Imagine this: you are on the road with a friend and you both take a photo of the same landscape. If you compare the photos afterwards, you suddenly see that your photo is of a lower quality even though both smartphone cameras have the same number of megapixels. A camera is much more than a number of megapixels. Issues such as the aperture, optical image stabilization, HDR support and the ISP all play a role in the quality of the final photo. In this article you will learn the basics about the smartphone camera.
One pixel is not like the other
The number of megapixels in your smartphone camera may not be the only thing that matters, but it does play an important role. I start here by breaking through a popular myth: a camera with more megapixels is not necessarily better. Depending on the smartphone, the photos from a 12MP camera can look better than those from a 16MP camera. This is partly because all individual pixels can also differ in size. Two pictures taken with two different smartphones that each have a 12MP camera, can therefore already show differences because the individual pixels are not the same size here. The larger a pixel is, the more light it can absorb and the sharper the final photo.
More megapixels do not necessarily ensure a better photo.
The more pixels there are in a camera, the smaller the size of each individual pixel, allowing them to absorb less light and have problems in low light conditions. The disadvantage is that the information about the size of the pixels is often not or very difficult to find and manufacturers want to push the number of megapixels up. But how many megapixels is now “enough” for a smartphone camera? Well, if you are not planning to print your photos or want to project life-size, then a 12MP camera is enough. Finally, social media websites such as Facebook and Instagram always remove part of the image quality, so that a photo from a 12MP camera and from a 24MP camera can look almost the same on Instagram.
The world of abbreviations
In the specifications of a smartphone you often see an f-number with the camera, such as f / 2 and f / 1.4. This number is called the aperture number and tells you a little more about the size of the aperture. This determines how much light enters through the lens. The lower the f-number, the more light enters, resulting in clear pictures. On the other hand, a higher f-number means that less light enters, which results in sharper, more detailed images in good light conditions. With smartphones with multiple cameras with a different f-number, you notice that one camera works better in the dark than the other. The optical image stabilization also appears more and more with smartphones. This is a very simple piece of technology that ensures that your small hand movements when taking the photo are eliminated so that you do not have blurry images. With optical image stabilization there is also hardware built into your smartphone and that gives the best results. Electronic image stabilization is the counterpart and only uses software to stabilize the images and works less well.
Then we are left with the ISP and the SoC. The ISP is the “Image Signal Processor” or image signal processor and the SoC is the “system-on-a-chip” or the chipset. Well-known SoCs are the Snapdragon chipsets from Qualcomm and the Kirin chipsets from the Chinese Huawei. In the case of a smartphone, the ISP is part of the SoC. That ISP is the replacement for the dark room in which photos were previously developed and ensures that your photo is digitized immediately. During this process, the images are also corrected by the built-in software. Information about the ISP is often not available, but in general a more powerful SoC also houses a better ISP, which means that more expensive smartphones often take better photos than budget smartphones with weaker SoCs. If a camera also offers HDR support, this relates to the color recording. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and means that both dark and bright parts of the photo will be displayed well. Finally, the shutter also plays an important role, especially with moving images. Where cameras have a physical shutter, this is electronic with smartphones. Your smartphone therefore indicates how long the sensor needs to absorb incident light, but often you can’t do this yourself apart from a possible sport mode.
How do I choose the right smartphone camera?
As you can see there is a lot involved with a smartphone camera than a number of megapixels. Based on the technical specifications, you can never know what the photos will ultimately look like. Therefore, always consult reviews, since testers, including ourselves as a Clickx editor, always devote a part to the performance of the camera. The reviews that you read in Clickx are also always on our website with additional images.