108 Megapixel Phone Cameras Are a Lie

If you are wondering then yes, the title is kind of clickbait. But hear me out before going away.

a photo of the rear cameras of the Galaxy S20 ultra
108 megapixel camera of the Galaxy S20 Ultra | 108 Megapixel Phone Cameras Are a Lie
By 108 megapixel cameras being a lie, I don't really mean that 108 Megapixel cameras are a myth or something, they do exist and many companies do provide them in their flagship phones today.

But what I mean is that, like a lot of other things this is something that companies just use to hype you up for their products. It's like clickbait for selling phones.

Just two years back, the standard camera resolution for phone cameras used to be 12 megapixels, for companies like Apple and Google, it still is.

How 12 Megapixels Is More Than Enough

There is a reason that 12 megapixel cameras have been so common in phones for so long. 

The truth is, you don't need more than 12 megapixels. You, most probably, can't use more than 12 megapixels, actually, you can't even use 12 megapixels for that matter. That is because 12 megapixels is a higher resolution than probably any screen that you have around you right now.
An image of a tv with 4k written on it
4K | 108 Megapixel Phone Cameras Are a Lie
A 4K screen is around 8.3 megapixels, which is clearly less than 12 megapixels. Having said that, there's one possibility in which you can use and even exhaust 12 megapixels, that is if you have an 8K screen.

In that case, your display is around 33.17 megapixels, which is greater than 12, but you still can't use 108 megapixels.

Now, 8K is a lot newer than 4K and isn't that widely adopted yet. The first 8K TVs were seen in 2019 and they're not very common, the reasons being, first, it's a bit overkill, and second, there isn't a lot of 8K content just yet. So, chances are that you don't have an 8K TV right now.

Let's come to phone screens now, after all, that is where you're going to mostly be seeing the photos and videos that you capture from your phone's cameras.

Well, there isn't much to talk about here. We have talked about how even 4K is less than 12 megapixels, phone screens don't even come close to 4K, they are mostly 1080p/FHD, and 2K at best. In some rare cases, your phone screen could be 720p/HD, if that's you, then dude, it's high time that you've upgraded.

There have been instances when we've seen phones with 4K screens, particularly from Sony. But that was a long time ago and has been stopped now, cause, a resolution that high in such a small form factor is just plain useless and has proven to be disastrous for the battery.

So, the bottom line is that the screens around you are far incompetent to display 108 megapixel images.

Whereas, if you look at videos, they cap out at 8.3 megapixels, as 4K is the market standard for video recording right now. With the Galaxy S20 series in 2020, Samsung brought 8K video recording, which would cap out at a bit more than 33 megapixels, and also takes up enormous storage. What I mean here is that videos on phones don't even reach close to resolutions like 64 and 108 megapixels.

Check out the Galaxy S20 series here, and a comparison between other 2020 flagships from Samsung, Apple and Oneplus.

The Pros Of High Resolution Sensors In Phones

High resolution sensors have a few pros, but they're all related to capturing more detail. So, I could just mention that their only benefit is that they capture imagesd with higher detail, but I am going to make it a bit more elaborate for the sake of keeping it fair.

Detail And Sharpness

As high resolution sensors capture more detail, the image is naturally sharper, which makes it better looking, both without zoom and with zoom.


A sharper, more detailed image gives a better result upon cropping, as you don't lose as many pixels. This can be quite useful as there are a lot of times when a big part of an image is just useless and cropping in would give you a better look at the subject or a better photo altogether.

A cat image which shows cropping
Cropping | 108 Megapixel Phone Cameras Are a Lie

High resolution sensors are your thing if you do a lot of post processing on your photos, as there is a lot of detail and data for you to work with. But if you're that person then you most probably have a professional camera, know all this stuff, and are not reading this article right now.

The Cons Of High Resolution Sensors In Phones

To be honest, these high resolution sensors can be more disadvantageous than they are advantageous.

Poor Lowlight Performance

See, the thing is, high resolution isn't a bad thing in the photography world. Who doesn't want more detail? This is the reason companies boast about these sensors, otherwise, it doesn't make any sense, right?

But, it is a good thing in professional, chunky cameras and not for smartphones. Smartphones have size restrictions. there is only so much a phone can pack, whereas, there are no such restrictions on professional cameras. Hence, the sensor size on smartphones is quite small.

A small sensor means that pixel size needs to be reduced to fit in so many pixels, which does improve detail, but the amount of light that the pixels take in is reduced by a lot.

This means that a 108 megapixel camera is going to perform worse in low light conditions than a 12 megapixel sensor does.

This is not a big problem though. This is something that companies have thought about and solved. The solution to this, is something called "pixel binning", which I have explained later in this article.

More Power Consumption

The process of capturing images isn't only restricted to the sensor itself, but it also involves a bit of software and a bit of processing. An image is processed by the ISP, right after it's captured.ISP stands for Image Software Processor, which is a part of the processor designated to image and video processing.

Now, the higher the resolution of the photo, the more detail there is and the higher the processing power required. This could result in a few small problems, like heating issues, more battery consumption, and a bit of shutter lag.

For those of you who don't know, shutter lag is the delay between you pressing the shutter button and the phone actually capturing the image. That would happen because your phone would need a little bit of time to capture and process so much of detail, it's like your phone taking time to breathe.

Given how powerful phone processors have become these days and how big the batteries have gotten, these aren't big problems and your phone should have no problem in handling these, specially if it's a flagship.

But, a con is still a con no matter how small. Besides, these issues could even grow as your phone gets old.

Storage Issues

High resolution sensors cause another very obvious problem, which is, as there is more detail, the size of the image files increases as well.

That means that your phone is going to run out of storage quicker, specially with not a lot of phones out there providing expandable storage. But yeah, if you are someone that buys the higher storage variants then you are not that affected.

Why 12 Megapixels Might Still Be Better

Taking into account all of what I have explained above, if you think about it, these problems don't occur with 12 megapixel sensors.

In fact, 12 megapixels, save you some in yet another area, which is, pixel binning.

Now, pixel binning is a process in which a few pixels are grouped together to form a bigger pixel. In the case of 64 megapixels, 4 pixels are grouped together, which gives 12 megapixels as the resulting resolution. In this resolution, the size of a single pixel or a group of four pixels is more or less equal to the size of a single pixel in a 12 megapixel sensor.

Similarly, in the case of 108 megapixels, 9 pixels are grouped together, which again gives 12 megapixels.
Illustration showing pixel binning
Pixel Binning | 108 Megapixel Phone Cameras Are a Lie
While, this does solve the low lighting problem, you are getting about the same images that you would have gotten from a 12 megapixel sensor. At this point, you are probably wondering if you are at all getting high res photos.

The answer is yes, you are. Phones use pixel binning when they need to, like in low light conditions, but when the lighting is adequate, the phone captures the high resolution photos that it promises.

The point is, pixel binning adds even more processing to the photo, which adds up a little to the cons part of this article. Whereas, a 12 megapixel sensor needs no such trick, as the size of the pixel is already big enough, hence, saving up on the processing.

Except for the benefit of cropping and zooming in, you are not getting anything out of these high res sensors. With that, your photos aren't even high resolution all the time, only when there is enough light, and even when your photos are high resolution, you still can't fully enjoy that resolution on any screen around you.

Moreover, you're trading storage, better lowlight performance, and less power consumption for better cropping results and a slow camera app, and you can't even completely use the resolution on any screen at this point.

Why Do Apple And Google Still Stick to 12 Megapixels

In the world of mobile photography, Apple and Google are names that are at the top. So, it only makes sense for them to include high resolution sensors in their phone if it's so important.

As I have explained above, high resolution isn't that important. These companies are at the top because of other more important stuff that they do on point. The main thing here being software. 

These companies put a lot of work into their camera software, specially Google. Google's phones always have the most inferior hardware, yet they perform the best when it comes to capturing photos.
A photo of Google Pixel 2
Google Pixel 2 | 108 Megapixel Phone Cameras Are a Lie

There are a few other things as well that affect camera performance, I have explained all of those in detail, in this article.


In the end, I'd like to say that 108 megapixel camera sensors in phones are kind of just gimmicks at this point. Like a lot of other things, I'd advise you to not fall for companies hailing high res sensors. If you want to know what you should look for other than megapixels in a phone camera, then check out this article.

High resolution cameras are useful in only a few cases, like if you want to crop out the photo of your crush from a bigger photo, which is a very, very useful example, hence, 108 megapixels is totally superior.


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