I recently received my Consumer Reports magazine, a Special Report edition. One article in particular caught my attention, titled, "The Joys of a Classic Camera." By classic they didn't mean an antique classic such as the Brownie Hawkeye pictured above. My parents actually had one - it is the first camera I can remember. And it had this awful flash contraption that you could attach to it. It was a bare bulb with a round silver reflector around it. And boy could that thing put off some light. You couldn't see anything for 20 minutes after having it flash in your face. I actually grew to not only dislike having my picture made when that flash contraption was on the camera, that I got to the point that I would run and hide to keep from having my picture taken! How crazy is that?
I digress. Back to the article. They are actually comparing a smartphone and "regular" cameras which they include consumer DSLRs, mirrorless, and basic and advanced point and shoot cameras. As with many things in the marketplace these days, we have so many options to choose from that it can become overwhelming. Even to the point that it can be paralyzing sometimes.
So what's important to know? What's the difference between that handy camera we carry with us everywhere and all the others that require just a bit more interaction from us? As CR notes, "Phone cameras have small sensors and lenses and compress photos to save file space." Okay you say, what does that mean for me? Well in comparison, a regular camera will have a larger sensor than a cell phone camera, which means it records more pixels allowing it to be enlarged with less loss of quality. That said and worth noting here is that even regular cameras will do some compression when the image is written to the disc as a jpeg. Compare that to professional photographers who typically shoot images as RAW files, which in addition to being much larger files (and take up more hard drive space) they also require specialized software to read, edit and convert the files, but this allows much greater control over the quality and finish of the images.
Regarding sensors - as noted, the phone camera has a small sensor. A typical consumer camera will have what is called a crop-sensor and a professional camera will have a full sensor. The crop sensor captures a tighter, smaller area than a full sensor, sort of like you're using a zoom lens. The full sensor can provide a broader dynamic range and better low light/high ISO performance yielding a higher quality image than a crop sensor.
Regarding lenses - regular cameras also have better lenses than cell phone lenses. Better lens allow you to capture more detail and they typically produce better photos in low light. And if the camera is made to use interchangeable lenses, then you have even greater control over your final image.
Posting a photo below of my first DSLR, an Olympus camera. I still have it and it's still a great quality camera. I got lots of great photos with it and my 300 mm lens - but the 10 mp is a bit limiting, especially for enlarging prints!
So if you are interested in getting a camera to capture some great everyday photos, save some $$, do your research, go shopping, then have a blast! And for those special moments, hire a professional photographer to make sure you get high quality images.