Cameras, Cameras, Cameras …
June 4 2018
Smartphone brands continue to improve camera specs and add functions to make these imbedded cameras closer, if not better than what is available as a stand-alone device, and typical smartphones with dual camera systems are using both a primary camera and a second ‘camera’ to sense depth. By using this depth data, image systems can separate the background from the foreground.
Large format digital cameras focus on a foreground image while background images appear out of focus based on their distance naturally bringing attention to the foreground, but smaller cameras used in smartphone have not had the ability to create such short depth of field and use the depth data to blur the background. While this works reasonably well, the edges of foreground images can become blurry if the system is unable to resolve precise depth information. The better the 2nd ‘camera’, the better the depth information and the more natural the image will look. Smartphone camera system designers have also taken alternative approaches, such as the one used by Huawei in its P9 smartphone. Here two identical cameras are used, however the 2nd camera has no RGB filter, which means it captures no color information, and without a filter to reduce the amount of transmitted light, it collects more light, which means greater detail, and less noise. When the two images are combined, the result is said to be a more detailed image than is possible with two RGB color cameras.
Smartphones typically use a two-camera system where the primary camera and a secondary camera have a telephoto lens, allowing the lens to zoom into a subject without using software, which how single camera systems work. Given that smartphone users have a tendency to take pictures of nearby subjects, this is a popular system, but Huawei is still pushing the smartphone camera envelope with its P20 Pro that has three ‘cameras’. The system in the P20 Pro starts with a 40Mp primary camera, adds an 8Mp depth sensor, and a separate 20Mp monochrome camera, which should allow for a significant improvement in picture quality. The system gets good reviews but that has little to do with how consumers view the feature. Huawei seems to be a leader in the smartphone camera race, but Apple’s facial recognition system and associated sensors are also pushing the ability of smartphones to render professional grade photographs and Samsung has no choice but to step up their game with each new Galaxy S iteration. In that regard, it seems that both Apple and Samsung are looking to add a third camera to their next generation high-end phones, further differentiating their flagship models from the many Apple and Samsung clones. As sensor pricing is volume related, as each new sensor becomes part of such high volumes brand offerings, it will get progressively cheaper to use dual and triple camera systems on mid-range phones.