Smartphones have become increasingly popular due to their convenience and ease of use, and with the right settings, they can produce some great pictures. However, it can be difficult to find the right smartphone for your photography needs, so it is important to keep a few things in mind when shopping. Keep reading this guide to choose the best smartphone that meets your photography needs.
Important Things To Consider When Picking a Smartphone for Photography
The Number of Cameras
Gone are the days of single-camera smartphones. Modern flagships and even mid-tier and entry-level smartphones now come with multiple camera options. In addition to the primary camera, they also have a combination of other cameras which include wide-angle, optical zoom and macro cameras. The combination varies from one manufacturer to another. For example, Huawei used to offer the combo of a primary camera plus a dedicated monochrome camera on its flagships, while LG pioneered the primary + wide angle combo. Today, a primary camera, ultrawide and zoom lens is the most common option.
The number of megapixels used to be the primary indicator of quality of a smartphone camera. Although more megapixels mean more detail, smartphones rely heavily on software processing, so this number should not be taken as a guarantee for quality photographs. Most smartphones equipped with large sensors scale down images to reduce the size of photos while keeping most of the details, which is called pixel binning. The point here is that the megapixel count should not be taken as the only factor to consider and there is a lot more to the equation than the MP count. A 12MP or 16MP camera is good enough in a smartphone for most situations.
When you’re on the hunt for a smartphone that can take great photos, make sure to look for one with an ultrawide lens. This type of lens is wider than the usual wide-angle lens, which means it can capture more of the scene in a single shot. It works by using a shorter focal length that results in a longer field of view. With an ultrawide lens, you can take photos with a field of view that’s as wide as 120 degrees, which is similar to what you can see with your own eyes. That means you can snap shots of even more of the scene around you.
However, the output of an ultrawide camera is usually not as good as the primary camera and it is mostly used when shooting landscapes or when trying to cover multiple subjects.
Smartphone optical zoom is different from DSLR optical zoom. It’s actually a multi-camera system that switches between different cameras for zooming. Only 5X zoom is actually optical or lossless, while other zoom levels are usually digital. It’s tough to achieve higher optical zoom because it requires a bigger lens, which means a bigger camera bump. Manufacturers have been able to offer 5X zoom using a periscope-style lens.
Depth Of Field
Depth of Field is an important feature to consider as it can affect the overall look and feel of the image. By controlling the depth of field, photographers can guide the viewer’s attention to specific elements of the image. This can be achieved by having foreground objects out of focus, which adds depth and a sense of looking through these objects toward the main subject. Shooting with higher f-stop gives a better depth of field, for example an aperture of f/2.8 can help create this effect better than an f/1.4 lens.
The size of a smartphone camera sensor affects the quality of the image. Bigger sensors capture more light, resulting in higher quality, less noisy images with more detail. They also allow for wider aperture lenses, which produce cool bokeh effects. But larger sensors make it harder to build compact phones and can cause lens distortion. Smaller sensors are more common in phones, since they’re affordable and compact. It really depends on what you need as a photographer. Most smartphones use CMOS sensors with 1/2.55″, 1/2.3″, 1/2.8″, and 1/3.2″ being the most common sizes.
Aperture is the opening in a camera lens that lets light reach the camera sensor. Think of it like the iris in our eyes that changes size depending on the light. By choosing the appropriate aperture size, photographers can control the amount of light that reaches the sensor, making the image brighter or darker.
Aperture also affects depth of field, which is how much of the image is in focus. A wider aperture creates a shallow depth of field with a blurred background, while a narrower aperture results in a sharper image from front to back. This is a cool feature for photographers to add creativity to their images. Some smartphones e.g. Samsung Galaxy S2X come with variable apertures, but they are not so common and have just a few in-between steps.
Pixel Size Micrometers
Also called pixel pitch, pixel size is an important factor in mobile camera technology, as larger pixels are better at capturing light and producing higher-quality images in low-light situations. The pixel size varies between different manufacturers and usually ranges from 1μm to 1.4μm. Some smartphones even have 1.7μm pixel size, which is great for capturing more details and better photos in low lighting conditions. If you are struggling in getting better lighting for your smartphone photos, you may need to use lighting equipment. For more information, check out the Ultimate Guide to Lighting for Photography.
Equally Good Display
Smartphones with great cameras also come with an equally good display, so it isn’t much of an issue. However, buyers still need to make sure that the display is pixel-dense and displays colors accurately. OLEDs have punchy colors, but are not always accurate and often have burn-in issues, while LCD displays are cheaper, color-accurate and don’t suffer as much for burn-ins.
A well-balanced display is crucial for smartphone photography. The screen must be bright and calibrated to display images accurately, especially in live-view mode. Choose a phone with a clear and bright display, 5.5 to 6 inches in size and with at least FHD or QHD resolution for a better viewing experience.
Optical image stabilization (OIS) is a feature found on smartphone cameras that helps reduce blurriness caused by shaky hands or other camera movements. It physically moves the lens module or image sensor to counteract any camera movement, making it especially useful in low-light situations. There are two types of OIS systems smartphones have: sensor-based (gyroscope and an accelerometer are used to detect movement) and lens-based (movable lens element) so think about which one suits your photography style better.
Auto mode on smartphone cameras may not always produce the desired results as it focuses on exposing the photo properly, which may not match your aesthetic. By using manual control, you have the flexibility to manipulate settings to create the image you envision. Sometimes the auto mode just doesn’t cut it, especially if you want to achieve a specific look or style.
With manual control, you have the power to adjust brightness, ISO, and shutter speed to create the perfect image. You can make it darker or lighter, smoother or grainier, all depending on your personal preference. So, if you’re serious about smartphone photography, give manual controls a try and see the difference it can make. Android phones usually offer more manual controls than Apple’s offerings and allow the user to tweak a lot more settings.
Raw Format Image
To put it simply, RAW format support is essential to smartphone photography. When you shoot in RAW, you get uncompressed images that can be easily edited and manipulated to create your desired outcome. This provides photographers with more control and flexibility than shooting in the compressed JPG format. While different camera and phone manufacturers use different RAW file formats, most Android phones shoot in DNG, which is universal, and Apple has its own ProRAW format (iOS 14.3 and later). So, if you’re serious about smartphone photography, make sure your device supports RAW format.
Monochrome Sensor For Black And White shooting
Monochrome sensors on smartphones work together with other lenses to improve image quality in high contrast or low light situations. They capture detail in shadows more effectively and produce sharper images. This information is then used to enhance images captured with other sensors. The portrait filter in particular, when combined with monochrome sensors, produces striking monochrome images with a vintage atmosphere.
However, most smartphones do not have this sensor, and it’s probably not a good idea to select a smartphone only based on this factor. Image processing has reached a point where a dedicated monochrome sensor is not needed anymore and smartphones can produce great black-and-whites using the existing hardware and software.
HDR technology in smartphones improves color accuracy, brightness, and contrast. Look for common standards such as HDR10 and Dolby Vision for better color accuracy. The Ultra HD Alliance also introduced the Mobile HDR Premium standard, which includes specific requirements for resolution, dynamic range, and color space.
Taking selfies has become a big deal, and smartphone brands are putting more effort into improving their front-facing cameras. Among the various operating systems, Android phones are leading the pack with great specifications for selfie cameras, which are not only useful for capturing self-portraits, but also for video calling and augmented reality applications. In short, a smartphone’s front-facing camera has become a significant factor in its overall performance and attractiveness to users.
Storage space is the memory that stores photos, videos, and other data. If a smartphone does not support expandable storage (via memory card), you are only left with one option: to pay a premium for more built-in storage. Then comes storage performance. The most common types of flash storage are eMMC and UFS, with UFS being the faster technology, which most high-end smartphones have. To ensure your smartphone can handle the demands of storing and processing high-quality images, it is important to choose the right type of storage.
Battery capacity is represented in mAh and the larger the battery, the more battery juice is available for photography and other tasks. Battery life of a smartphone also depends on several other factors, including the screen size, processing power and software optimization. Most high-end smartphones have reached a point where most of these things don’t matter a lot due to efficient SoCs and optimized software. However, you still need to consider the battery capacity to make sure it can last during long photo sessions. It’s recommended to look for smartphones with at least 4,000 mAh battery capacity.
Smartphones are not just about camera hardware as they heavily depend on software trickery to take images, which requires a lot of processing power both in terms of the CPU and GPU. Smartphones have come a long way in terms of processing power, and much of that progress can be attributed to the use of GPUs or graphics processing units.
In recent years, smartphone manufacturers have been investing heavily in GPUs, with many of the latest models featuring top-of-the-line GPUs that are capable of handling high-end gaming and other resource-intensive tasks such as recording 4K videos. Consider a smartphone that packs a newer and powerful SoC (System on Chip which includes the CPU, GPU and other modules) able to handle demanding photography and video recording tasks.
Optical Zoom Vs Digital Zoom
Optical zoom uses a physical lens movement to change the apparent closeness of the image subject by increasing the focal length. This method maintains image resolution and quality, making it ideal for professional photographers.
On the other hand, digital zoom uses software to enlarge pixels in the center of the photo and crop out the rest to give the illusion of magnification, but at the cost of reduced image quality. It’s like when you take a picture and zoom in, the image starts to look pixelated and blurry.
When selecting a zoom lens, consider focal length and zoom ratio to determine magnification capabilities. In the end, it’s always better to stick with optical zoom if you want high-quality, high-resolution photos
Water And Dust Resistance
The terms “waterproof” and “water-resistant” are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings. Most devices that claim to be waterproof are actually just water-resistant, meaning they offer some protection against spill, but not total protection. It is important to be skeptical and look for more specific information about how much water it can withstand. Look forIP68 rated smartphones, which have been certified to protect against dust, and can be submerged up to 1.5 meters deep water for up to 30 minutes.
Best Smartphone Brands for Photography
It is very hard to pick a clear winner among different brands as each has some nice tricks up its sleeve when it comes to smartphone photography. The following is a non-exhaustive list of some of the most popular brands.
Apple’s offerings work great out-of-the-box and require very little tweaking to get quality images. Its camera app is easy to use and comes with an intuitive interface. Apple’s emphasis on a closed and secure ecosystem ensures that the camera hardware and software work in tandem to provide an optimal user experience. Additionally, the Apple App Store includes a diverse range of high-quality camera and photo editing apps, allowing for more creative options.
Samsung has developed a reputation for producing high-quality smartphones with photographic capabilities, such as optical image stabilization, larger sensors, bright lenses, and optical zoom. They offer users the ability to shoot in RAW format and manual controls, giving them complete control over image processing and what the camera captures.
Google Pixel devices offer an exceptional photography experience, with features such as Night Sight and Astrophotography mode, and receive quick updates from Google. It is definitely an excellent choice for those who want a pure Android experience and all the Google software sweetness.
Huawei is most renowned for being among the leading three smartphone producers globally and is recognized for offering one of the most exceptional camera capabilities on their phones. This is due to Huawei’s incorporation of a larger sensor and higher resolution, resulting in the potential to capture more intricate details in photographs. However, because of the recent bans and unavailability of Google services, it’s not such a compelling option anymore, despite the fact that it still makes some of the best camera smartphones.
Advances in the field of technology have made smartphones a viable option for photography. Although they still cannot compete with mirrorless and DSLR cameras head-on, they have gotten pretty close. When choosing a smartphone for photography, there are many important factors to consider, such as camera modules, sensor size, aperture, pixel size, megapixels, display, image stabilization, manual controls, and RAW format support. You may also want to invest in a lighting kit so that you can take better photos with just your smartphone. Check out our Guide to Selecting a Photography Lighting Kit for more information.
Popular smartphone brands with impressive photography features include Apple, Samsung, Google, and Huawei, but you should also not ignore other companies making advancements in the camera department such as Oppo and Xiaomi. Ultimately, the decision on which smartphone to choose for photography will depend on individual preferences, budget, local availability and after sales support.