I have a new camera. It’s become my favorite camera. If not my favorite it is certainly the one that I’ve been using the most. It even makes phone calls.
If you haven’t figured it out already, I have reached the annual and inevitable point of obsolescence of my cell phone. I fight the thought of this being a ploy to sell me a new phone every four years, but if I’m being honest, it’s something that I always look forward to. It’s not because the manufacturers have improved reception or call quality on the phone. Both aspects seem to be no different than they were four years prior when I upgraded to my previous phone. What I always look forward to is how the latest camera upgrades perform. This go around I picked up a new Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and I love it.
I’ve owned a cell phone for practically their whole existence. I then used a Motorola brick at work in the early 1990’s and then progressed through the flip phone era to the modern-day smartphones. I remember when the first camera came out as a feature in the better flip phones. It was a dreadful little camera that took very small, out of focus and grainy photos. It was completely impractical. It was more of a novelty than a practical camera. At that time point and shoot cameras were popular for taking snapshots. Today very few people have or need for a point and shoot camera as our phones have easily replaced them.
My first cell phone camera created an image that was a 484 pixel x 364 pixel 14 KB file which yielded a 1 ¼” x 1 ⅝ ” photo. My newest cell phone has a 9000 x 12000 pixel 14 MB image that will print a 30” x 40” photo. The device features a 108MP uncropped primary camera, a 12MP ultra-wide-angle camera, two 10MP telephoto cameras (3X and 10X optical zoom), and a 40MP selfie camera. This means that when you zoom in the image will be made using a lens to magnify the scene and not enlarged digitally which tends to break the image apart. This particular cell phone that I’m using has three separate lenses to pull this off.
Another feature that cell phones have these days is the ability to use what’s called Pro Mode. Pro Mode will allow you to switch the phone camera to manual which gives you the ability to adjust the settings – Primarily shutter speed, and ISO, and to save the file in a Raw format. When set on Automatic the camera will take the photo and process it according to presets that are programmed into your camera. When it’s set to Manual you can create and process your photo in the method that gives you the look that you want. There are programs/applications that you can use on your camera to process and save the photo.
You might ask why you would need a camera if a cell phone can take such incredible photos? The answer is that it’s about sensor size and not about megapixels. The pixel size on the cell phone is .8 micrometers while the pixel size on my professional camera is 4.35 micrometers. Why is this important? It’s important in dim lighting. Larger pixels gather more light. A cell phone will do fine for photos in optimal light but once the lighting becomes a challenge the camera will be challenged. As a matter of fact when the cell phone camera is in night or low light mode it will use what’s called binning to merge nine pixels into one, effectively making it a 12 MP sensor. And furthermore, a larger sensor will be able to gather more information which will make a sharper and clearer image. The simple answer is that it’s not realistic to expect a sensor the size of 8mm to perform as well as a camera with one that’s 35mm in size.
I haven’t mentioned the video capability of the cell phone. It could be a whole separate article. It boasts the ability to record 8K video. It can record 3840x x2160 at 30p but can also record 1920 x 1080 at up to 120p which can give you the ability to record super slow motion.
I’m finally excited about the camera on my cell phone. I have been having fun with it. In the past I would try but the image quality when I was through was discouraging. I relegated the cell phone to snap shots of friends and family and snaps of times that I wanted reminders of. Because the photos and the video from this camera are so good, I’m more willing to try to be creative with it. Will it replace my professional camera? Not at all but it will allow me to get rid of all of the point and shoot cameras as well as all of the various video cameras that I have accumulated over the last few years. Cell phone cameras are starting to stand on their own as a viable option for quality imagery.