Best Smartphone Lens – Smartphone cameras are officially out of control. Not long ago, the prospect of a handset with a dual-lens camera seemed ridiculous. Then, Apple introduced the iPhone 7 Plus in 2016, and everything changed.
Today, triple-camera phones are becoming more common – LG’s V40 ThinQ has three rear cameras, as did most recent Huawei flagship devices, including the new Mate 20 Pro. And it looks like the cellphone maker won’t stop there. Samsung has introduced a four-lens module with the Galaxy A9, and leaked Nokia 9 images aimed at showing the settings of five spider sensors.
Best Smartphone Lens
But just more lenses don’t always make a great camera phone. That depends on a number of factors, including optical design, sensor quality and size and the strength of the manufacturer’s software algorithm.
It turns out that there are many different ways to build a camera – even in devices as space is limited as a cellphone. And the various approaches made by cellphone makers with their device’s zoom capabilities are a symbol of that.
Some devices offer optical zoom, while others do digital zoom. But what does the difference mean? And how do dual camera factors become the equation? Here is a more in-depth look at what happens behind the scenes every time you zoom in, and which cellphone is most suitable for close-ups.
Zoom type explained
Let’s start with two types of zoom: digital and optical. Digital is what you will find on most cellphones. There, some of the bait from the camera is being cut, or enlarged. In contrast, optical zoom (at least in the conventional sense) means the lens moves with a changeable focal length that can reach different perspectives without losing detail.
However, optical zoom is a little different because it deals with cellphones. Because cellphone camera stacks have no space or mechanism to move, optical zoom on the phone usually only means different lenses with other fixed focal lengths (often telephoto that some models use to provide Portrait Mode effects). The telephoto lens offers a narrower field of view compared to a standard lens, which is relatively wide. The iPhone XS, XS Max, Galaxy S9 +, and Note 9 are examples of phones that use this optical zoom.
Recently, several cellphone makers have chosen different tactics, both for negligent devices to offer a second lens (such as Pixel 3 and 3 XL) or indeed include multiple lenses, even with identical focal lengths (such as OnePlus 6T). This handset relies on software to improve the accuracy and sharpness of digital zoom. Depending on the quality of the software, the results can sometimes rival devices taken using phones equipped with optical zoom.
The best example of this type of zoom-enhancing technology is the Super Zoom Zoom feature found on Google’s latest Pixel phones. Entries on the Google AI Blog go into interesting details to explain exactly how Super Res Zoom works. But in layman’s terms, while two-thirds of every picture taken with a digital camera is technically a reconstruction, Zoom Super Res uses natural hand movements to fill a number of gaps in the image sensor which usually won’t capture a certain color value. The result is a digitally enlarged photo that is more detailed than that taken by conventional cutting.
With the choice between optical zoom and even the most popular digital zoom, you will want to take the first one. There is no substitute for optics. That said, it’s surprising how well some hardware manufacturers have closed the gap with their digital zoom technology.
Take this comparison between the XS iPhone optical zoom and Zoom Super Zoom Pixel 3, for example. Google phones produce shots that are slightly noisy in darker areas, but many details – from cloth to birds, to carvings on pine cones, still exist. Of course, each device approaches the lighting challenges of this scene differently, which makes it rather difficult to solve the differences in zoom quality alone. However, you might not realize Pixel 3 works with a wide-angle lens if these images are not labeled.
At the other end of the spectrum, this side by side between the Note 9’s double lens and the single-lens iPhone XR taken at the historic Washington Crossing State Park in New Jersey illustrates the huge gap between optical and pure solutions – simple digital zoom, without any software to clean frame. Note 9 cuts through the snow and makes each letter dedication with extraordinary clarity, while the iPhone XR stumbles with the entire blurrier and underexposed shot that resembles exploding JPEG in Photoshop.
Since OnePlus has moved from a telephoto secondary lens on the OnePlus 5 to a wide angle in the OnePlus 5T, cellphone makers must rely on software to do heavy lifting and make photos that are 2x digitally enlarged to look as clean as possible. We can see here that the OnePlus 6T, the company’s latest smartphone, does an amazing job in balancing the telephoto camera on the iPhone XS. If you look very closely, certain details – such as suspension beams from bridges and green traffic lights – are slightly sharper through the iPhone XS lens, but the difference is not drastic.
If you have the most accurate zoom camera important to you, we recommend the iPhone XS or XS Max. The telephoto lens is irreplaceable, and in all other aspects, the iPhone XS is an extraordinary mobile shooter, to boot.
If you are on the Android side of the fence, you can’t go wrong with the Galaxy Note 9 – the handset is also almost untouched in low light. The Galaxy S9 + has a pair of cameras that are almost identical, making it a powerful stand for Samsung’s 6.4-inch phablet, especially if you are hunting for something a little more held and slightly cheaper.
However, don’t discount digital zoom. When done correctly, it can be held by itself against the telephoto crowd, as shown by OnePlus 6T and Pixel 3 and 3 XL. The latest Google flagships, in particular, are currently being ruled as our favorite smartphone camera as a whole, and with the recent addition of Night Sight mode, they are set to get better.
The iPhone XR has a difference that is very unfortunate because it has a very, very great camera – although this camera is not equipped with digital zoom feature. Apple $ 749 offers a great need for smart software tuning to make 2x shots at least comparable to that done by OnePlus and Google.
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