Back in the year 2000, a person, whose name I can’t remember, told me about devices of the future during a lecture that I’ve also forgotten the name of.
One of the key questions was whether in the future we’ll be using one device that can do everything, or multiple very specialized devices.
Back then, there was no such thing as proper smartphones, and I couldn’t even imagine, that these would eventually change all our lives.
Nowadays, they’re around everywhere and make conventional cameras feel more and more pedestrian every year.
And with good reason!
Modern smartphone cameras are able to deliver stunning images in many circumstances, and the quality and usability are increasing with every new generation.
The path of the smartphone with cameras is the same as with many other applications. Hardware is one thing, the other, arguably more important aspect is the software however.
Dual-camera smartphones are becoming more and more common, and that’s not only due to the iPhone 7s. Many other manufacturers are starting to offer models with two cameras, even affordable ones.
Pros: This is What Dual Camera Smartphones Can Do
So the hardware is there. Now we only need the proper software to make good use of the two sensors. Without it, they would be of little use.
Reducing Image Noise = Better Low-Light Performance
A weak spot in smartphone cameras is often their low-light performance.
This can be improved by using a second camera since you are capturing two images at the same time. These can then be combined, reducing image noise in the process.
Sony are also offering this features in their “normal” cameras. Here, the camera takes 3 consecutive shots and combines these. This feature was coined » Multiframe Noise Reduction«.
With two cameras making a shot at exactly the same time, this becomes a lot easier.
Improving Dynamic Range = Better Performance in High-Contrast Settings
There no rule stating that both cameras on a smartphone have to share the same exposure settings.
After all, the cameras can be controlled individually making it possible two run them at different shutter speeds or ISO settings.
This technique can also be found in conventional cameras where it is called exposure bracketing. Here, several images will be shot at different exposure levels.
As with noise-reduction, this proves a lot easier with two cameras firing simultaneously.
The two images can then be combined, increasing the dynamic range.
Optical Zoom = Better Close-Ups
Smartphone manufacturers can also integrate two cameras with different focal lengths in order to simulate optical zoom.
Combining the two images for increased dynamic range or better low-light performance is a little harder here of course, as it is only possible for the part of the frame covered by the lens with longer focal length.
Bokeh – Effect = Easily Separate Your Subject from the Background
Since smartphone cameras have tiny sensors and very short focal length, separating a subject from the background is nearly impossible.
Two cameras allow the phone to perceive depth, to view the image in 3D so to speak. This is similar to how we perceive the world with our own two eyes.
Using this information, the phone can then produce an artificial yet effective “Bokeh-Effect”. This means you can focus on one part in the image and blur the background.
And Much More …
These where only four advantages of dual-camera smartphones against the ones with conventional cameras.
It has become obvious however, that a new technology like this with open APIs can open up even more possibilities. We can look forward to what developers will do with this new technology, and there sure is a lot more to come than just knocking the background of a photo out of focus.
Are Two Cameras Enough?
No, two aren’t enough.
It doesn’t have to be 16 individual cameras like you’ll find on the L16 … although that surely wouldn’t hurt.
3, 4, 5, or even 6 cameras however, would improve quality and performance even more, and turn your smartphone into even more of a universal appliance.
For example, I could imagine a five-camera setup with 3 different focal lengths:
- 2 cameras at 24 mm
- 2 cameras at 50 mm
- 1 camera at 75 mm
The focal lengths mentioned here are obviously referring to the 35mm equivalent.
Some of the cameras could even do without the color-filter since black & white sensors capture more light and can offer greater resolutions at the same size. The color information could then be drawn from another sensor that has color filters.
Of course, I’m nowhere near prolific enough to say that that’s at all possible, but it sure is a worthwhile thought.
If you want to dig deeper into the topic I’d recommend you watch this video as a start:
Is it All a Fake?
Yes. All the dual-camera advantages are essentially fake. Things we can achieve with optics alone in conventional cameras have to be achieved through software trickery here.
Is that bad?
After all, we’ve been editing our photos for ages… And, personally, if I want to see nice bokeh, it doesn’t really matter to me whether if it was captures through optics or achieved through software. The most important thing is the end-result.
Same is true for zooming. If I want an image shot at 35 mm I don’t care whether has been achieved through interpolation of a 50 and 24 mm photo or if the photo was shot with a 35mm lens.
If the image is crisp and detailed both is fine by me.
Dual-Cam Smartphone = Perfect for Family Trips?
I’m a big fan of luxury compact cameras because they are small and usable in a multitude of circumstances while still delivering great images. If you travel with kids however, you’ll agree with me that big cameras are a hassle.
When looking around on trips and in hotels, I see more and more people taking photos with their smartphones… Some even with a 10” tablet – something I don’t quite understand, but I digress.
As mentioned above, even single-camera smartphones deliver great images in many circumstances, while having trouble in others. Using dual cameras and the appropriate software, smartphones are quickly overcoming these hurdles and are starting to close the gap between them and luxury compact cameras. Maybe they’ll even catch up with the bigger system-cameras and DSLRs soon (probably with more than two cameras though).
So yes, your smartphone is the best choice for your family vacation. I still see room for improvement though.
I wouldn’t be surprised if, one or two years down the line, I would be traveling with a smartphone only rather than carrying a luxury compact with me.
I will keep my big system-camera in my backpack however, since I’m not expecting smartphones to rival these anytime soon – at least not in the coming one or two years. But I’ve been carrying this one around with me for a while now.
Currently though, I still prefer luxury compacts. My current shooter is a Lumix LX15. If you want something smaller I’d recommend the G9X Mark II by Canon.
The Cons of Using Your Smartphone on a Family Trip
When measuring speed, there are three factors:
- How long does it take till the camera is ready to use?
- How quick is the autofocus?
- What is the burst-rate?
In all three criteria smartphones still take a backseat to luxury compact cameras.
It’s just a matter of time till they catch up though.
Haptic controls are often the better choice on a camera. We won’t be seeing those on smartphones anymore though. That means you’ll never be able to have the level of control you get on bigger cameras.
That’s just the way it is. On the other hand, your smartphone is always with you.
There will also never be a smartphone with a screen that articulates or folds out…
Phones don’t have a filter thread, no hot-shoe, you can’t swap out the memory card quickly, and most batteries are not user-accessible.
Aha? But …
Filters can be simulated through software and you can still use makeshift filters by holding them in front of your lens.
Smartphones have a USB connector and a combined audio in- and output. That means you can still connect plenty of accessories. In addition to that, they also have all the latest wireless connectivity.
Yes, the memory and battery often can’t be swapped easily. However, you have access to the cloud and you can also take photos while you’re plugged into a power bank.
Of course, smartphones have some disadvantages, no matter how futuristic the camera technology.
But you’ll always be carrying it with you and it will always be ready to go. Especially on family trips this is a big advantage.