For many of us, the camera is the most important factor when buying a new smartphone. And yet with brands offering more and more lenses and software features, picking your next phone based on the camera is harder than ever.
When it comes to more expensive smartphone cameras, it’s standard nowadays to get a combination of a high-resolution, ultra-wide-angle and a long telephoto focal length lenses.
Meanwhile, the era of image sensors with around 12 MP is over. Smartphones now offer resolutions as high as 128 MP, along with additional elements such as pixel binning, which raises the quality significantly.
Chinese manufacturers like Oppo, Xiaomi, ZTE and Huawei are the ones currently leading the way on developing smartphone camera tech, but US brands like Apple and Google haven’t lost their edge, while Samsung’s Galaxy flagships deliver some of the best all-round quality.
So what should shoppers look out for? For great pictures, you shouldn’t just be looking at the numbers, and you’ll want to read reviews on how well the camera sensor and software work well together.
To allow for enough light, the lens should have a particularly low aperture of f/1.8 or less, while the autofocus should be as fast as possible and the shutter release time should be extra short.
Also, check for an optical image stabiliser (OIS) to make sure your images look sharp even if there’s not much light around or if you’re photographing moving subjects. Many lenses have digital image stabilisers, which can only offset so much shaking when taking photos.
Even in mid-range smartphones, you’ll find multi-camera cameras that offer enhanced functions with telephoto, super-wide-angle or bokeh photos with blurry background for a sense of depth.
Many manufacturers also combine the telephoto and ultra-wide-angle ranges and offer even more flexibility with triple or quad cameras. Increasingly, they’re installing a periscope zoom lens for strong optical magnifications.
All this won’t necessarily make for fabulous photos, though, and there are still major differences in quality when it comes to smartphone cameras. Don’t assume a quad camera is better than a triple camera, as an extra macro lens, for example, may not make that much of a difference in practice.
Remember that all that camera tech makes for a large, protruding bump on your phone, which in some high-tech flagships will cause the phone to wobble when flat on a table. Putting a case on the phone usually solves this, however. – dpa