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Why Megapixels Don't Matter In Phone Cameras

Why Megapixels Don't Matter In Phone Cameras

Cameras have been in phones for a long time now. The first phone to come with a camera was the Kyocera Visual Phone, it was launched in Japan in the year 1999. 

With smartphones, cameras too have become a really important part of our lives. Almost everyone considers the camera quality and specs before getting a smartphone these days, and why shouldn't it be important. After all, it's such a convenience. Just take a moment, and think about it. You want to remember something, some place, you take a photo, you want to capture a moment so that you can cherish it forever, you have a camera in your pocket for doing just that.

Smartphone manufacturers know these things, and, a lot of times, the way they market around these aspects is pretty interesting.

This article talks about what you should look for in a good camera phone, about megapixels and if those so called megapixels really are that big a deal as smartphone manufacturers make out of them. 

Why Megapixels Don't Matter In Phone Cameras
Why Megapixels Don't Matter In Phone Cameras

What Are Megapixels?

The term "megapixel" simply refers to one million pixels, so if your phone has an 8 megapixel camera then it means that it captures photos consisting of 8 million pixels. All this implies that a higher number of pixels means higher resolution, which is certainly true, but a camera with a higher number of megapixels doesn't always take better pictures or is more useful than a camera with a lower number of megapixels.

Why More Than 8 Megapixels Are Almost Useless

Smartphone manufacturers have long been competing in the race of megapixels. We have witnessed smartphone cameras ranging from 5 megapixels to 108 megapixels, but it's not fair of these brands to make this a big selling point and charge loads of money for it. 

I say this because of a simple yet significant reason. The highest end display today is an 8K display, but this is the latest technology and not a lot of people have these. Therefore, we will talk about 4K displays, which are relatively common and used to be at highest end a few months back. A 4K display consists of actually 8.3 megapixels, this means that you don't actually have the screen to display a photo that is more than 8.3 megapixels. Also, most people don't even have a 4K display, so, they can't even properly see an 8 megapixel photo. 

But cameras with more than 8 megapixels are not completely useless. The main advantage of a higher resolution camera is that it provides significantly better cropping and resizing results. Overall, the photos from both types of cameras appear to be same.

Why Megapixels Don't Matter In Phone Cameras
Why Megapixels Don't Matter In Phone Cameras

If Not Megapixels Then What

Pixel Size:

Smartphone cameras have microscopic light sensors. These sensors capture light that can be displayed in a pixel, therefore, these too are called pixels. Hence, a 12 megapixels camera has 12 million of these sensors. 

These sensors evaluate the light particles entering them and determine the colour and brightness of each of the pixel in a photo. That is how you get a finished photo through your phone's camera.

In the spec sheet, the pixel size is mentioned as a micron value. While looking for this specification, you should look for a number and a "Ξm" symbol after it. The bigger the size, the better the camera.

With aggressively high megapixel numbers, companies significantly cut on pixel size. Really high resolution cameras, such as 108 megapixel ones, have a really small pixel size of 0.8Ξm(micron), whereas, phones with a smaller yet a common number of megapixels offer a much bigger pixel size of 1.4Ξm.

Aperture:

Aperture is another important camera specification and is closely related to pixels(microscopic light sensors in your camera). 

Aperture is technically the diameter of the opening of a camera lens. The bigger the aperture is, the more light enters the camera. This way, pixels collect more light particles and a better image is generated. A wider aperture reduces noise in a photo, helps increase shutter speed and improves low light performance of a camera.

What you would find on the spec sheet is "𝑓" divided by some number, for example, ð‘“/1.8. This expressions is actually the ratio of focal length to aperture. But, it is quite easy to inspect this specification. 

In this representation, "𝑓" is divided by a number, the smaller this number is, the bigger the overall value will come out and the better your camera will be. To simply put it, ð‘“/1.8 is better than ð‘“/2.0 or ð‘“/2.2. 

Why Megapixels Don't Matter In Phone Cameras
Aperture | Why Megapixels Don't Matter In Phone Cameras

Stabilization:

Another factor that affects picture quality of a phone camera is stabilization. As the name suggests, this helps in stabilizing your camera. This way, you can take sharper looking images.

Smartphone manufacturers provide stabilization in two ways, one is Optical Image Stabilization(OIS) and the other is Electronic Image Stabilization(EIS). 

In OIS, your phone's camera physically moves to counter the movement of the phone. Suppose you have shaky hands and have trouble clicking stable photos and recording stable videos, OIS fixes that for you. 

Why Megapixels Don't Matter In Phone Cameras
OIS | Why Megapixels Don't Matter In Phone Cameras

On the other hand, EIS is a software based process and is a bit more complex to understand. EIS detects small movements with the help your phone's accelerometer, it interprets those movements and aligns all the frames such that the maximum blur is eliminated from photos. For video, the EIS picks a high contrast point and tries to keep it in the centre of the frame, which results in a stable video. 

Now, both of these stabilization methods work effectively, but OIS has an edge over EIS. EIS crops and uses only about 90 percent of the picture area that the camera is capable of capturing, this gives it space for shifting frames. This slightly reduces the resolution of the captured image, whereas, this issue doesn't exist with OIS.

So, when you are looking at the spec sheet, you should be looking for a camera with OIS, rather than EIS or no stabilization at all. 


Software:

To some people software might not seem like a big factor that affects quality of a smartphone camera, but it sometimes can be.

I will back my statement up by giving the example of Google's Pixel. The main selling point of Pixel phones is their camera. The camera hardware of these phones is inferior to other flagships, yet it mostly provides better results than those flagships. 


Why Megapixels Don't Matter In Phone Cameras
Google Pixel 2 | Why Megapixels Don't Matter In Phone Cameras

The reason behind it is Google's software. When other companies used a dual camera setup for providing depth in photos(Portrait mode), Google did it with a single camera and still provided some of the best Portrait mode photos. Google's camera software does wonders when it comes to photography, that is why the Google camera app is so widely ported for other phones. 

Another example of this is the Night mode in phones, it too is achieved with the help of software. 

All the phones these days offer almost the same camera setup, the same hardware, but still photos from Pixels, iPhones and Galaxy devices just stand out. It is solely because of the software.

But the thing is, camera software isn't something that you can find on the spec sheet. The easy way around this is that you can pick phones from big brands, so that good camera software is assured, with that you can also watch camera reviews for the phone that you are considering. 

Conclusion

Having a good camera in your phone is important, but today, getting a phone with a good camera is not tough at all. There are so many brands competing at every front and they keep working to improve everything about their products, and camera is one of the most important things in that list. Therefore, you should not worry so much about this topic, just relax, and here is a little effort from my side in helping you choose. 

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