Cameras

Are Phone Cameras Capable Enough?

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Not a day passes by when I do not end up taking a picture on my smartphone. The more I take, the more I feel better. I have been trained as a photojournalist at one of the most sought after photography school and course in India. Not only this, my mentor is one great man and a great photographer who is a Pulitzer Prize nominee and a World Press Photo award for his coverage of the Tsunami in 2004.  In my one and half year stint at the photo school, we are taught and trained to adapt, improvise and shoot no matter what. We learnt that it is not the camera that limits us, it is out thoughts which cause invisible ‘limitations’ in our minds.

As students of photojournalism, we were expected to have our cameras on us all at times. Be it a walk down the alley for daily necessities or a detailed walk around the maximum city, you always have your camera on you, switched on in power saving mode and ready to fire off shots in burst mode. To make things easier while shooting frantically, we were advised to use the aperture priority mode (A) mode on the DSLR mode dial. This allows you to select an aperture according to the situation you are shooting in, select an ISO setting and simply fire as the camera will decide the shutter speed depending on the ambient light. One angle would not satisfy sir and he would often ask me if I had taken the picture from a top, bottom, left and right angle. 

For most of the time, I would try to keep a camera on me, but soon, I discovered that I can replace my DSLR camera with a smartphone camera. A smartphone was capable enough to take the images I wanted, but there were a few ‘limitations’ which I felt were coming in my way. To be precise, I was using an HTC Desire 816 dual sim version smartphone which had a decent camera. However, it was not even close to what the iPhones and Samsung Galaxies were. But soon, it became my favourite hobby to snap images only on my phone. Soon the memory started to run out and I had to back up every month to support more images.

Now the need for an outright and good smartphone camera was absolutely necessary. While most of my actual photography needs were sufficed by the DSLR, a smartphone camera actually made things a lot easier. Soon, I was able to lay my hands on a OnePlus X smartphone and the camera quality was quite impressive. What I noticed that the camera quality, when compared to my HTC smartphone, was pretty amazing and I started taking more and more images on the phone. Soon, I realised, OnePlus is not going to stop there and there was the existence of more OnePlus phones every year.

After nearly 5 years of my photography lessons, a lot of smartphone launches later, I believe a smartphone is more than enough for me, especially with my skills to produce usable images and videos anywhere. I have been working around technology and have been a keen follower of what is new and who is doing what. As I began working full time around my likes and passion, I discovered that technology is the only thing that is moving on the fastest, if not at the pace of 6 months at least.  

The type of technology used in cameras is varied now. From densely packed sensors to using four and even five cameras at the rear, manufacturers are using different techniques to improve the image quality to an extent when a person would not really feel the need of having a DSLR or even a point and shoot camera with them. Most smartphone makers are coming with innovative solutions like wide-angle cameras, telephoto cameras as well as normal focal length cameras all together making it versatile for everyday use. For instance, Nokia has launched a camera which has five cameras working together in the rear. 

What makes there smartphone cameras capable is the software optimisation and algorithms which make the cameras work seamlessly and also produce very good images. There is no limitation of a budget as even the most affordable smartphone camera setup has all the bells and whistles of the flagship camera, albeit in a more affordable package. While Realme has introduced a 64-Megapixel sensor in their Realme XT smartphone, you should know that the sensors used are still very tiny when compared to full-fledged or even point and shoot cameras. The image quality is the bi-product of a lot of software integration and quality optics which are now being used on smartphones to support the higher resolution. 

Technically speaking, smartphone makers are now exploring all sorts of nooks and corners of a phone and trying to make sliding, popping and even holes for cameras. Front cameras have seen a lot of placement changes in the past two years as the race to get the full real estate of the front for the display has given birth to many mechanisms for the front camera. While OnePlus and Realme want their cameras to pop in and out, Oppo has chosen an innovative way calling it the Sharkfin, where the raised front camera looks like a shark’s fin. 

How long will it be before smartphone cameras will threaten the camera industry on a huge scale? Well, that possibility is still lurking somewhere near the horizon. As the smartphone makers are just getting ready with their tiny sensors doing more and more work, camera giants are already placing their bets on new sensors and even larger ones which capture more light, more details resulting in lifelike images. I have used a Fujifilm GFX 50S for a while and I was mesmerised at the quality of images and details it produced. Any picture taken with that camera looked like it had like and I felt like having a DSLR is of no use. But then, you have the realization that it is not really the camera but, your mind creating the above ‘limitation’.

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