As smartphone cameras get better and better, more and more casual snapshots -- Uncle Ted blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, that sort of thing -- are being taken with phones rather than point-and-shoot cameras. The snapshot can easily be uploaded or shared.
There's still a place, and likely always will be, for serious single lens reflex cameras, but if you're not a serious photographer you may find that your phone is good enough for 95 percent of the shots you need to take.
That's one reason that Flip Video was one of the hottest products around and then, just a year or two later, decided to end production. Fewer people wanted a stand-alone video camera when they could take perfectly adequate video with heir phone.
But not all manufacturers are ready to raise the white flag just yet. Samsung, better known as a phone maker than a camera maker, is introducing a new Samsung Galaxy Camera -- sharing a brand name with the company's successful line of phones and tablets. The camera looks and works like a traditional point-and-shoot camera, and it has 21x optical zoom. If cell phone cameras include any zoom at all, it's digital zoom -- a useless feature, since zooming in on something electronically is basically the same thing as cropping and enlarging it. You lose picture quality very quickly with any sort of digital zoom.
The laws of optics, however, make it nearly impossible to do much in the way of optical zoom within the flat focal length required by a cell phone camera -- and these days, no one wants to carry a phone as thick as a point-and-shoot camera.
What makes the Samsung Galaxy Camera different from other point-and-shoot cameras -- and the reason Samsung is introducing it -- is that it has a data connection, over the 4G LTE cell phone network. Just as with a cell phone, you can automatically upload and share the photos you take. You can connect the phone to your Facebook or other social networking accounts and post photos as soon as you take them -- just as you would with a phone.
The camera actually runs on version 4.1 (Jelly Bean) of the same Android operating system as many phones and tablets, meaning it can use photo-handling and photo-sharing apps like Instagram from the Google Play store.
However, just as you would with a phone or a 4G tablet, you have to pay for the data.
Verizon Wireless, one cell phone carrier offering the camera, will charge $5 per month to add the camera to an existing "Share Everything" data account. I asked how much the data would cost if you didn't have a "Share Everything" account, and I haven't gotten an answer to that yet.
The camera is also available through AT&T using its data network.
The Samsung Galaxy Camera costs $549.99. I'm guessing that the people willing to spend that much on a camera have probably already spent more than that on an SLR. And less-serious photographers are already happy with the tiny little camera on their iPhone, Galaxy SIII or Lumia. I'm not at all certain there's a market for this product.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.Samsung Galaxy Camera is capable, but does a market exist?