Last week at Mobile World Congress 2018, Samsung released their brand new Galaxy S9 and S9+. These smartphones were essentially minor improvements to last years design in every aspect except for one: the camera. In this area, Samsung pushed the Galaxy S9 far beyond it’s previous capabilities, setting a new bar for the quality of a smartphone camera. For one thing, the camera now features a variable aperture meaning that if it’s in low light, it will open up to a wider F1.5 to let in more light, and in high brightness situations it will close to F2.4 to keep the image nice and sharp. Seeing a camera in a smartphone capable of incorporating this feature that is characteristic of a high end camera has got me thinking about the current state of smartphone cameras.
In the last couple of years I have noticed a massive jump in the quality of smartphone cameras. Nowadays it is standard for phones to have incredibly sharp, 12MP+ photos with high contrast, details and saturation. Smartphones now incorporate many high end features like OIS, 4K 60 FPS video, and super slow motion video options like the near 1000 FPS slow motion video found on the Galaxy S9. These are features that a few years ago even the highest end multi-thousand dollar cameras didn’t even have. Even many of todays high end cameras don’t have all these features. Why is that? Shouldn’t the brand new $4000 Sony A7III include all the camera features that their $800 Sony Xperia smartphone has? Well, not exactly.
The reason that many of today’s smartphones are outperforming their dedicated camera counterparts is because of the processor. Most modern smartphones are capable of performing at the same speeds of low end laptops, meaning they are extremely capable at processing lots of data very quickly. This has allowed them to innovate in the image processing areas that cameras lack, such as 4K 60fps video and super slow motion footage. It has also allowed for more interesting innovations in image processing.
Many of todays top smartphones like the iPhone X, Galaxy S9, and Google Pixel 2 feature the ability to create an artificial depth of field, achieved through this complex image processing. For example, the Google Pixel is able to analyze the differences in object locations between two adjacent pixels on the camera sensor and use artificial intelligence to create and artificial bokeh or blur to the background, increasing the visual appeal of the image. The iPhone X and Galaxy S9+ use a similar process but analyze differences in two separate images from two different lenses.
It is clear that modern smartphones have been experiencing a massive surge in quality, features, and specifications in the last few years. This trend makes me believe that in just a few more years, people will no longer have a need for large dedicated cameras as our smartphones will be more than capable of taking mind blowing images in almost any scenario.
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