Aug 15 AT 1:09 PM Nick Sarafolean 26 Comments

Manufacturers need to step up their camera game


How many of you use your smartphone as your primary camera? Many people do. It’s fast, easy, and you almost always have it with you. Most of the time, the quality comes close to that of a point-and-shoot, with the exception of something like a Sony RX100. Yet, smartphone cameras have many serious limitations, some of which manufacturers could easily fix.

Lack of zoom

This is a huge one. You can’t really fit optical zoom into a smartphone without it ending up like the Samsung Galaxy Zoom, so there haven’t been any good remedies for this problem. Until recently, that is. Nokia proved that even without optical zoom, you can still achieve quality zoom on a smartphone. Nokia took advantage of the existing digital zoom technology (which is, for the most part, terrible) and figured out how to rework it. What Nokia did was bolt on a massive 41MP sensor along with Zeiss optics.

That combo allowed Nokia to take incredibly high-resolution photos that can then be “zoomed” (actually cropped) up to 3x. And no, that isn’t like most digital zooms where you lose much of the quality the farther in you zoom. Nokia’s Lumia 1020 allows you too keep the photos looking crisp. While I’m not suggesting that every manufacturer should throw a 41-megapixel sensor onto the back of their phone, I do think that higher-resolution sensors should be considered for this sole purpose.

Less gimmicky features, more of what matters

This point is definitely not directed at Samsung. Nope, not at all.

All joking aside, this is getting to be a very serious issue. Smartphone manufacturers have begun to get caught up in a game where, to win, you stuff as many features as you can into the camera. At first, it wasn’t so bad. A couple of the features were quite useful. But now, its gotten to the point where the only time you’ll ever use some of these features is when you’re showing off how many features your phone has. Do we really need a dedicated mode for every single situation under the sun (and the moon)? Chances are that you won’t even be in half the situations where you might need these features.

Rather, manufacturers should work on improving the camera UI and adding features that help consumers take normal pictures. Like Motorola, for example. I’m by no means proclaiming that Moto’s camera is perfect, but at least the company has taken steps toward camera improvement. Motorola has tried to make the camera UI as clutter-free and quick as possible. Simply flick your wrist twice, to enter the camera from anywhere in the phone. Once in the camera, you’re greeted with just two buttons: one to switch to the front-facing camera and one to switch to video. The entire screen is a shutter button, and to access the settings, you simply swipe in from the left. No crazy features or gimmicky things. Just a plain and simple, easy to use camera UI. That’s what other manufacturers need to start doing.

Lackluster low-light performance

Traditionally, smartphones have had exceptionally mediocre performance in low light. Pictures have either turned out dark and muddy or blown out and noisy. Not everyone has the steady hands of a brain surgeon, so smartphone camera shutters can’t be open long before the picture becomes a blurry mess. To compensate the ISO gets cranked up, which creates all sorts of digital noise. Either the manufacturer leaves the noise or uses all sorts of processing to try and remove it, which results in a soft, muddy picture.

So what’s the answer? In truth, there isn’t a perfect answer. Cameras are always going to have some struggles in low light. But a good first step would be to add optical image stabilization. Luckily for us, this is becoming more and more common in high-end smartphones, and it’s a massive boon to taking pictures in low-light. Another way to help in low-light is to use a system like HTC’s Ultrapixels. Of course, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Different manufacturers will have to come up with different tactics to combat this problem.

These are just, in my opinion, the three biggest problems inherent with smartphone cameras. But what do you think? What would you most like to see resolved or improved upon? Do you have any suggestions for a fix? Share your thoughts in the comments!

A nerd at heart, Nick is an average person who has a passion for all things electronic. When not spending his time writing about the latest gadgets, Nick enjoys reading, dabbling in photography, and experimenting with anything and everything coffee. Should you wish to know more about him, you can follow him on Twitter @Zricon15.

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