a phone with us at all times, but go for hours on end without even looking at it - especially when we are engaged in a photoshoot.

I'm glad we can agree on this.

This has to be the most absurd article if read on a long time. It’s easy to demonstrate why. I’m holding a device in my hand with a lens, buttons on the side and a viewfinder screen on the back. If I can use it to call my wife, the act of using it, FOR ANYTHING, induces stress and is bad for me. If I can’t use it to call my wife, but only to take pictures, movies and record voice memos using it doesn’t induce stress and is exclusively pleasurable. It gets worse. We are to believe when I listen to a a Beethoven symphony on my I phone, I am creating the same undesirable feelings as when I use it to read about the war in the Ukraine.

Objects don’t MAKE us feel anything - feelings are created by association which will vary from individual. Surveys can only indicate common association and are constantly contradicted if you ask questions differently. Adult society wants to prove I phone use by our children is damaging, so we find information to justify that. As is obvious, it’s about what the iPhone us used for. Photography is about goals, (the image) and means (the process). To discount someone else’s s process as somehow illegitimate (you can’t take “real” pictures with a 35mm camera) has been a sad part of photography forever. It’s always been silly.

That has to be the most absurd comment I've read in a long time.

If you actually read the article properly, I mention that I think that smartphones are "brilliant." I don't in any way say that photos taken with a cameraphone are illegitimate. In fact, the title tells you that the reasons I give have nothing to do with image quality. You are arguing against a point I am not making.

I also demonstrate, through citing numerous pieces of peer-reviewed scientific papers, and there are plenty more out there if you want to do your research, that cell phones increase stress and reduce productivity. There are measurable benefits in reducing their usage. If you find current independent research that suggests otherwise, please feel free to share it.

Thanks for commenting.


Your feelings about cell phones have caused a question to arise in my mind .....

Many folks have been clamoring for independent lens cameras to incorporate cell phone operating systems and full connectivity. Tony Northrup is the first person I heard suggest this, and it makes a lot of sense. It doesn't seem to make sense that I can get a fully capable smartphone for $100, and it can do lots and lots of things that a $5,000 ILC can't do. Why in the world wouldn't the ILC manufacturer just incorporate that $100 worth of features into the product that costs $5,000, which would make it infinitely more capable and useful?

I mean, if we are paying $5,000 for a small electronic device, then why isn't that device able to do all the things that a smartphone can do, plus the things that an ILC does? We should all be able to text, surf the internet, download and use apps, look up directions, post to Instagram and Facebook, send emails, and watch YouTube videos right from the articulating LCD on our camera.

How do you feel about that type of camera advancement?

I actually suggested to a manufacturer fitting a SIM card to a camera about 15 years ago! That was when those monstrous cameras were in vogue and had plenty of empty space inside.

I think the screens on the back are actually a bit small for doing a lot of the stuff we do on a smartphone. Plus, now I want my camera's processor to use all its power to process my images. Then, when I am in the middle of a thirty-minute exposure, do I want someone calling and requiring me to tap my camera. Also, I don't want to be contactable all the while. I turn my phone off, or at least onto DND when I am on a shoot.

A smartphone will never be bettered for form factor and ease of use. What exactly would be the benefit in being able to access the internet on an ILC? It isn't a good device to use for that, especially when you'll have a phone with you too. ILC's are already crammed with too many features and I cannot imagine how it would affect battery life with an internet connection (plus having another monthly bill). Imagine holding a camera, with a lens attached and scrolling through the internet vs doing the same on a phone.

HUGE pain the the butt to access my cell phone when shooting in brutal conditions, which I often am. For instance, just yesterday I was photographing sea ducks on the Barnegat Jetty, where one has to hop from rock to rock because there are big gaps between the rocks, and if one were to slip and fall between the rocks, one would be suddenly submerged in salt water and be fighting for one's life. So the cell phone was with me, but tucked away in a pocket under my parka, my chest waders, and my heavy fleece shirt ... literally buried three layers deep. And then of course it is sealed in a Ziploc bag so that it won't get ruined if I happen to take a dump into the ocean. This is a normal way for me to carry my phone when out shooting in bad conditions. To access the phone is a huge inconvenience and discomfort, as it requires that I undo and remove my Parka, undo the suspenders from my waders and unfurl them down over my torso, to be able to access my cargo pants pocket where they are safely tucked away. When I finally get to a relatively safe spot to shoot from, I do not want to have to do all that just to get to my phone, because it is very cold and undoing all of those clothes will cause me to lose a lot of body temperature. But sometimes I have to wait a while before ducks come. So it would be nice if my DSLR would have internet capability so that I could look some things up as I wait for the subjects to shoot. My camera is already set up securely on a very harge, heavy, stable triopod, so once I get where I am going I am not worried about dropping it into the icy salt water, because it is being supported by something other than my clumsy cold hands. As far as ease of use and form factor, in those kinds of conditions, my camera would be MUCH BETTER than my cell phone.

Until Nikon install a simcard in their cameras, it sounds like you could use one of these

Combined with something like this:

I have seen that rugged cell phone before, and it has piqued my interest. But I am really bad with technology ..... it took me a very long time to figure out how to use the Motorolla cell phone that I have, so I am afraid to leave Motorolla and switch to another brand. Especially at that high (to me) price of $179, it would not just be an "extra" phone in addition to the phone I already have, but if I were going to spend that much it would need to be my only phone. I really don't want to have to learn the user interface of another type of phone where the buttons and clickable things don't look exactly the same as what I have finally become familiar with.



I looked into this phone more seriously, and as I re-read the specs and features I grew even more interested than I had been previously. Actually started to think about how to free up $200.

And then I read this:

"NOT support CDMA like Straight Talk,U.S. Cellular, Boost,Sprint and Verizon, Net 10"

Really bummed that they do not work on the Verizon network, as that is the only carrier that offers good coverage in many of the areas that I frequent. I wonder why they don't make it so that it works with Verizon ... certainly that would massively increase their sales here in the United States, especially in rural and remote areas where Verizon is often the only option.


That's quite the niche scenario you've given there. I've never heard of anyone complaining carrying a smartphone and separate ILC is too much of an inconvenience. Besides, you can buy smartphone cases with attached wrist straps if you are concerned about dropping your phone into the water.

Carrying a smartphone and an ILC isn't an inconvenience, but accessing the smartphone while carrying it certainly is. Once it's tucked away deep down in a protected pocket, it is no inconvenience at all. I almost forget it is even with me.
The ILC is already "out" and in my hands and right in front of my eyes, so it would be so much easier to just use the device that I am already working with instead of needing two separate devices to do the different things I want to do.

Most photographers can access their phone easily though, should they need it. I don't think you've thought through the real world practicality of adding the internet to devices already overcrowded with stills and video. Would you be happy to wait for the OS to load up every time you switch the camera on, for example? How often would you actually browse on an ILC compared to a phone at all other times? For a camera to have a feature like internet access it needs to be justifiable. Wanting to browse in-between taking photos isn't really a worthwhile reason, even if it sounds great in theory to you.

I have no idea if it would be very helpful to other photographers, or not. And frankly, I don't care about what other people may or may not want. I care about me and what I want. I write comments from a personal perspective, not from a perspective of what others would find useful.

Sadly camera companies don't offer features that cater to the individual.

Killer post, pun intended. My observation and experience of cell phone usage is on the street is breathtaking. Driving thru a strip mall a lot of people are looking down on their phones as they cross the streets in large parking lots, seemingly unaware of oncoming drivers looking to park. Antidotally, this seems so dangerous, The driver can be creeping along and someone walks right in front of a car.

Yup, I agree.

Locally, we refer to those too ensconced in their phones to posses situational awareness while walking, zombies.

Zombies really frustrate me. I've given up moving for them. I doubt that any will consider why it is that they walked into a large scary looking dude, or if they should have been more aware. I expect that most will see me as the bad guy, but I'm at the point that I lack the graciousness to forgive their abdication of personal responsibility for the cause of social cohesion.

Reading that back, I sound really grumpy - Time for a coffee and a chill pill!

I've seen on several occasions people looking at their phone walk onto a pedestrian crossing without slowing down or looking up from their phone to check for traffic.

Thank you, I will certainly look for it.