So, here’s the million dollar question we all ask ourselves, the one which is at the summit of all the questions we ask when buying ourselves a smartphone; ‘How good is the camera?’
Preserving memories has always been a matter of great importance in all of the human cultures throughout history. An imminent form of doing so and expressing art has been paintings. However, with the advent of technology, we now have, you could say, a new way of painting. Preserving memories in a digital form known as the photograph (oh, on a different note, do listen to Ed Sheeran’s Photograph if you haven’t already. It’s amazing!)
Throughout the last few decades, there has been a huge development in the camera industry. The history of the camera can be traced much further back than the introduction of photography. Cameras evolved from the camera obscura and continued to change through many generations of photographic technology including daguerreotypes, calotypes, dry plates, film, and to the modern day with digital cameras. Now thanks to technology, we have a camera on our smartphones, which is just a click away and takes resplendent pictures with colours brighter than the Sun(no offence, Apollo).
But how do we determine which smartphone has the better camera?(Note: The question is not for faithful iPhone customers)
As we all know, megapixels of a camera is one of the most significant factors to tell how good the camera is, or is it really?
‘Megapixels’ is a form of measuring the number of pixels in a picture, it tells us how detailed the picture will be, the more the merrier!
However as the no. of megapixels increases, it increases the noise in the photographs clicked in low light or at places where the lighting conditions are not optimal. Therefore a trade-off is required so that we get a photograph with enough details and has minimum noise.
Next in line is the focus speed of the camera. An autofocus (or AF) optical system uses a sensor, a control system and a motor to focus on an automatically or manually selected point or area. An electronic rangefinder has a display instead of the motor; the adjustment of the optical system has to be done manually until indication. Autofocus methods are distinguished by their type as being either active, passive or hybrid variant.
Our smartphone cameras have various types of auto-focus now-cdaf: contrast detection auto-focus, pdaf:phase detection auto-focus and laser auto-focus.
Contrast detection autofocus is achieved by measuring contrast within a sensor field, through the lens. The intensity difference between adjacent pixels of the sensor naturally increases with correct image focus. The optical system can thereby be adjusted until the maximum contrast is detected. In this method, AF does not involve actual distance measurement at all. This creates significant challenges when tracking moving subjects since a loss of contrast gives no indication of the direction of motion towards or away from the camera.
The fastest among them is the laser auto-focus which uses a laser beam to focus on the object to be shot. Laser autofocus employs a small laser emitter positioned on the back of the smartphone, near the camera lens. Upon taking a photo, the sensor beams out a short laser burst which is reflected back off whatever you’ve been pointing your camera at.
Phase detection autofocus splits the image into two ‘copies’, then adjusts the lens elements until the two images ‘merge’, ie until they’re in phase. Its main advantage is speed. This differs from contrast detection AF, which phones and mirrorless cameras use.
Image stabilization constitutes a series of technology used to rectify the blurring motion of the camera, sourcing from inevitable vibrations due to the motion of camera while taking shots. If your camera is still (which it probably won’t in the case of your Smartphone) this problem can also result from low shutter speed or with less focal length lens. Big brands like Nokia, HTC and Samsung are not willing to compromise on Camera quality, especially on their High-end devices.This makes Image Stabilization feature a high priority. While handholding your camera device there will be an inevitable blur. Image stabilization techniques will help you achieve fine details and compromise a little on your shutter speed.
OIS(optical image stabilization)-It is, according to me, one of the most important aspects of any camera. OIS uses a motor, which tracks the movement of the image when the person using the camera moves or has shaky hands, which stabilizes the image of the object to be shot and thus, prevents blurring of the image. Nowadays, we also have a new type of stabilization used, the EIS(electronic image stabilization). In EIS the processor breaks down the image into small chunks and then compares it to the preceding frames. It determines whether the motion was a moving object or an unwanted shake and makes the required correction.
We also have the aperture to take into account which is the opening of the camera and which allows the light to enter it. The larger the aperture the more the light enters the sensor and smaller aperture inhibits the light from entering. But larger aperture does not necessarily mean better pictures, though it does help in low light. The aperture of smartphone cameras range from f/2.2 at its lowest and f/1.7 at its largest and is fixed and cannot be changed like that of DSLRs.
Moving on to the processing of the image, the sensor used as well as the lenses; each and every company has a wide variety of sensors at their disposal from companies like Toshiba, Sony, etc. Each sensor has its own perks. Some are inexpensive and compromise on the image quality with lesser megapixels and not so good processing while some are the best, offering nothing but the best images which sometimes bring a shame to the DSLR but, are expensive.
To conclude this, there are some of the best smartphone cameras in the market which are better than point and shoot cameras. The best ones coming from companies like Samsung, HTC, Sony and iPhone. Their high-end phones offer the best cameras which click nothing but the best pictures. However, this does not mean that the phones which are low/mid-range have bad cameras. With each passing generation of smartphones, the cameras of all, ranging from low to high end are getting better and better.