Mobile Phone Camera – Thinking Beyond The MegaPixel

Mobile Phone Camera Features

Summary : Mobile Phone Cameras

For some people, an important part of choosing the right phone includes finding a phone with a good camera. Mobile Phone Cameras allow us to do far more now than they did even 5 years ago. They’re used for catching up with friends on Skype and recording family events and capturing personal experiences.

The fact that, these days, mobile phones are always with us and that most of them have great cameras means that we’re capturing and sharing more of the best bits of our lives.

Unless you are knowledgeable about cameras, you probably won’t know where to start. If you’re looking to compare cameras on an Australian mobile phone, you might like to consider these features.

  • Megapixels (MPs ) :
    Most people start to judge the quality of a mobile phone camera by looking at the number of megapixels it has. While this is one criteria you should consider, it’s not the be all and end all of mobile phone camera quality.
  • Lenses and Apatures :
    These are the important physical elements of your mobile phone camera which decide what light and how much light is captured.
  • Image Processing Chips :
    Significant advances in the speed and efficiency of image processing chips recently offer new facilities to users ( e.g. capturing multiple images and choosing the one you like. )
  • Flash :
    The type of flash also depends on what you are looking for. Typically Xenon flash is better for photos, whereas LED is better for use as a video light.
  • Apps :
    Photography apps also shape the type of experience a cell phone camera can provide. From video and photo editing apps to augmented reality games, there are a number of unique experiences that can be had using your phone’s cameras.

Since, as we say, almost everyone JUST uses Megapixels as their criteria, broken this mobile phone camera article in to 2 elements. The first, for the majority, deals with the question of MegaPixels. The second half, points out and explores other elements you might like to consider when choosing your mobile phone camera.

Mobile Phone Cameras And Megapixels

Going in to 2013, consideration of Megapixels as the most important aspect of your mobile phone camera decision has become an important part of the debate.

For years, megapixels gave people a single number to compare across devices. Knowing this, manufacturers competed to raise the number of megapixels available on their phones. For most of 2012, 8 MP was the standard on the best Australian Mobile Phones. The Samsung Galaxy S4 has 13 MP.

However, with the launch of their HTC One, HTC have offered Australian Mobile Phone buyers an alternative. Instead of more pixels, they’re offered bigger pixels.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of having higher numbers of megapixels.

Pros Of Megapixles :

  • In some cases, the higher the number megapixels captured, the more potential there is for a great looking picture. If you’re printing your pictures out in a large format ( bigger than the usual 6 x 4 inch pictures ) then having a high number of megapixels will provide the resolution you need to provide a quality image which has no ‘blockiness’ to it.
  • A high number of megapixels allows you to zoom in on an element of the picture that you want to crop, pick it out and still have a picture you can print.

Cons Of A High Number Of Megapixels :

  • More pixels ( on a sensor of the same size ) means that each pixels is smaller. This can lead to ‘noise.’ More noise means lower picture quality. Noise means colours are not represented accurately or that edges of photo elements become rough. )Noise problems are accentuated when your camera is used in low light conditions.
  • Large file sizes.
    8 MP pictures take images which can be 2 – 3 MB in size. If you take a lot of pictures, this can add up, and occupy a lot of your camera’s memory. Many people like to share images on social media websites or with friends over email. Those uses don’t require images with a very high pixel density and it can cost both the sender and receiver a lot of wireless data.

So, do you do a lot of mobile phone camera shot printing ? Do you crop a lot of your images ? The answer is probably not which means that megapixels are not the be-all and end-all when it comes to picture quality.

Low light capabilities are also an important factor, which should not be overlooked. If you think about how you actually use your mobile phone camera, you might form the opinion that many pictures are taken in the evening, inside a building where there’s not a lot of natural light, in a bar or pub at night when there’s very little light.

The science says that there’s a lot more to consider than Megapixles and that, in fact, more megaPixels could be negatively affecting the pictures you get. In reality, you probably need to compare the results of the cameras on each of the phones in the Whatphone Top 7, before you choose. You can find reviews of all the cameras by clicking a device from the whatphone homepage.

Mobile Phone Cameras – Beyond Megapixels.

So, we know there’s more to a mobile phone camera than just the number of megapixels it takes / has. It might be helpful to look at the key components which go in to a mobile phone camera in order to understand how improvements in each affects the quality of the result you get.

The components which go in to your mobile phone camera are :

  • Mobile phone camera lenses & apertures which determine how much light gets in.
  • Mobile phone image sensor ( this is broken down in to a number of pixels, which is where the megapixels come in. )
  • The image processing chip, CCD / CMOS.
  • The type of flash the camera has which affects.
  • Mobile Phone Camera Software and Apps

Phone Cameras – Lenses & Apertures

The mobile phone camera lens itself can also contribute or take away from the quality of the picture. Unlike Digital SLR cameras, the lens on mobile phone cameras is built in to the chassis of the phone and cannot be swapped out. This limits the ability of the mobile phone camera to zoom in on something from a distance ( except by using digital zoon which magnifies an element of what the lens is seeing by cropping the image. This leads to reduced picture quality. )

The aperture of a mobile phone camera is the size of the gap used to let light in. Aperture size is measured in F Stops. The smaller the f number, the bigger the aperture and the more control of ‘depth of field’ you’ll have. Depth of field allows users to focus in on the part of the picture they want to accentuate and blur other elements.

Phone Camera Image Sensors

The image sensor is what captures your picture or video. Of course, the faster the image processor is and the more efficiently they operate, the more pictures you can take and the higher the quality of the result. There are 2 main types.

1. CCD ( Charge Coupled Device ) chips are older image sensor chips.
They consumer more power and generate results which are not as good as recent developments with new image sensor chip types allow.

2. CMOS ( Complimentary – Symmetry Metal Oxide Semi Conductor. )
CMOS is the current standard in the highest selling Australian mobile phones. It draws less power than an equivalent CCD doing the same task. On top of that, the speed improvements for image processing that CMOS enables means modern mobiles have come along in leaps and bounds in recent years. These days, you can capture and edit high definition video, take multiple shots of an event in quick succession, keeping the one you like the most and even ‘bracket’ pictures – capturing different levels of light from a single moment automatically so you can keep the one which looks the best.

Mobile Phone Camera Flashes

The flash uses light from the phone battery to light up the scene, leading to a better picture when the natural light is not available or sufficient. Some phones also allow the flash to be used as a video light when recording video. In lower priced phones, a flash may or may not be present.

If a flash is important to you, it is worthwhile looking up this information before purchasing a phone in the features and specifications area on Whatphone.

A lot of phones use LED lights for the camera flash. Another technology used in some phones is Xenon flash. Phones with Xenon flash tend to provide a brighter picture than LED, but one downside is that Xenon can not be used as a video light, whereas LED can. Some phones even use dual LED flash, which allows subjects to be lit from further away.

Mobile Phone Camera Software

Camera software varies depending on the model and manufacturer of the phone. Some phones include a panoramic shooting mode. This is a great feature that can be used in different ways. It can be used in small environments to take a wider shot. It can also be used to take 360 degree photographs of an entire indoor or outdoor environment. The results can be quite stunning.

Burst shot is a feature that mimics photographic sequence cameras from the film days. It allows several photographs to be taken at once. This can be used to take several pictures quickly. The user can then choose the best one and, if they want to, throw the rest away. It can also be used in action situations, such as a swimmer diving into a pool.

Some phone applications also provide the ability to shoot in different filters: sepia, black and white, negative, etc. Most if not all camera programs make it easy to switch back and forth between the gallery and camera applications. From the gallery application, photos and videos can be uploaded to a variety of social media sites.

HTC has invented a new video/photo hybrid called Zoe. A Zoe is reminiscent of Super 8 film cuts mashed together. Because it is only available on HTC devices, it does not seem like something that will necessarily become mainstream. Of course, in the world of mobile technology, it’s always possible that app developers will create an application with a very similar functionality.

With front facing cameras on a large percentage of phones these days, video calls can now be made from many devices. Video calls are certainly not the norm, but with the use of applications such as FaceTime and Skype, this new way of communication is now a reality. FaceTime is an application developed by Apple. It can be used to make video calls between a variety of Apple devices, including laptops and desktop computers, as well as the iPhone and iPod touch.

Mobile Phone Cameras – Apps

Beyond the typical camera app that comes with most, if not all mobile phones, there are also quite a few interesting third party camera applications. Some are free and some cost money.

For the iPhone there is an app called Camera +. It is around a dollar on the App Store, and includes some features that other apps don’t include. One of the useful features of this app is that it includes a screen flash for the front-facing camera, which replaces the nonexistent camera flash. Until the iPhone incorporates a front-facing flash, this will be an invaluable facet to the camera experience. It includes a wealth of photo improvements that can’t be found anywhere else. The clarity filter is one of the more useful filters. It turns seemingly unsalvageable photos into decent snaps, and turns good pictures into great pictures.

What Camera+ does for photographs, Kitcam does for video. Kitcam is one of the few apps that lets the user to manually control the exposure. This is great for users looking to take more of a filmmaker’s approach, as opposed to just pointing and shooting. Videos can be recorded using a variety of lenses and filters as well. The app is currently around $2 on the App Store.

For the Android there are also some similar apps.

Camera ZOOM FX is one of the best offerings. It can record up to 10 shots per second. That’s even faster than professional sequence cameras. The app features something unique that can actually take the place of the timer. With a simple clap or voice command, a picture can be taken. The app is available for $2.99 on the Google Play store. One of the apps that both iOS and Android share is Instagram. It’s a free app that allows users to take and post pictures with different frames and filters. It has been called the photograph equivalent to Twitter.

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.