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2019 was the year smartphone cameras got ugly and complicated

Whoever thought that the camera would become the sore spot on today’s beautiful phones? 2019 will go down as the year in which smartphone cameras got ugly, not to mention complicated to use.

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Nokia, Apple, Samsung, and Huawei walked into a bar for drinks sometime in 2018 and talked about the future of smartphone cameras. Nokia went on about how it had something in the works that would shock the world, and the others listened with rapt attention. This had to be good. And then, Nokia pulled out a prototype of the Nokia 9 PureView with its weird Penta-camera setup.

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Apple smiled knowingly and pulled out a prototype of the iPhone 11 Pro Max. Huawei smirked and produced a pre-sale copy of the Mate 30 Pro. Samsung laughed and dropped a prototype of the Galaxy 11  on the bar. And they all laughed and high-fived and downed the rest of their drinks.

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And so it was that some of the world’s top mobile brands made sure that 2019 would be the year in which smartphone cameras got ugly.

Smartphone cameras got ugly

Just have a look at this leaked image of the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S11. It better be a fake:

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Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max - when smartphone cameras got ugly

And here is the iPhone 11 Pro Max looking like this with only triple cameras. What will the iPhone with Penta cameras look like? This triple camera design from Apple was so ugly that it almost triggered a global war when it first appeared.

Up next is the Huawei Mate 30 Pro’s camera – and it is as weird as weird gets. It just does not look right on that beautiful design of the phone.

Huawei Mate 30 Pro camera
Huawei Mate 30 Pro camera

If you were one of those who thought that the Nokia 9 PureView’s Penta camera design was weird, it turns out it is one of the saner designs out there. Mad oh.

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Smartphone cameras got complicated

Beyond the ugly and weird looks, using these cameras also got complicated. What you may not know is that when you use a phone with say a quad or penta camera setup, switching camera modes now mean switching from one of those lenses to another. And so, you get photos of differing image qualities from the same phone.

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You might be priding yourself in the fact that you have a solid 48MP triple camera phone, but in reality, the phone does not always use that main lens, which is the one that has the best image quality. What a waste of resources.

Here is something just to illustrate. Let’s say you have a phone with a 48MP triple camera and one of the other lenses is an 8MP wide-angle sensor. In normal mode (the phone uses the main lens for that), pictures you take come out in 48 megapixel resolution, but when you switch to wide-angle mode in the camera, the phone drops the main 48MP lens and switches to the 8MP wide-angle lens. And when you switch to another mode, it picks another lens. 

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How it plays out on each phone depends on the implementation of the particular manufacturer. But it is a fact that each of those lens have separate megapixel counts, different colour reproduction, different light capture, different everything. And so you end up with photos from your smartphone camera looking like they were shot with 3 or 4 different phones, depending on the modes you used when shooting. Aargh!

It is a mess. How did we get to this point? Personally, if I buy a phone because of its 48MP camera, I want the capabilities of that 48MP lens reflecting in all photos taken with that camera. What is this kind of mishmash and hit-and-miss that is going on everywhere one turns?

Not only do we have a situation in which smartphone cameras got ugly, they also became more complicated to use.

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nokia 9 pureview 5 cameras

It is interesting though that the Nokia 9 PureView, which went all out in this crazy camera free-for-all, is actually the least complicated of the lot. It has five lenses, all of 12MP each. No wide angle, no portrait, no telephoto – no fancy lenses at all. The phone uses all 5 lenses together to deliver highly detailed images.

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Unfortunately, that isn’t what the consumer market wants. We clearly love our cameras complicated. The jury is still out on whether we really like them ugly.

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