The rise of smartphones has seen some ringing the death knell of compact cameras for, well, years now.
Despite the fact the iPhone is neither the world's biggest selling smartphone, nor the best camera phone (by some stretch), it's always the launch of the new iPhone that gets us questioning if there really is any point in the compact camera anymore. (And by "us", that I mean both we at TechRadar and we the general tech-interested population)
The Apple iPhone seems to be the smartphone of choice for those who consider themselves photographers. Flickr's most popular "cameras" are the iPhone 5, iPhone 4S and iPhone 4. Compact cameras don't even get a look in. Nor do other phone manufacturers.
But what is interesting is that if we exclude cameraphones from the equation (and that's not to say that Flickr is by any means a definitive measuring stick, especially not these days), we can see that the most popular "point and shoots" are highly specced, advanced premium compacts. The Sony RX100 tops the charts, followed by the Canon G12 and the Canon S95. These are cameras with full manual control and a high price point.
Meanwhile, sales of low-end compact cameras are definitely on the wane. Why carry an extra device when you phone can easily match picture quality and has the added advantage instant sharing to Instagram (other social networks are available)? We've even seen some camera manufacturers, such as Olympus, announce that it will be concentrating its energy on the higher end of the market - probably a smart move.
As we might have expected, the iPhone 5S has taken a decent leap in terms of quality and specs - at least on paper. Apple is sticking with its trusted 8 million pixel resolution, but it has made the sensor 15% larger than the one found on the iPhone 5.
It's also got some other interesting specs that you probably won't find on the average point-and-shoot - namely 10fps shooting, and a panorama mode which captures 28 million pixel images and adjusts exposure as you're panning. Nifty.
With everybody banging on about low light, it's only natural that Apple has not only made the sensor size and pixels bigger (they're now 1.5 microns), but it's also included what it's dubbing TrueTone flash. That's two LED flashes, one amber, one white - supposedly for more accurate colours.
Even bearing those new specs in mind, smartphones don't offer everything that a dedicated imaging device does. It's in this realm that the latest batch of devices are desperately trying to compete. So far, there's nothing that truly meets that mark and makes the camera dispensable.
We've seen headline grabbers such as the Nokia Lumia 1020 (with its "41 million pixel" sensor) and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom (with it's unwieldy 10x optical zoom - it's basically a camera that can make calls). The Nokia Lumia 925's advertising strategy went all out to highlight its low light capability.
On the other hand, Sony's camera sector is being incredibly innovative. This month saw the launch of the Sony Xperia Z1, with a 1/1.7 inch 20.2 million-pixel sensor. That's the same size sensor as you might find in a decent compact camera, and much larger than those found in the standard smartphone. It's also an Exmor R, which means it's backlit and should be pretty able to deal with low light conditions.
Not only that, but the Sony QX100 and QX10 have just been announced - fully featured compact cameras that don't have a screen... that's what your smartphone is for. That's an example of a company attempting to fight the smartphone onslaught by working with them.
Putting aside any of these specs, which are undoubtedly improving, one pretty crucial area where smartphones struggle is battery life. Having an amazing camera is only as good as the battery life that allows you to use it, after all.
Last shot for compacts?
So does the 5S finally end the case for compacts? Not quite, though it's there's little hope that the lower end of the compact camera market will do anything but dwindle further in the next few years.
That said, there are still some people (though we don't know any of them) who don't have smartphones, and for those people, the budget compact camera market is still a pretty interesting. It's also true that the dodgy battery life and the zero optical zoom of the average smartphone puts the kibosh on using it as a decent holiday snapper, so that market also still remains firm.
What is likely is that compact cameras (or at least, what we think of as compact cameras) will start to change, offering more and more than your smartphone can't. We're talking high zooms, large sensors, low light capability, a decent battery life and more. This mid-range and above seems safe ... for now at least.
Join us for the next iPhone launch when we'll no doubt ask this question all over again.