photokina: 18.–21.05.2022 #photokina

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Smartphone market: new performance classes ready to start

Smartphone taking pictures

Smartphone manufacturers delight us every year with a number of new models on the market. The devices must be bigger, increasingly bezel-less and faster all the time. It is almost obligatory to mention that new performance records are set by these pocket-sized computers all the time, and not only from a technical perspective.

The smartphone is assuming ever more functions in our lives: telephone calls, surfing, writing messages, smart TV, MP3 player, navigation device, appointment calendar. And in particular, they have the ambition of being a real camera.

First smartphone with a variable aperture

In the meantime, smart telephones have almost completely left digital cameras behind. Who still carries an affordable digital camera around with them when the smartphone can be quickly pulled out of the pocket and is almost immediately ready to take the next picture? A lot has happened with regard to camera technology in recent years in any case. While smartphone cameras were until not too long ago known for reacting to poor lighting conditions with image noise and fuzziness, the recording quality of the small sensors has clearly improved, even with relatively little light.

Since the Samsung Galaxy S9, which was introduced in March 2018, variable apertures have also found their way into the smartphone market. The S9 is thus de facto the first smartphone equipped with a real mechanical aperture. Their have to date been few imitators – the market competitors at Apple, Huawei and Co. are pursuing their very own approaches.

Various camera lenses in the smartphone

Current models like the Huawei P30 Pro are helping themselves with a trick. Initially based on single and dual cameras, Huawei has been installing a so-called triple camera on the back side of its flagships since the P20. The same applies for Apple and the current iPhone 11 Pro models. Because there isn't much space inside a smartphone, manufacturers are pursuing a number of different solutions. In the case of the Huawei P30, the camera module lies longitudinally in the housing together with five lenses. As with a reflex camera, light is reflected around the corner and only then encounters the sensor.

HMD-Global is simply installing more and more modules into the devices. The Nokia 9 is thus equipped with a total of five integrated cameras. The Google Pixel 4, on the other hand, has a dual camera for the first time. The smartphone compensates for the ostensible disadvantage of a smaller number of camera modules with intelligent image optimisation software.

High demands made of optics and sensors

In contrast with the increasing number of camera lenses, the trend toward ever higher numbers of megapixels has subsided somewhat. In the meantime, the premium manufacturers trust in uniform values, such as camera systems with 12 or 16 megapixels. Also decisive for good image quality, besides the nominal number of megapixels and the resolution resulting from this, are aperture, sensor, optics and not least the software for image processing.

The latter, for example, ensures AI-supported image stabilisation. Because the dimensions of a smartphone camera need to be considerably smaller than their large colleagues in the compact or system camera segment, high demands are primarily made of sensors and optics by the physical limitations. In terms of the f-stop, the premium models of the smartphone manufacturers are very well positioned. Apertures from f/1.5 to f/2.4 ensure high levels of light.

Continuing development of smartphone software & hardware

According to rumours, the main camera of the successor model of the Huawai P30 Pro is already equipped with a loss-free, ten-fold zoom. Samsung also already presented a new image sensor some time ago that should enable resolutions of up to 108 megapixels.

One development focus of the manufacturers might soon increasingly be on software-side motif recognition and photo optimisation, in order to achieve an improvement in photo quality through optimisation in this area.