Image sensor, pixels, zoom: what makes a good smartphone camera?

When it comes to preserving memories, photos and videos are indispensable and irreplaceable. Today, most of these visual memories are captured on smartphones, but which one offers the best camera?

The more you spend, the better the camera

“You can say that the more expensive a smartphone, the better the camera equipment because that’s basically what costs the most in terms of hardware,” says Andreas Seeger of Connect magazine.

But does that mean you have to buy a flagship model that costs €1,000 (RM4,715) or more? Not necessarily. Seeger cites around €500 (RM2,358) as the lower limit for smartphones that can still take decent photos in low light conditions.

“In good light, most smartphones actually take good photos, even devices that only cost around €300 (RM1,415),” according to the expert.

However, more difficult conditions – for example when lighting is poor – separate the wheat from the chaff. “So you need a bit more expensive device,” says Seeger.

From 1,000 € (4,715 RM), it is above all the focal lengths that make the difference. In this price range, smartphones have several lenses.

In addition to the normal wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle lenses, there is also an optical zoom with two, three or even five times magnification.

I light intensity

Even so, the quality of magnification that a smartphone can achieve is limited by the thinness of the devices.

“High-performance zooms with good light intensity don’t fit in these flat mobile phones. After all, nobody wants to lug around a phone that’s five centimeters thick,” says Werner Lüttgens of the photography magazine ColorFoto.

“Therefore, the current solution is to install many cameras complete with optics and recording sensors,” says Lüttgens.

This increases the cost of the phone but it works quite well: “The many cameras are good because they offer the possibility of taking photos from different angles.

Bigger is better when it comes to image sensors

What other factors affect smartphone photo quality? “A larger image sensor is better because it produces less noisy images,” says Michael Wolf of German consumer organization Stiftung Warentest.

“An optical image stabilizer is also very useful if done well,” says Wolf.

Beyond that, however, he says, it’s not really possible to draw conclusions about image quality based on specs alone. You just need to test the phone camera yourself.

However, in no case should you be infected with pixel mania. “More pixels doesn’t mean better image quality at all,” warns Wolf.

On the contrary, increased image noise occurs when too many pixels are squeezed onto a small camera sensor. The smartphone then has to work hard to remove this noise from the photo, which can lead to further image errors.

Don’t be fooled by brand names

Is it a good sign if the names of well-known lens or camera manufacturers are affixed to smartphones or their lenses?

Wolf is toning down expectations somewhat. According to him, Stiftung Warentest hasn’t always found phone cameras with high-profile names to be the best.

Lüttgens, however, believes that camera or optical manufacturers guarantee that anything bearing their name will have a certain quality.

“They don’t manufacture these cameras, of course, but they work on the development, certify the processes and also test everything,” he says. – dpa

Michael C. Garrison