The smartphone arena is extremely competitive and each brand is constantly working towards creating a differentiator to catch the consumer’s interest. Most users have come to identify camera quality with the Megapixel count.
Consumers often look at specifications when buying a smartphone, this more than often seems the correct trail. A common misconception is that more megapixels mean that the image quality offered by a particular smartphone is better than the other. While it is true to some extent, this is not the only parameter in deciding the perfect image quality.
What Megapixels actually mean on your smartphone
Megapixels basically define how much you can crop an image. If there are more pixels in an image, you won’t see any pixelation even when you crop it by 50 percent. But how many MP do you actually need? Well, 5 MP is enough to print an image on an A4 size sheet. Unless you want to print on a billboard, you will need 40 Megapixel image.
So even if we put the MP case to rest, how would you judge the camera of your next smartphone or differentiate between two same MP count shooters?
What Parameters are important to a Good camera?
Sensor Size – If you had to guess camera quality based only on one parameter, the size of the sensor, will be your best bet for a most accurate response. The sensor size determines how much light it can use to create the image. This is also a reason why DSLR with same MP count often perform better than Smartphone Rear cameras.
Lens – The lens on top of your camera sensor is again very important with respect to your smartphone image quality. Wide aperture lens means more light can enter and result in better low-light performance. Larger the F-stop number smaller will be the aperture. So F/ 5.6 means aperture is quite narrow and F/ 3.5 hits at wide-open aperture.
Some selfie cameras use large 8 MP sensors but the advantage of the large sensor is offset by a tiny lens placed on top. This 8 MP front focus units aren’t often as impressive as rear 8 MP cameras.
ISO Settings – ISO settings are used to control sensitivity to low light. Increasing ISO can help you shoot visible or clearer images in ultra-low light, but it will also make your image grainy. Some OEMs allow you to toggle ISO settings, while others don’t.
These theoretical parameters are fine, but often manufacturer’s don’t offer all details about what sensor size or lens or other hardware they are using in a smartphone camera. So here are a few things you can do to test camera quality shoot and Test
Shoot and Test
While inspecting the camera on your next smartphone, try to test it in different light conditions. Click an image in extremely low lighting, click an image in bright day light and click a fast-moving object to check shutter speed.
Color reproduction and noise in different lighting conditions will be a more appropriate parameter to judge your smartphone camera. You can also test flash quality and how much it affects color reproduction of images.
Shutter speed determines how well you can shoot moving objects. A phone with great shutter speed can shoot moving ceiling fan as a still object without any blur. This is one of the features you might value more than all other is bright light while capturing moments so make sure your device has no shutter lag.
Check Burst Mode
Try taking a burst shot and carefully looking at the images will also give you an idea if you have an efficient image processor, which is part of your Qualcomm or MediaTek SoC.
To check AF speeds, just point your phone to a very close object and see if it struggles to correctly focus. When it’s settled, swiftly point it to a distant object and check how well your smartphone camera handles this transition. You can lose several precious moments or get blurred images if your camera has slow AF speed.
Phase detection AF in new iPhones and Laser AF in LG G3 is something you will come across a lot these days. Most smartphones offer AF rear cameras even in the budget price range, which are always better than fixed focus shooters. Most front cameras, on the other hand, are fixed focus units.
Optical image stabilization
If your usage pattern primarily includes shooting videos from your smartphone, you will be better off with an OIS camera, like LG G2, Samsung Galaxy S5, etc. OIS helps you to eliminate shakes and vibrations while shooting a video can make a rear difference as compared to electronic image stabilization which most phones offer.
If videos are important you should also look for a device which can record 1080p videos and has a juicy battery. 4K videos might not be as useful unless you have a 4K Television too.
The camera software is important too. If your camera settings allow you to add filters, provide features like Refocus or object eraser, it can enhance your software experience. You should check how well HDR and Panorama mode works, if there is an option to toggle ISO settings to modify low light experience, etc. Good intuitive camera software will motivate you to open camera shutter more often.
Some OEMs like OPPO and Nokia allow you to change shutter speed and other professional settings which can be of great use depending on the ambient conditions.
So What Should I Look For?
There are a few things that I think are important to look for in a smartphone camera. If you can, get one with optical image stabilization (OIS). OIS can be implemented in a number of different ways, but the goal is the same – reduce the effect that motion has on the sensor’s ability to capture an image. This is important when you’re taking video, moving around while snapping photographs, and when you are taking pictures in low light situations.
You will also want a smartphone camera that has a low aperture. Most smartphones have a very low aperture as it is, but the lower the aperture is, the more light is available to the sensor. With more light, the camera does not need to use a higher ISO, which means your images will be less noisy. Lower apertures are also called fast apertures because they allow for more light, meaning the camera can use a faster shutter speed, which leads your images to have less blur.
I would get a phone with somewhere between 8 and 16 megapixels. Like I said before, smartphones are working with tiny sensors, so your images will rarely look great at 100% crop, but you want an image big enough that you can crop it some without losing a lot of clarity. If you only ever post images on social media and you never intend on printing them or looking at them after they pass through the Snapchat ether, then you probably don’t need to pay a lot of attention to what kind of camera your phone has anyway.