Smartphone cameras have gotten more advanced than before. I still remembered the old Nokia 7610 I had with the first ever 1-Megapixel camera at the back of the phone. I even had a Nokia 6600 with the first ever commercially camera phone installed on a smartphone. It was a VGA resolution phone but it was mighty, and fat, and big, and actually quite a handsome thing. Its big selling point was its camera, and mobile phones after that were never the same. Every new mobile device after that has to come with a camera, at least a VGA one. If possible manufacturers would fit a 1.2-Megapixel unit out of nowhere.
As the technology becomes more popular, it becomes cheaper to produce and so we start seeing the infamous Megapixel war starting to happen as the age of smartphone arrives with the Apple iPhone generation one. At some point you can even buy a smartphone with 42-Megapixel camera as its main camera; that was madness, but that was also a show of force on what smartphones can do and what manufacturers can do when they really push the boundaries.
The smartphone industry is a brutal one; we started seeing dominating brands falling apart in a year. The Finnish Nokia that was once touted as the king of mobile phones fell at the time of Microsoft’s lowest point. That was also when we saw brands like Apple and Samsung and Xia0mi getting a good foothold of the mobile phone market with their ever so shiny smartphones with iOS and Android. It was at this point also that manufacturers started realising that photography is not all about the Megapixels; it is about software and optimising the software so we started seeing the cameras settle at about 12-Megapixel to keep costs down and results at the best without taking up too much battery power and creating too much heat. 12-Megapixel is also technically enough for 4K video recording. The rest is software optimisation, so that was what they did.
Cameras on smartphones these days also are so good, that they can be a sort of replacement for most modern cameras. The clever combination of software optimisation and dual, or even triple camera technology is so good that the photos you take on a smartphone can be compared to even a DSLR these days. Even the photo taking experience is getting closer than ever now. Take the Samsung Galaxy Note9 for example, it has everything that you need or want from a DSLR. Hard to believe? Believe it.
The Samsung Galaxy Note9 packs two 12-Megapixel camera out the back. In theory the photo taken should be at 24-Megapixel, right? Wrong it takes photos at about 12.2-Megapixel (4032 x 3024). But it does so like no other smartphones, more like a proper camera with all the proper bells and whistles.
Firstly it has two aperture blades, way less than a proper DSLR lens with about 6 aperture blades. But it is two more than any other smartphones in the market right now save for the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus. That aperture blade allows the Galaxy Note9 to switch between two apertures at f/1.5 and f/2.4. If you know your photography having a smaller aperture number means you get more light into the photo with a bigger lens opening. The higher the number, the smaller the opening meaning less light enters the lens. That is exactly what is happening with the Samsung Galaxy Note9 at different light conditions.
In low-light conditions the lens smartly opens up to the maximum f/1.5 for the maximum amount of light to enter the lens. The result is a clear, bright photo every single time even without flash. In bright light or outdoor conditions the aperture blades close up to f/2.4 for less light. Less light is also great because that means there is not too much light entering the lens giving you perfect photos at all times. All of these is done automatically so there is no need to play around with the settings when you need to just point-and-shoot. But we are not talking about automatic mode here, we are talking about taking control of your smartphone’s camera, or at least learning to take control.
Camera technologies on smartphones these days too are so advanced that you can control everything from the ISO settings, to shutter speed; no kidding, that is like a full-on DSLR feature. Just launch the camera app and turn to the Pro mode. On the Samsung Galaxy Note9 is just a few swipes to the left or right in the camera app. Now you have full control of the smartphone camera.
In the app’s Pro mode you have basically full control of the camera. There you can set its ISO settings to suit different lighting conditions and your preferred feel. Then you can control the shutter speed to match the ISO to get a pristine photo in different lighting conditions. You can even do a long exposures shoot if you want, creating a little bit more drama on your photos. Colour profile can be controlled too with the white balance. You can even do a manual focus with the Pro mode. The most amazing part is that you can control aperture too in the Pro mode. Of course you have to keep in mind the aperture control in most smartphones are digital dimming of the lens. On the Samsung Galaxy Note9 the aperture control is an actual control of the smartphone’s aperture blades to suit different lighting conditions.
Now do you believe that a smartphone can replace your DSLR? I sometimes wonder too.
Also published on Medium.