Our mobile phones are no longer just phones these days. They’ve become smart, for one thing; and for smartphone-makers product development it is now about better connectivity, camera capabilities and standing out and being one step ahead of competitors.

Mobile phones today have evolved into multifunctional and highly integrated devices that come in very sleek, compact forms – and the camera is now one of the main features that consumers consider. Smartphones have become more ubiquitous, sophisticated and convenient and manufacturers are focusing on their next devices’ camera capabilities as camera phones are quickly replacing point-and-shoot digital cameras.

More than megapixels, you need to consider the pixel size

In measuring the quality of a camera, the popular mantra in the old days was to compare the number of megapixels. We know better now and with camera phones today, it’s all about hyper-advanced optics and the quality of the pixels. “Micron pixel pitch,” which pertain to the camera’s sensitivity to light, result in a better image because they enable the sensors to get more accurate information in a shorter amount of time.

Larger pixels collect more light per pixel, therefore image quality will be much better than small pixel cameras. Keep in mind that light is delivered by the lens, and the lens is the real reason the large pixels are able to collect more light. Currently a professional DSLR will have around 8 micron pixel pitch, semi-pro approximately 4-7, and consumer under 3 pixel pitch (in microns). For those curious, the iPhone 5S has 1.5 micron pixel size and the Galaxy S5 has 1.1 micron pixel size.

Apple developed its very own Image Signal Processor (ISP) for their iSight camera, which is equivalent to the digital signal processor in traditional digital cameras. This feature does all the adjustments needed to stabilize, maximize and enhance image color and quality. To date, iPhone’s camera is one of the most highly regarded due to its consistent performance. It has more than its share of rivals in the smartphone camera game, however, and a close eye is also being kept on Samsung’s latest offerings from the Galaxy line as well as those from Nokia (Pureview and Lumia) and Sony (Xperia).

Camera phones today also feature better stabilization and low light capabilities, which allow the user to take beautiful photos even at night or keep the subject clear and in focus while in motion – we can expect these features to get even more refined in the future. Camera phones that can record videos in 1080p resolution are also on the rise along with advanced built-in photo editing applications that allow the user to capture, edit and share photos with ease.

48 Comments
  1. I am hoping the new iPhone has a really good camera, you have an inside scoop on that David?

    Taking picture just gets more popular buy the day, no one can suffer a sub-par camera on their phone anymore. It is certainly a big selling point for me when I am choosing a phone.

    • Absolutely, I agree with you PhilA. I mean it’s very important to have a camera now these days, if something happens, we can protect ourselves by having the camera as a weapon for evidence. But I also think it’s very nice for people who love photography, and it’s such an important feature in a phone. Who wouldn’t love a good camera?

  2. I’m honestly surprised of the progression of the mobile phone’s camera. I remember back in 2008, 5 megapixels was surprising and I was happy to have a phone that good. Then around two years ago I remember having a phone with an 8 megapixel camera. Now when I look at the flyers for Future Shop, I’m seeing Sony phones with 22 megapixel cameras. That’s honestly better than a lot of cameras. The quality produced is generally pretty good too.

    • I understand what you mean, back when my mom bought me a mobile phone with 1.3 megapixels or so I thought it was the neatest thing ever. To be fair the quality wasn’t so bad, at least not when viewed on the PC. Now we have mobiles that have cameras that are far more advanced and sophisticated! All for a not so high price, of course!

  3. Smartphones cameras nowadays have a lot of options that some photo cameras have and I’m pretty impressed by this to be honest. I still own a old camera but it’s been easily replaced by these newer smartphones.
    As far as I can tell from my personal experience, the Sony smartphones have the best camera out there no doubt.

    • I would agree with you there. I’m also keen on Sony’s Cybershot digital cameras and it appears as though they’ve been able to transfer their expertise over to smartphones too.

      • Yeah I would also add I’m liking the new type of smartphone cameras and the good megapixel support.

  4. I wish I had read this before buying my new phone. I may have gone with the iPhone 5S like my husband. Instead, after having a LG G2 (which I liked for its screen size and ease of use), I upgraded to the LG G3. Luckily it has a 1.2 pixel pitch, as well as camera sensors and image sensors from Sony, so there are some good things about it. I just started using the phone, so I haven’t played around with the camera that much yet. Hopefully it will take some nice images. I need a new digital camera in the near future, so I will be looking at pixel pitch more closely!

  5. My phone is the only thing that I use to take pictures. I personally think that phones take better quality pictures now days better than most of the camera devices. Also, another thing, when taking pictures with your smart phone, you can always edit the photo instantly instead of having to upload it to you computer. Smart phone are being more convenient for everybody, especially photographers.

    • Same here! I no longer use the old camera I still have to take pictures! It no longer seems to be necessary at all, carrying around a mobile seems more practical than carrying around a camera. Isn’t as if we were professional photographers 😉 So in my opinion the camera from our mobile phones is more than enough!

      • Does anyone use a digital camera anymore? I’d be interested to find out whether there has been a significant drop in camera sales over the past few years.

        • I own a really old one and I think it is going to significantly drop soon due to smartphone cameras and their capacity. They’ve even better than loads of digital cameras.

  6. Indeed smart phone have evolved to the extent and became an all purpose phone. Casual users like me are satisfied with the “Point and Shoot” thing. Our Technology is moving fast and smart phones are getting better and better.

  7. I remember when I first got my camera phone. It was a Nokia 6630 and when I first took a snap of it’s camera I was amazed with the quality. Nowadays phones with good cameras are just all over the place now. I even heard of an add on where you can turn your phones camera into a microscope.

  8. I have known about the optics, like the Carl Zeiss lenses, but I wasn’t aware of Micron pixel pitch. Now that I think about it, I should stick to professional cameras, for very important occasions. But wouldn’t it be really cool, if camera phones were almost as good as the professional ones. There are a few of them with professional lenses, but I think you lose some best of the best smartphone features.

  9. When you think about how far along phone cameras have come along it’s very impressive! I remember my first cell phone with a camera–it was an LG flip phone and the camera was pretty much useless, lol. I still liked playing around with it though. The cameras on new phones blow it out of the water. Some phones have more megapixels than my camera.

  10. As an artist, cameras are a huge thing for documenting traditional work I do as my scanner is old washes out a lot of my colors. It’s not been a big problem since going digital, but traditional art is still my love and when I got a phone with a decent camera it was something beautiful. My friend says she wants an iPhone pretty much only for the camera, heh.

  11. Once mobile manufacturers can perfect the low light settings and make shutter speed instantaneous, camera quality on a mobile will be perfect. Even right now I am very happy with my phone’s camera, as I am not a hardcore photographer, I do not care about the tiny details in my images. The two things I listed above are the only real things that I could see that would need improvement, alongside a better zoom mechanism and focus. What LG is doing with laser focus is just brilliant, and soon we may have phones that offer optical zoom instead of digital.

  12. My main problem with smartphone cameras is that they’re not nearly adept to taking pictures as a real camera would be, and the result is less than par camera quality, even with 5-10MP. Smartphones need a few more camera features so we can get better pics.

    • Great point. I’d be more than happy to have less features but an improved picture quality too.

  13. I’ve never really had a probelm with modern mobile cameras, specifically smartphone cameras. They’re always pretty good and usable and, when you think of it, are not that far off from devices made specifically for taking pictures, like, you know, cameras. 😛

  14. Built-in features for official translators would be an elite choice for those who are in the translation industry, or for people currently undergoing phone translation/interpreting trainings. We should not be forced to do our own translations on our phones. Some phones are now doing visual translations of things in real time, so future phones should be able to better capture the images.

    Keeping the phone lean enough to appear professional, but small enough not to be bigger than life. The shape of the phone should not make people feel awkward about taking photographs their bills to be used with the pay sharing apps, for example. I think a phone should be supportive of the economy, so the phone’s shape should make people feel comfortable about paying for things by phone.

    I’m hoping to, in the future, have my home phone handle the visual voicemailing features current phones are beta testing. I’m not sure how the feature works on a phone right now, but if it is visual then I think the camera would play a huge part in it. Naturally, that would mean the camera needs to be equipped with a night vision.

  15. I felt kinda ashamed when I got to the part where they state a lot people thinks it’s all about how many megapixels a camera offers. I used to think it was all about that, but after reading this article I realize it’s more complex than that when it comes to cameras! Thanks for the informative article!

  16. The last phone I had was the Galaxy S5 which was in competition with the Iphone 5 and Nokia Lumina for the title of best camera. I really enjoyed my phone as a camera with that phone. It had 16 mega pixels which is pretty high for a device. I always thought that the mega pixels were what to look for when deciding on a camera. I know better now. Great article

  17. It’s amazing how far we’ve come with camera technology. 15 years ago, cameras had to be huge to get close to the same results as a phone today, and those costed thousands! I honestly think that in the near future, cameras are going to get so advanced that with just one picture, we could cover a whole wall without seeing any pixels.

  18. Smartphone technology keeps improving from year to year and we’ve come from so far when phones were just big and jumbo, till they became flippy and now smart. The camera in smartphones I believe will only get better. The megapixels escalate annually, the quality heightens annually and I think if the manufacturers keep working at it, hopefully one day smartphones will take breathtaking and amazing photography just like those quality digital cameras.

  19. Samsung should upgrade the micron size instead of the pixel size. Samsung is good manufacturer but they need to focus on the points that matter. Optical image stabilization is something they should add to more phones too. But that just shows how technology has advanced. I remember when I though 360p and 480p looked amazing but now it looks terrible. Same goes for old digital pictures that look awful on new high resolution screens.

  20. Maybe it’s just me, but I can never get a smartphone camera to take a nice picture no matter how the pixels are on the phone. Is there some secret chapter I’m missing out on in the Smartphone Camera Chronicles or I’m I just freaking challenged? Does anybody else have these problems with phones that have been advertised with the awesome camera only to fail at producing an awesome picture.

  21. I am learning new thing everyday. I only know megapixels. Now, new terms popping up. Technology is interesting. I think I am still attached to my film camera days, even if it was just a point and shoot.

  22. I was very shocked when I pulled my Iphone 5c out of the box, was trying out all the features when I came to realize that my phone camera was now better then my digital camera was! Amazing! I love my phone camera and I use it way more often then my digital camera and I think it makes my pictures look so much clearer. yay for good technology!

  23. Don’t get me wrong, I really like where all the upcoming and recently released smart phones are coming out with these innovative in-phone cameras. However, it seems like that is the main thing that is being improved on phones. It’s definitely a focus that are pointed out repeatedly.

  24. Wow, it does matter, megapixels, you know. I do know that the camera phones today have better stabilization for movement during capturing an image. There’s also an automatic light on it so you can get a good picture.

  25. I had never heard of micro pixel pitch before, even though I knew a long time ago that checking for MP was not a relevant filter for choosing a good camera. I used to be jealous when my stepfather shot better pictures with his smartphone as me with my compact cam! It’s incredible how an iPhone is more technologically developed than the machines that sent us to the moon. I still like to have a camera better, though.

  26. As cool as this is, I am personally more inclined to use a handheld digital camera. But does the rest of the world feel same? I’m just curious, but how many people out there feel as though they would rather use the camera in their phone than an SLR for example?

  27. I honestly don’t expect much at all from smartphone Cameras, I still prefer film for serious shots over digital. Call me old fashioned but I seriously don’t see myself ponying up the cash for a phone with a decent camera when I can get a better camera for cheaper.

  28. My Samsung S3 with its 8MP sometimes I feel could take better pictures. I agree that MP aren’t everything and this trend to have more and more MP isn’t what matters, its picture quality. Reminds me of contrast ratio with screens.

  29. Lol, this reminds me of a friend of mine. Last year she started picking up photography as a hobby and bought all kinds of equipment. She seems to genuinely enjoy taking pictures with the large bulky camera. With all this new tech, I think it’d be more pragmatic to take pics with a phone. For example, my galaxy s4 has a 13 megapixel camera that shoots really well.

  30. When I buy a smartphone, I do not buy it for it’s camera quality. It may be because I am not a professional photographer, but I worry about the phone’s specs more than about how many mega pixels it captures. For an avid photographer, I could see why this would matter. However, phone industries such as Apple should focus in other area. This could include battery life and even making their products cheaper.

    • Same here! But I think the average mobile user doesn’t worry too much about the image quality the camera in their phones can offer, they often worry about the specs of their phones first. The camera is often just a nice extra 😉

  31. Mobile phone cameras are getting ridiculous. I’m not even that old yet, and my phone camera now has better image and video quality than my first digital camera that I got back in 8th grade. And it’s not even smartphone cameras that have good quality, its phones in general.

  32. Good topic about how you need to consider pixel size over how many pixels there are. Many people make that mistake nowadays and more need to know the difference.

  33. As long as it has a great auto stabilization option, I’m sold. I have very fidgety hands and they don’t work well with cameras.

  34. Smart phones will soon make DSLR cameras obsolete! Now even inexperienced photographers can shoot amazing photos with their camera phones! And of course a little bit of editing here and there. Back then all these heavy duty lens and camera equipment is a must for any serious photographer.

  35. I was actually surprised by the quality of the pictures a smartphone camera can produce. I was given a Moto G as a Christmas present and started taking pictures with my new phone. To my surprise the pictures I got were of a really high quality. Of course they needed to get a little bit of retouching by a software, but generally speaking they were great!!! I got some really high quality ones that only needed to get their colors enhanced. Amazing how the image quality of mobile phone cameras has improved.

  36. I’m hoping they add more intuitive and interesting photo editing capabilities into phones. I’d like to see Photoshop-esque tools and functions such as masking out certain things and adding blending options. Creating GIFs and even cinemagraphs without needing an app would be pretty amazing.

  37. Smartphone cameras have came so far. I think before Iphone Nokia had some of the best cameras. Especially because they were making high megapixel cameras. Now , as stated, it is not about that. I have had some high megapixel cameras but the pictures still suck. So far i think my favorite camera is the HTC One. It has not let me down and I have used the Iphone 5s and 5c but not the 6 so maybe I will change my mind. But for the moment that is my favorite.

  38. Let’s be honest, one of the first things that I consider while buying a smartphone is the camera, and when it comes to Apple and Android camera I definetly stick with Apple.
    And sometimes that’s the only thing that stops me after buying an Android phone, I don’t want to generalize, because maybe there are some of them with a great camera quality, but I think that they are expensiver than an Apple.
    I really hope that Android consider this point one day, maybe.

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