All cameras work on the same principle: light will pass through a lens, then hits a sensor where it is processed into the image that we see. With more light, the user will get a better image quality. Therefore, DSLR cameras with their big interchangeable lenses, and larger sensors are what professional photographers work with.

In short, smartphone cameras haven’t changed in size all that much since they were originally introduced, so how has the quality improved over time?

More Megapixels

Firstly, the amount of receptor sites that are on the sensor; measured as megapixels has increased. Imrovements in microscale manufacturing have allowed to us cram more of these onto the sensor which will give you a better picture. However, adding megapixels can hinder the quality of the picture at a certain point.

Aperture Advancements

In addition, devices of today have a better F-Stop rating in terms of aperture. The lower the F-Stop (the wider the lens can open up) the more light can reach the sensor. Another important factor in image quaility is the composition of the lens. Older cellphones had the lenses made from plastic. These could scratch over time resulting in a poor-quality image.  The smartphone camera lens used today are made out of glass like sapphire.  Cameras in phones also have optical image stabilization. The software uses gyroscope data with electromagnetics in the lens to help stabilize the picture.

Dynamic Range

Moreover, dynamic range will cause brighter colors to be blown out and darker colors to lose details. This can leave images distorted. Smart phones compensate for this by saving multiple frames at different exposure levels every time you press the shutter button. Then it will average these frames to minimize blur and noise.

What else factors into the performance?

Lastly, faster CPUs and GPUs allow all these features to happen. There are some phones are equipped with a ‘neural processor’ or ‘AI processor’. The AI can be trained to identify the subject of the video or photo. Then it will adjust the color processing to better capture the object.

Traditional phone cameras used contrast detection to that looked for the differences in light and dark to determine where to focus. Modern phone cameras use phase detection which analyzes how the right and left side of the lens captures slightly different images to decide on what to focus. Other phones can shoot a infrared laser at the subject to determine the distance. Smart phones are also utilizing multiple cameras, which allow for wide angle shots and better depth sense.

Are smartphone cameras better?

So why get a big fancy camera when smartphone cameras have progressed so far?  Smart phones determine depth by software and where it ‘thinks’ the focus should be. DSLR cameras are better at actually changing the focus.  Smartphones also struggle in low light areas due to the decreased size in the sensor. DSLR cameras also are much better at optical zoom, a key factor in making them the preferred tool by professionals.

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