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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

For years, the smartphone has been the most convenient camera, and in recent years it has also become the easiest and most versatile camera. But this year's high-end smartphones have taken things to a new level — capturing images that would be either tough or impossible even with a high-end digital camera.

Between the lines: Traditional cameras have the advantage of bigger sensors and better lenses, but smartphone cameras are rivaling and even surpassing them by tapping computational power.

Driving the news:

  • The iPhone 13 Pro is in many ways just an incremental upgrade to last year's iPhone 12. But on the photography side the improvements are noticeable — extra zoom and macro capabilities as well as just better overall image capture. (Here are some examples.)
  • Google's Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro promise their own jaw-dropping tricks, including the ability to capture long exposures without a tripod as well as to add motion to an otherwise dull scene. An editing feature "smart eraser" even lets you remove the person or backpack that got in the way of that otherwise gorgeous photo.
  • Like Snapchat, Google has also been working to undo the racist legacy of photography by tuning the camera to better capture a wide range of skin tones.

The big picture: The camera is one of the key features that drives smartphone purchases. As a result, device makers have been investing a lot of their energy there.

  • One form this has taken is the addition of multiple lenses on the rear of the camera, offering a bit of zoom or an extra-wide angle.
  • But the real advances have been in what smartphones can do with the images they capture. By passing data from multiple lenses and mutiple exposures through their high-end proccessors, today's phones can create stunning portraits, freeze fast-moving action, make sunsets and fireworks a snap — and even change the focus after a portrait is taken.
  • Indeed, the low-light capture has gotten so good that smartphones can take pictures that make night seem like day or illuminate a an almost dark room.

Yes, but: Professionals aren't throwing away their cameras just yet. There are still things that a smartphone camera can't do that well. Zooming in on a distant subject is one of those.

  • If I really want to capture a moment, I will bring both the latest smartphone and my Canon DSLR. At the Olympics, for example, the phone was great at capturing wide shots, while the Canon and a big zoom lens were key for getting in close on the action.
  • The same goes for Harvey's soccer games, although neither the smartphone nor the Canon seems to be able to help his team's lackluster offense.

The bottom line: Today's high-end smartphones are expensive, with some models topping out at more than $1,000. But at least for that price you are getting not just a pocket computer and communicator but  also one of the world's best cameras.

Go deeper

56 mins ago - World

Scoop: Iran preparing to enrich weapons-grade uranium, Israel warns U.S.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi holds a press conference. Photo: Presidency of Iran handout via Getty

Israel has shared intelligence over the past two weeks with the U.S. and several European allies suggesting that Iran is taking technical steps to prepare to enrich uranium to 90% purity — the level needed to produce a nuclear weapon, two U.S. sources briefed on the issue tell me.

Why it matters: Enriching to 90% would bring Iran closer than ever to the nuclear threshold. The Israeli warnings come as nuclear talks resume in Vienna, with Iran returning to the negotiating table on Monday after a five-month hiatus.

Biden: Fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns"

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Monday said that the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, is "a cause for concern, not a cause for panic."

Driving the news: Biden said later this week the administration will be releasing a strategy on how "we're going to fight COVID this winter. Not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more."

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: WHO says Omicron poses "very high" risk — Fauci says Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in U.S. — U.S. restricts air travel from 8 countries over Omicron concerns.
  2. Politics: Biden says fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns."
  3. States: New York declares state of emergency amid concerns over Omicron.
  4. World: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating worldWHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries — First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.