Smartphone Cameras: Its Features and How it Works

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Smartphone Cameras

One of the features that users like most in a smartphone is its camera. In fact, for photo lovers, they can pay huge amount of money to get a phone they believe can snap awesome photos. Camera is arguably one of the reasons why high flagship devices like iPhone, Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy S series are selling. But what are the features of smartphone cameras and how does it work?

Before we dive right into the features and how the cameras of smartphones works, its important that readers know that we won’t be talking about details of technical and engineering in this post. We at Tech Arena24 have everyday smartphone users in mind hence this article is focused on explaining in simple terms some features of smartphone cameras and how it actually works.

To begin we like to bring into light the popular believe that the higher the Megapixels(MP) of a camera the better the pictures the smartphone will produce. Well Newsflash, Megapixels is not solely responsible for the pictures quality of a smartphone. There are lots of other factors that actually contribute to the quality of the pictures snapped by the camera of a smartphone.

Quick Note: In this article, the terms smartphone refers to any phone that can be used to receive, make calls, send and receive texts with the capability of taking pictures. Which means that Smartphone as used in this article covers the iOS(iPhones), Windows OS(windows phone), Android OS(Android Phones) Symbian OS(Symbian phones) etc. At some points we might refer to a specific phone type to make examples or comparisons.

Features of Smartphone Cameras (The things that make up the camera of your Smartphone)

Have you ever wondered how the single touch of a soft button in the middle of your smartphone screen can produce image? Within the few seconds of processing and saving the image are host of series of events that occurred that you don’t know. Now a mistake in any of these events can lead to your photo been blur. So lets show the things that are actually responsible for taking photos in your smartphone.

  • The Lens
  • Focal Length
  • Aperture
  • Shutter Speed
  • Megapixels

Its important that readers understand that Focal Length, Aperture, Shutter Speed are all part of the Lens. But since we won’t be talking much on the engineering part of the Lens we have decided to separate these as different features of the camera for better explanation.

The Lens

In its simplest sense the Lens is the eye of the phone camera. It’s main function is just to detect what you want to capture with the camera. Think of the Lens as the human eyes. Humans get to see with the eyes first before the brain can process what the eyes are seeing. Also humans can also decide to change the eyes and look at something else and the brain will adjust to process the new object accordingly.

The Lens perform same job for the cameras in the smartphone. Just like the human eyes, when you turn on your phone camera, those object you want to snap is been detected by the Lens. And you will notice that the moment you switch your phone camera to a different direction the phone tends to focus on the new object. All that is what the Lens does.

Focal Length

The explanation of the focal length and what it does is a very long and complicated one. But we’ll tell you in simple terms what the Focal length does and why it is an important part of the smartphone camera. The focal length of any lens is the distance between the lens and the image sensor when the subject is in focus, usually stated in millimeters (e.g., 28 mm, 50 mm).

Ever tried taking a photo of an object from a distance and you decide to zoom your phone camera a little? you’ll notice that the more you zoom in the more the picture becomes blur. The job of the focal length is to make sure that you take images of an object within a specific area. The longer the focal length, the more “zoomed in” your shot is going to be; and the shorter it is, the more “wide” or “zoomed out” it is. So if you try to expand a short focal length you’ll get a blurred image.

This means that putting megapixels aside, if you try to force a camera to take a photo of a distance using a shorter focal length, then you will get a blur image and this has nothing to do with megapixels. You can have a 50MP main camera with a short focal length and trying to take pictures of an area bigger than the focal length will result in poor image.

Most Smartphones now comes with more camera options with different focal length. This is to ensure that users can switch from one camera to another. For example, the Redmi Note 8 Pro comes with a quad camera. A wide Camera, Ultrawide camera, Depth Sensor and a dedicated macro lens. All of these cameras have different focal length that enables them capture image at the right distance.

Aperture

Aperture refers to an opening that allows the light pass through the lens and comes right into the phone camera itself. And this helps to control what experts call depth of field, or the area of the plane that appears in focus. The smaller the hole or opening, the more of your shot will be in focus, and the wider the hole or opening, less of your total image will be in focus.

This means that you are not advice to use the Macro lens of the Redmi Note 8 pro to take normal pictures. As this will not highlight only the focus object. Knowing this should help you understand which function of your camera you need to use. Because using the wrong camera will result to poor image regardless of how many megapixels it has.

Shutter Speed

What is a shutter: In camera, any device that allows light from the lens to pass through to the camera for a specific period of time is referred to as a shutter. Shutter speed therefore refers to the how fast the shutter opens and close. This means that the shutter speed will determine how many light from the lens actually enters the camera for processing. If the shutter speed of a phone camera is too slow the images snapped by the phone camera is usually blurred. Let me explain with a typical scenario below.

Have you ever tried taking a picture and the moment you pressed the Capture button you moved your hands? Well chances are photos like that are usually blurred. Reason because the shutter was not fast enough to capture the light and focus of the lens at the speed with which you dropped or moved the phone. This makes it take some other picture while the lens was focusing on something like a moving object.

Below is my little experiment of taking photos with my phones shutter speed. In one of the photos below, i shook my smartphone just before my shutter was able to open and close. While the second photo i tried to hold my phone steady until the shutter opened and closed.

Smartphone Cameras
Shot this photo and shook my phone just before the shutter was able to open and close
Smartphone Cameras
Shot this photo and waited for the shutter to open and close

You can see from the above that the Megapixel mattered less in this scenario. A phone with big megapixels but has slow shutter speed will likely take blur images as most users won’t understand and shake the phone just before the shutter is able to capture the region of the focused objects.

Try the following with your phone camera;

  1. Hold out your smartphone, open the camera(back or front camera) focus the lens to capture and object and press the capture button. Now as soon as you press that capture button move or shake the phone immediately.
  2. Bring out your smartphone, open the camera(back or front camera) focus the lens to capture and object and press the capture button. Now wait for the image of the object to be recorded in the phone.

Possible Result of the above

From experiment 1 above, you’ll notice that the object you intend to snap is not clear. This is because just before the Shutter was able to open the light and focus on the lens to be recorded you moved the phone(the phone was not stable). While in experiment 2, you waited for the shutter to open and close as a result a more clear image of the object will be saved.

Shutter speed is another feature that affects the quality of image snapped by the camera of your mobile phone. A smartphone can have a camera with high megapixel but with slow shutter speed. Anytime you take photos in a hurry with such smartphone you’ll always end up not getting quality clear pictures but blurry ones.

Smartphone Megapixels

Most people believe that the more megapixel that comes with a smartphone camera the more quality pictures it’ll snap. That is what the mobile phone companies want users to believe and its been working so far. Have you noticed that camera phones like the iPhone, Google Pixels and Samsung don’t come with big megapixels? And these phones have the best cameras in the market still.

According to an article by Android Authority, the number of megapixels needed to shoot 4K UHD videos is just 12MP. The truth is number of pixels and pixel sizes are very important when dealing with smartphone cameras. If you have more pixels, the sizes of these pixels in a given image sensor area becomes smaller and the smaller the size of a pixel the less capable of gathering light it becomes.

So a good phone camera will have the right number of pixels in a given image sensor area. This is the major reason why iPhone and Google Pixels with just 12MP camera take better pictures than phones with 64MP cameras. Top mobile phone companies have the right number of pixels packed in the right image sensor area. So basically more Megapixels in the phone camera can also mean more problems. And more Megapixels does not always guarantee better photos.

The Image Processor of Smartphones camera

Image processor is usually included in the SOCs (System on chips) of the phone. In simple terms, what the Image processor does is that it gathers everything that the lens have seen and combines them together to form an actual image that you see as image. There is process to this but we won’t be talking about that as it will complicate this article.

Note that there are various image processing chips out there and some are better and faster. The Qualcomm has its own Image Processor, ARM also has its own. The likes of Google, Apple and Samsung also has its own.

Megapixel is not solely responsible for smartphone camera to produce quality pictures. The lens, focal length, aperture and shutter speed all contributes. Number of Pixels and the Sizes of pixels in a given Image sensor area also plays a vital role.

When next you want to buy a phone, when next you read a smartphone review or read its full specifications take time to look and understand other features of its camera and not just its megapixels.

Remember that for you to snap a good picture with your phone try to hold your phone steady, don’t be in a rush as you might know the shutter speed. Also use the right camera feature, don’t use a macro lens to take wide pictures and vice versa. You might just be surprised with the quality of picture your 8MP smartphone camera will produce.

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