Tell Tale Tech: More than Megapixels



Mobile photography has quickly become an integral part of smartphones. Though an afterthought initially, the camera is now a defining feature that can have huge impacts on the success of any of these devices. And yet, only a few of them have a camera that works as well as it should.

Part of this is due to the sheer number of technical aspects that must be done correctly. And even though they are important, I’m not just referring to megapixels. The number of megapixels of a camera is the effective size of the image it will be able to take, usually measured by the number of pixels. Presumably, the more megapixels, the more detail that you would have in your shot. But other technical elements are just as valuable and can mitigate any advantages of having these extra pixels. The quality of the lens for example, can make a huge difference. More expensive lenses can gather more light, produce clearer shots, and even help with reducing glare, all of which can drastically improve the quality of a photo.

Another crucial hardware feature is OIS (Optical Image Stabilization), which only a few cameras currently have. However, this is incredibly important, as it allows you to take much steadier and more sharply focused images without having to worry about your hand movement causing a noisy shot. The flash on the back of a phone is also critical and can be the difference between getting a correctly lit shot and one that is either horribly overexposed or tinged with an unflattering yellow light. There has been a lot of progress in this area though, and many companies have switched over to either Xenon flash sensors or dual-flash systems. Both are capable of producing neutrally lit shots in a variety of lighting conditions. And given that people take pictures with their phones in pretty much every type of situation, it is vital that this is done right.

But all of these features are worthless if the camera is impeded by slow or buggy software. Typically, the most prevalent problem here is the sheer amount of time it takes for the camera app to open and be ready to shoot. A few seconds could be the difference between getting a crisp focused shot one that is blurred beyond recovery. Additionally, the actual camera interface should be as minimalistic as possible to allow for quick adjustments when shooting. Nothing is worse than having to go through countless menus, just to change something simple like the exposure or white balance.

The physical designs aspects of the camera require great attention as well. Smartphones are increasingly getting thinner, but lens manufacturing doesn’t seem to have caught up at this point. As such, many of the recent flagship smartphones are marred by obtrusive camera humps on the back of the device. Besides not looking particularly good, it also prevents the phone from laying perfectly even on a surface, which makes the lens susceptible to being scratched when placed down.

Each one of these details has to be right in order for the whole system to work, not only because they are necessary for any camera, but also since mobile photography is an entirely different breed of photography. People with dedicated camera systems might enjoy taking their time with manual settings or composing their shots, but typical smartphone users just want a camera that works quickly and accurately. But given the number of things that need to work flawlessly together, this is understandably difficult to achieve. It can be done, but more often than not a smartphone camera will fail in any one of these categories. So, before you buy your next smartphone, make sure you check out the camera on the back. And the front, if you are so inclined.