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Picture this: phones as good as cameras

The new generation of cellphones comes with so many lenses, they can pretend to be as good as regular cameras. Which is right for you? ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK gives a guide to the best camera phones available right now.

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Does anyone remember when Nokia boasted the best smartphone camera in the world? That was a mere six years ago, when the Nokia 1020 left anyone from Apple to Samsung in the dust with a 41megapixel lens and the biggest light sensor ever seen on a phone. But now both Nokia and Sharp, which pioneered the phone camera with the J-Phone at the beginning of the century, are forgotten as leaders in the field.

(For a brief history of the phone camera, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camera_phone)

Even so, the legacy of the 1020 was hard to shake off, until other smartphone makers showed in the last couple of years that hardware advances and software genius readily compensated for megapixels.

This is both good news and bad news; on the one hand, you don’t need megapixels for mega pictures; on the other, there is no specific number that tells you which phone has the better camera. However, a combination of numbers does help. Megapixels do matter, although not by themselves. Aperture, measured in f, matters even more, as it tells you how much light the lens allows in – the smaller the number, the more light. Sensor size counts, as it dictates how much light is captured. The bigger the size, the more light it captures.

Finally, and this would have been an absurd suggestion just six years ago, the number of lenses counts. When dual-lens cameras were first introduced in 2011 both the HTC Evo and LG Optimus, they were designed to take 3D photos – which no one really wanted. Consumers were demanding something seemingly simpler: better photos. Today that is exactly what multi-lens cameras do, with each lens contributing a different aspect to the quality of the combined image. HTC was the first with a dual-lens camera in the One M8 four years ago, but its two average lenses didn’t necessarily add up to one great photo. LG was next with two-lens phones in the G5 and G6, with the second allowing users to switch to wide-angle format.

It was only when Huawei partnered with Leica for dual lenses on the P9 and P9 Plus that the ability to combine images from two cameras came into its own, and now all smartphone makers are on the same path.

None of this guarantees perfect or even great photos, as the marketing hype promises. But more about that later. It is notable that only two of the 10 phones listed here have a single lens on the back, suggesting that it is dual-lens arrays – or more – that have finally laid to rest the ghost of the 1020.

Click on the link below to discover the top 10 camera phones:

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