Smartphone Camera: Explained

The smartphone camera is one of the most important things that one looks out for before deciding on a smartphone. It’s very important to know how a camera actually works to get the best out of it. While some are better at taking low light photos, some can record 4K videos and some make sure that your shaky hands do not pose a threat to your photos.

Before you start on with this article, I suggest that you grab some popcorn as this is a lengthy one.

The first camera phone was sold in 2000 in Japan, J-Phone model, although some argue that the SCH-V200 and Kyocera VP-210 Visual Phone, both introduced months earlier in South Korea and Japan respectively, are the first camera phones. Let’s not talk about the past and get to the present.The smartphone camera consists of two main components including a sensor and a lens.

 

Sensor

The sensor is that part of the camera which actually captures the image. It does so by converting the light signals that fall onto it into small bursts of current that convey the information. There are currently two types of sensors used namely semiconductor charge-coupled devices CCD) or active pixel sensors in complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (NMOS, Live MOS) technologies.

Lens

Coming to the lens, a lens (also known as photography lens or photographic objective) is an optical lens or assembly of lenses used in conjunction with a camera body and mechanism to make images of objects either on photographic film or on other media capable of storing an image chemically or electronically. In simple language, it is a set of multiple plastic or glass elements, each of them having a specific function in focusing the light onto the sensor, whether that’s generally shaping the light to fit the size of the sensor, correcting issues, or providing the final focus point.

Aperture

An aperture is basically a hole or an opening through which light travels. Aperture is expressed in f-stops(f/2–f/4, f/4–f/8). The smaller the aperture number the bigger the aperture which leads to more exposure of light. Recent smartphones have apertures that have f-stops of f/2.0 or f/2.2. If you want better low light photos than you’d rather opt for a smartphone with a higher aperture size(low f-stop).

aperture

 

Let’s move on to the different modes and various options that you find in a camera.

Some of you might not be able to find all of the below-listed features on your smartphone. However, I will name some of the apps that can help you get most of these features.

The first thing that I’d suggest you do is to open up the camera settings and make sure that camera resolution is set to the highest. Also, it’s better to keep the aspect ratio to 16:9 as 4:3 trims some part of the photo. This varies with different smartphones, though.

Shutter speed or exposure time is the length of time when the film or digital sensor inside the camera is exposed to light, also when a camera’s shutter is open when taking a photograph. The camera’s shutter speed, the lens’s aperture (also called f-stop), and the scene’s luminance together determine the amount of light that reaches the film or sensor (the exposure). Too much light let into the camera results in an overly pale image (or “over-exposure”) while too little light will result in an overly dark image (or “under-exposure”). This can prove to be helpful while taking low light images, though.

ISO

In simple language, ISO determines the level of sensitivity of your camera to available light. The lower the number the less sensitive your camera is to light and the finer the grain. Higher ISO settings are generally used in darker situations to get faster shutter speeds. Though, you might find your image to be more grainy if you click it with a higher ISO setting.

The image on the left was taken with a lower ISO setting whereas the one on the right has a higher ISO setting.

HDR

You might’ve seen this option on your phones and might be wondering what exactly does it do and when should one use it? HDR means High Dynamic Range imaging. What it basically does is that it makes your photos look better, but it also depends on when you take it. HDR takes three photos, at different exposures, which you can put together using an image editing software and highlight the best parts. Luckily for us smartphone users, HDR does the hard work itself. Now you know why the HDR mode takes a little bit longer to save the photo compared to the normal mode.

hdr and non hdr comparisonAvoid using this mode when you have a subject that’s moving, or when the scene is too bright or dark.

FOCUS

You can use this mode to focus on certain objects in your picture or on the complete image.

Autofocus usually works when your image is still, during this time the camera automatically focuses on the image.

Macro mode is used when one wants a close up view of something. The distance between the camera and the object is often so close, that even the flash does not make any difference and even the slightest movement could completely change your composition.

The other mode that’s available in most of the smartphones is Infinity mode. This mode is used to focus on something that’s far away. This is better used while taking snaps of landscapes or architecture.

The name of the apps are

ProShot

Camera FV-5 (Lite version available)

Open Camera

VSCO

Manual Camera

Panorama

Panoramic photography is sometimes also called as wide format photography. What this mode does is that it takes wide angle shot which covers more length compared to the normal mode. Make sure that your phone rotates and not you as the smaller the pivot point, the better the image. Also keep your phone level to obtain a better panoramic view.

Panorama View of a City

Panorama View of a City at Night


Photo Sphere

Photo Sphere is a 360-degree panorama feature Google added in Android 4.2. Stock Google Nexus phones support Photo Sphere out of the box, starting with the Nexus 4 phone back in 2012. Once you select the photosphere option in your camera just go on aligning the camera with the blue dots seen and capture as much as you want. It’s best to try it in places where there’s no movement as people or animals tend to move between shots which ruin your photo sphere.

Android Photoshpere

Coming to the different video modes, there are a few new modes with varied features that one might find interesting.

Let’s start with the normal video recording modes that include 4K, Full HD, HD, WVGA, VGA, QVGA. The 4K option records at an extraordinary resolution of 3840 x 2160 compared to the Full HD option which records at a resolution of 1920*1080/1080p. The HD option offers a resolution of 1280*720/720p. For WVGA it’s 720*480, VGA 640*480 and for QVGA 320*240.

Not all smartphones are capable of recording 4K videos, while some of them might have the option to record videos in 4K, I suggest that you stick to the 1080p or 720p resolutions. It’s a completely different story if you own a flagship smartphone(a phone with the best specs) as choosing 4k might just increase your video size and you might not notice that big a difference compared to FHD and HD.

Timelapse

Timelapse is a technique whereby the frequency at which film frames are captured (the frame rate) is much lower than that used to view the sequence. When played at normal speed, time appears to be moving faster and thus lapsing. Objects and events that would normally take minutes, days, hours, or months can be viewed to completion in seconds having been speeded up by factors of tens to million.

Slow Motion

Slow motion (commonly abbreviated as slow mo) is an effect in film-making whereby time appears to be slowed down. When replayed at normal speed, time appears to be moving more slowly. Typically this style is achieved when each film frame is captured at a rate much faster than it will be played back. Let’s say you shoot something at 48 frames per second but play it back at 24 frames per second. This means you are watching it at half the speed that you shot it. And there you have it – slow motion. That’s how it works.

 

I tried to cover all the basic fundamentals and functions of a smartphone camera. Do let me know if I missed on something important.

If you have any questions or comments regarding the article, do let us know in the comments section below.

Ashutosh Ghodasara

Ashutosh Ghodasara is a blogger from India. He is currently pursuing his bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering alongside diploma in photography. Honest, friendly, direct, respectful and patient are some of the words that describe him as a person.

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