• Tuesday, January 22, 2019

How have mobile cameras developed through time?

How have mobile cameras developed through time?

Nowadays we are witnessing tremendous improvements regarding smartphone cameras – they are becoming better with each new device that comes out. Through our test, we stumbled upon some very interesting and capable device, which were almost on par with far more expensive DSLR cameras.

Beginning – First mobile phones with a camera

This whole story begins in the previous decade. The first mobile phone with a camera built in was the Sharp J-SH04. It became available during the beginning of 2000, and at the time it made a real boom. The whole technology that made up a camera found its place in a mobile phone that could easily fit into your pocket! At the time, this was mind-blowing! At start, this device was sold only in Japan, and the resolution of its camera was magnificent 0.1MP!
That’s right, its CMOS sensor bore the resolution of around 110.000 pixels!

Sharp, perhaps, weren’t even aware of the new mobile phone era their device was about to begin. And at this point, the title battle could begin!

Moving from CIF to VGA

The first device that had a VGA camera was the Nokia 7650 that saw the light of day at the beginning of 2002. The resolution of this camera was 0.3MP or 640 x 480 pixels.
Over the following few years, cameras with VGA resolution found their place in numerous devices, ranging from premium to lower classes. The device that unofficially had the best VGA camera was Sony Ericsson K310i / K320i.
2004 brought 1.3MP cameras

2004. brought us 1.3MP sensors

First time we had 1.3MP camera was in Audiovox PM8920 mobile device from July 2004. The maximum resolution of this CMOS sensor was quite impressive for the time – 1280 x 960 pixels.

The best representative of devices with a 1.3MP camera implemented was the Sony Ericsson S700 which was even capable of recording videos.

2MP becomes standard in 2005

The next step in the megapixel race was made by Nokia. It was done in Nokia N90, which is 2005 brought a sensor with 2MP resolution, alongside the revolutionary design that resembled a camcorder.

The biggest competitor for Nokia in 2005 was Sony Ericsson, which was at the same time the owner of the best device that employed a 2MP camera – the K750i. When it was current, it produced excellent photos, and the auto focus enabled taking magnificent macro photos.

Sharp also presented the ‘902’ that was equipped with the optical zoom capability, and at the same time it represents the first device with optical zoom up to x2.

The world was ready for the next step by the end of 2005 – 3.2MP sensors

The first device with a 3.2MP sensor was Samsung P850. Other manufacturers answered at the beginning of 2006. In February, Sony Ericsson unveiled the K800i, known by many as the device with best photos in 3.2MP class. Next to the resolution, the K800i also had the auto focus, and something entirely new – a Xenon flash that offered remarkable performances in low light shooting conditions.

Nokia also had their runner for the race – shortly after the introduction of the 3.2MP sensor, they unveiled the N73 together with N93. N73 was an excellent photo machine, while the N93 was imagined to be a device which would bring the camcorder video capturing experience to mobile devices. Unique design together with x3 optical zoom and optics signed by Carl Zeiss made the N93 legendary.

LG took a step further in 2006 offering to the world the 5MP sensor

LG KG920 brought a sensor with 5MP resolution. As this was the first device with a 5MP sensor, compared to best devices with a 3.2MP sensor it offered amazing results. LG was first, but other manufacturers took their time to make improvements on their devices and by the end of the same year we could see the legendary Nokia N95. According to many, this is one of the most complete devices of its time. The N95 also had the great Carl Zeiss optics, and next to all this, video taking capabilities of the N93 were amazing – it could capture VGA resolution videos at 30fps.

Sony Ericsson wouldn’t surrender yet, so they unveiled the K850i. Since this was the successor to the K800i, people expected a lot from the K850i – maybe a little too much. What made the K850i amazing for the time was the automatic lens cap, very strong Xenon flash which was stronger than the predecessor and for the first time – triple LED flash as assistance to the auto focus and video recording.

The jump to 8MP happened in 2008

After first devices with 5MP resolution started emerging, there were rumors that Sony might make a new sensor with 6MP or 7.2MP resolution. It came as a surprise when Samsung unveiled their INNOV8 (i8510) with the crazy resolution of 8MP. Photos themselves made a huge leap forward compared to the ones made by the 5MP sensors. Sony Ericsson answered to the INNOV with their C905, which still stands tall as the device with the best camera performance in its class, and it also had the Xenon flash.

Nokia was a little bit late this time – they unveiled the N86 a year after Sony Ericsson offered their C905. The N86 brought with it wide angle shooting.

Sony Ericsson brings 12MP sensors

Sony Ericsson Satio was the first mobile device with a 12MP sensor, and it was paired with the very well-known Xenon flash and the auto focus system.
Shortly after they have unveiled the Satio, Samsung had their answer ready – the Pixon12 also had a 12MP sensor. One again Nokia fell behind offering their 12MP device one year after the competitors – the Nokia N8. Meanwhile, HD video recording took off, so the basic and the biggest advantage of the N8 compared to the other two was the capability of taking HD videos (Satio – WVGA, Pixon12 – D1).

Some Android devices pushed the resolution of their sensor all the way up to 20MP, but the PureView series of the Nokia lineup brought the megapixels to a whole new level. Specifically, we speak of the 808 PureView that, at the beginning of 2012, brought the sensor with 41MP. Photos made by this camera were very good, and since the sensor was equipped with oversampling technology that brought zoom with no loss of effect, there was no need to implement the optical zoom since it would make the chassis thicker. This time as well, the optics was signed by Carl Zeiss. Still, the PureView technology didn’t live long, and it only appeared in several devices: Nokia 808 PureView, Nokia Lumia 920, Nokia Lumia 925, Nokia Lumia 928, Nokia Lumia Icon, Nokia Lumia 830, Nokia Lumia 930, Nokia Lumia 1020, Nokia Lumia 1520, Microsoft Lumia 950 and Microsoft Lumia 950 XL.

Starting from 2015, the manufacturers generally stopped increasing the megapixel count, but focused more on other parameters that make for an excellent photo-video experience (bigger aperture, bigger pixels, faster auto focus systems etc.) In 2016 and 2017 we could see that most manufacturers opt for 12MP sensors for their flagships. The end of 2016 and the beginning 2017 was also marked as the era of implementing double camera setups in order to improve night time photos, portrait photos and zoom quality.

The best devices at the moment regarding camera quality are:
The Google Pixel 2 found its way on top, and it offers a 12MP sensor with the aperture of f/1.8 and amazing Dual Pixel focusing technology, which is required for fast and precise focusing, where every pixel is considered to be the focus pixel. Although it does not have a double camera setup on the back, the Portrait mode on the Pixel 2 is still considered one of the best available at the moment.

The next device on this list the latest and greatest from Apple – the iPhone X. As opposed to the Google Pixel 2, it can boast with a double camera setup, while both cameras have optical image stabilization and the resolution of 12MP. The mail camera sensor has the aperture of f/1.8, while the telephoto lens has smaller aperture of f/2.4. The phase detection auto focus system is also here, but what makes the iPhone X stand out among the competitors are its video recording capabilities – it can take 4K videos at 60fps.

Side by side to the Apple iPhone X is the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, which just like the iPhone X has a double main camera setup. One of them is a 20MP monochrome sensor, while the other one is an RGB sensor with 12MP resolution. These two are capable of working together, so they can offer unusually magnificent photos, with great color reproduction and very low levels of digital noise. Videos are captured in 4K resolution at 30fps, and they can be zoomed up to x2 with no loss of quality – the same zoom is available in the photo mode as well.