Why and How a Single Camera Stopped Being Enough on Smartphones

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Ever wondered why there appears to be lots of smartphones today with blistering amounts of cameras at the back of them? Once upon a time it was the ideal for a mobile phone to possess front and back cameras, today a phone can have up to 3 lenses in front, with up to 5 lenses behind. But what necessitated this innovation? Let me take you through this new Cam Era.

The extra lenses in your smartphone's camera, explained
Nokia 9 PureView Penta Camera

Camera has and will always be an important feature on smartphones. The first camera phone was manufactured by Samsung and released in South Korea in June 2000, though it’s argued that Sharp produced the first camera phone that year. A cellphone that happens to have a camera in the mid 2000s is considered exciting. Picture quality wasn’t really a thing as the ability for a mobile device to capture moments alone was satisfying. The convenience it provided was spectacular. That was until Nokia, Samsung, Sony and iPhone blazed the trail of camera phones starting at 0.3Megapixels all through 2 and 5. In recent years, manufacturers have added more and more lenses to the camera and with one of them acting as the main lens, here’s what each of the other lenses function as;

Wide Angle Lens

LG G5
LG G5 features the main camera and a wide angle lens

This lens helps the camera capture more view – in other words, it fits more in the shot. It widens the camera. Some phones are now equipped with ultra-wide angle lens to offer even more view. Eg, the Samsung Galaxy S10. Phones with an extra lens in front or back promises better selfies or group photos.

Depth Sensor

Depth Sensor in Samsung Galaxy A9
Depth Sensor in Samsung Galaxy A9

If you find a phone with 3 lenses at the back, then one of them is responsible for sensing depth, telling your camera how far the objects in the photo are, whats in front and whats behind. This is an essential use for Augmented Reality rendering, as well as automatic background blur.

Telephoto Lens

Its field of view on this type of lens is narrow, but this lens improves zoom when combined with others. By using a telephoto lens with a second lens and sensor, your phone’s camera can get closer to what’s happening without moving parts. On a standard digital camera, as an example, you would notice the lens extend as it zoomed in. Telephoto lenses are also used to create those fancy bokeh or focus effects in portrait mode. By combining the data from multiple lenses, your phone is able to understand how close objects are, blurring the background and bringing the foreground into focus. Phones without this camera still achieve this by making smart guesses.

iPhone 11 Pro Max Back Camera
iPhone 11 Pro Max Back Camera

Monochrome Sensor

This type of lens isn’t as common as others; it captures only in black and white but in a sharper view than the colour camera. It combines with other lenses to add sharpness to the image. Where a monochrome sensor is included, it can usually be isolated from other lenses to capture unique black-and-white photos of your travels. This option can be found within the camera app’s settings and if you’re a fan of the format.

Conclusion

The need for robust photos, smart imaging and the emergence of augmented reality has driven the pairing of camera lens with extra lenses. It is worthy to note that an extra lens doesn’t guarantee better photos. Google’s latest Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL phones make do with only a single lens for the rear camera. Software provides the zoom, and depth effects. The results aren’t quite as good as they could be with multiple lenses and sensors, but the gap is negligible. Now we know how phones are able to recognize our faces accurately, even down to our skin, and to zoom in and take wide shots without moving lenses.
Do you know your camera also tells the size of objects in terms of length and breadth? What’s your favourite camera app?
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Author

Schwiz Josh

Schwiz Josh

A Digital Entrepreneur, Programmer, Writer & Scientist with a passion to innovate and enlighten all on the digital life and all of its possibilities. Find me on social media with @schwizjosh
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