Smartphones killing point-and-shoots, now take almost 1/3 of photos

Camera-equipped smartphones — devices we carry with us all the time — are now in spitting distance of outnumbering traditional cameras in the percentage of photos and videos taken with them. On Thursday, the NPD Group released a study that found smartphones took 27 percent of photos in 2011, up from 17 percent last year. Traditional cameras took just 44 percent, down from 52 percent. This move from traditional cameras to smartphones for capturing images has occurred, not coincidentally, as the cameras in our phones have become far more sophisticated, and as photo-based social networks have gained popularity.

Smartphone cameras have, of course, come a long way. The original iPhone (s AAPL) debuted in 2007 with just a 2-megapixel camera. Flash forward to today, and the iPhone 4S camera boasts eight megapixels. The Android-based (s GOOG) Galaxy S II also features an 8-megapixel camera. And across many of these devices there’s a burgeoning community of photo-obsessed users. Instagram founder Kevin Systrom said at GigaOM Mobilize in September he signs up a new user “every second” and that users upload 26 photos per second.

This follows Flickr’s(s YHOO) announcement this summer that the iPhone 4, released in mid-2010, is responsible for more photos posted to its site than any other device .

The move toward capturing photos with a just-good-enough camera that’s convenient because it’s in a phone already in someone’s pocket has been hard on sales of point-and-shoot cameras. Unit sales were down 17 percent this year and money spent on them down 18 percent through the end of November, says NPD.

But it’s not all bad news for camera manufacturers. Unit sales of cameras with detachable lenses are up 12 percent in the same time period, and point-and-shoots that have optical zoom greater than 10x were up by 16 percent. The takeaway: If you’re going to sell a camera, it has to be much, much better than any camera embedded in a smartphone.