Things to consider when buying a camera smartphone

by Neilson Gesite - March 20, 2021

Now Inquire article that lists the things you need to consider before buying a smartphone for its camera.

When buying a camera smartphone, we only want the phones that can produce the best quality output there is available. Taking these in consideration, many companies created cameras that can produce high quality image by raising the image resolution to allow more details for the final image, apply better light capturing technology on the very high end camera phones, innovate different technology that can lessen the noise in the images even in environment with a very few lights around, and apply new technologies to allow these camera to capture more details regardless of the size or distance.

Now with the many available smartphones with great camera technology, we should know the things we need to consider before buying our new camera smartphone.

A. Camera that can capture more lights can produce better quality photo

Smartphone cameras use lights that it captured through its lens(es) to produce digital images. This makes a camera that can capture more lights capable of capturing a lot more details for the image resulting in a better quality photo.

In order for us to know which camera phone can capture more lights, we need to consider the following details when checking the specs of a phone's camera.

1. Pixel Size

Photosites or Pixel is what captures the light for the camera which makes its size mean much to the quality of the image. Bigger pixel means more light a camera can capture. Smaller pixel size tends to capture more digital noise, a speckle of dots in an image, which ruins the quality.

Pixel is measured in microns (µm or µ) and camera phones nowadays have pixel size that ranges from 0.8µm to 1.8µm. Inquiring pixel size is a must when buying a mobile phone for its camera.

Let's look at it this way. If you look on the table below, you can see that a 1.0µm can hold much more lights than the common 0.8µm. For example, Samsung smartphones in the S20 and S21 series use 1.8µm pixel size for its 12MP cameras which makes it five times (5x) better than a phone with 0.8µm with the same megapixel.

Pixel Size Lights
0.1µm 100 10x10
0.2µm 400 20x20
0.8µm 6400 80x80
1.0µm 10000 100x100
1.8µm 32400 180x180

Note: The figure above is just an example to differentiate pixel size capability and is not an actual computation on how much light a pixel can hold.

2. Sensor Size

Sensor is where the photosites or pixel resides. With a bigger sensor size, we can have more pixels or allow bigger pixels inside. Smartphone camera sensors are measured in inches (e.g. 1/2.0”) and don't be confused, a 1/1.28” is bigger than a 1/2.0”.

The biggest sensor size for camera phones up to date is Huawei's Mate 40 Pro Plus with 1/1.28” followed by Samsung's Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G with 1/1.33”. Huawei used a 1.22µm pixel size and has a total of 50MP inside the sensor while Samsung used a smaller 0.8µm pixel but managed to make a total of 108MP. With the help of pixel-binning technology combining pixels to make a bigger pixel or super-pixel, both smartphones were able to use an equivalent size of 2.4µm super-pixel or more by reducing the total megapixels to 12MP.

3. Aperture

Aperture is the opening of the camera where the lights enter and its size affects how much light can reach the sensor especially at night or low light conditions. Smartphones aperture size is measured in f-value in which the smaller the value, the wider the camera (e.g. f/1.8 is wider than f/1.26).

4. Megapixel

Megapixel is the total number of pixels inside a camera sensor. While having a big MP does not mean it can produce high quality photos, it can be used as a basis when determining an approximate number of lights it can capture and compare to other models.

For example, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra uses a 108MP camera but the pixel size is only at 0.8µm compared to Huawei Mate 40 Pro Plus has 50MP only but uses a bigger pixel size of 1.22. Using the same computation above, we can see that Samsung Galaxy S21 ultra can capture lights a little bit lower compared to a bigger pixel size.

Pixel Size Lights per Pixel MP Total Lights
Samsung S21 Ultra 0.8 80x80 6400 x 108 691200
Huawei Mate 40 Pro+ 1.22 122x122 14884 x 50 744200

B. Technology that can prevent blurriness due to movements - Optical Image Stabilization (OIS)

Taking a photo using a smartphone sometimes becomes blurry due to some movements from the photographer. It is because, unlike a DSLR camera, smartphone cameras are not designed to have a proper grip which allows you to prevent shaking the device.

For this purpose, companies added Optical Image Stabilization or OIS technology on smartphone cameras which negates any movement from the device by moving the camera itself. So considering a phone that uses an OIS is a must if you want to have better quality pictures.

C. Effects created by different cameras

Smartphones nowadays use multiple cameras to supplement the functionalities of bigger and longer cameras but remain lightweight and smaller. Each of these cameras were used for their specific function to make a better quality final image that the camera will produce. Knowing each camera's purpose helps you to consider if you really need it or not.

1. Telephoto

This camera is responsible for capturing distant subjects or zooming. Telephoto cameras with a higher magnification allow us to take pictures of farther subjects. Nowadays, top camera phones use a new telephoto technology which is called periscope telephoto.

Periscope Telephoto technology allows a camera to obtain a hybrid zooming capability by using a telephoto camera's optical zoom and digital zoom together. One example that uses this technology is Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra that is capable of 5x optical zoom along with a 120x hybrid zoom.

2. Macro

The opposite of telephoto, macro is used for close up subjects to capture details that are not clearly visible to the naked eye. But not having a macro camera on a phone does not mean it cannot provide a macro shot. Let us take Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra for instance, it uses a macro mode technology that allows it to capture macro shots.

Curious people use macro in almost everything they see in their surroundings. So if you are considering a macro camera, you should check the specs if it has a macro camera or at least a macro mode.

3. Depth Sensor

Depth sensor measures the distance of your subject to its surroundings. It is usually used for portrait shots to add professional blur or for augmented reality rendering. If you are into professional portrait shots, you should consider having this camera or at least a feature same as that of a depth sensor.

4. Ultrawide

This camera allows you to capture a wider angle of view. Best for taking scenery and group pictures especially when you have a big family. Most premium phones have this camera together with telephoto. While low budget phones sometimes cannot include an ultrawide camera. So if you are considering this feature, you need to check mid range phones to premium phones.

5. Monochrome

Typically a black and white camera but it also captures more sharp and high contrast pictures so as to make a sharper and high contrast effect to the final image. Nowadays, most smartphones use software technology that can enhance the sharpness and contrast of an image instead of using a monochrome camera. That makes almost no phone camera use this camera anymore.

D. Consider reading or watching Reviews

Lastly, reviews from actual users who used the camera and their sample photos can tell if all the details and numbers in the specs of the phone is the same as the actual performance. Watch video reviews and read articles before buying to make sure you give the best value to your money.

FAQs

1. What determines phone camera quality?

Answer: Sensor size is very important to determine the camera quality because the bigger it is the more photosites it can fit in it.

2. Is 16mp better than 12MP?

Answer: It depends on the size of the sensor the phone has because it has something to do on how much light it can capture.

3. Does higher MP mean better camera?

Answer: Having a big MP does not mean it can produce high quality photos, it can be used as a basis when determining an approximate number of lights it can capture and compare to other models. Sensor size must be considered to produce quality pictures.

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