Smartphone companies like Apple, Samsung, Tecno, etc give the impression that higher pixel count translates to better quality cameras.
How true is that?
Well, my answer is: “it depends“.
This short guide will give you a general idea of what to look out for when making your next purchase, why a higher pixel count doesn’t necessarily mean a better smartphone camera and the different situations where a large number of pixels are actually useful.
Yeah, grab popcorn and let’s get to it.
You’ve probably seen the outermost and glassy part of the camera before. That’s what is called the lens, and its job includes directing light into the camera.
Despite being the most underestimated part of the camera, the lens is pretty much important where image quality is concerned.
The aperture is a small opening that connects the outside world to the camera’s interior, so light directed by the lens must pass through it on its way into the camera.
How’s the size important?
The aperture size matters a lot in determining how much light can get to the camera for image processing. A bigger aperture size means more light will pass through which will lead to better quality photos, while a smaller diameter does the exact opposite.
Traditionally, professional camera apertures can be adjusted manually to regulate the amount of light going in, but unfortunately for smartphones, only fixed apertures are used. So if you’re going to buy a phone, look for the one where its diameter is large.
Apertures are measured with a unit known as the f-stop with a lower denominator meaning wider aperture. For example, an f/1.5 aperture is wider than an f/2.
The soul of a digital camera is its sensor. It is made up of numerous light-sensitive spots known as pixels – whose job is to capture light going into your camera. These captured lights are thereafter processed into the images you see on your smartphone.
So, why is the camera sensor size important?
The size of a sensor determines how many pixels it can fit in, and more importantly how large those pixels can be.
A larger sensor can help you take better pictures in low-light, capture a greater dynamic range of tones, result in reduced diffraction, and let you achieve more background blur.
Their sizes are frequently measured in fractions of an inch. For example, most smartphone sensors typically measure just 1/2.55 inches, although some are larger at 1/1.7 inches or above.
Note that a sensor size of 1/1.7 is larger than 1/2.55.
Recall we mentioned how the sensor of a camera is made up of numerous light-sensitive points (pixels) that are responsible for absorbing light. To an extent, the number of these pixels available to a camera to work with influences the quality of photographs you can take.
In photography, the number of pixels is usually measured in Megapixels (1 million pixels). Therefore, a 20 MP camera has 20 million photosensitive points (pixels) on the camera sensor.
The number of pixels isn’t everything when it comes to camera quality, the pixel size is equally important too. Larger pixel sizes ensure that much more light is captured, which results in well-exposed images even in situations where the lighting is poor.
It is usually measured in micrometers (µm) which means 1/1,000 millimeters, with most premium smartphone models – like iPhone 11 – ranging from 1.4µm and above.
Next time you want to take a photograph with your smartphone, stop to observe how difficult it is to keep your hands perfectly still. Normally, the slightest shake would result in blurred photos especially if your shutter speed is low.
The job of the image stabilization feature is to eliminate this inconvenience. It works by counterbalancing the shaking, thereby giving you a much clearer picture.
Another point valuable of note is the autofocus system. It works by intelligently adjusting the camera lens to obtain focus on the main subject. It ensures that whatever area you determine stays sharp in a photo.
On most occasions, having a multiple camera system can help you get better images than a single camera, but that heavily depends on the quality of cameras used. In such situations, a camera can deal with depth detection, while another on macro photography, wide-angle photography, etc which invariably leads to a generally higher quality of images.
Unlike what you may have thought before, a higher amount of pixels does not necessarily mean a better quality camera.
For example, a 20MP camera can outperform a 40MP camera especially if their sensor sizes are identical.
How is it so?
Remember what we said about the size of individual pixels? If the 40MP camera has the same sensor size as the 20MP one, its pixel sizes will be reduced by half so that they can fit into the sensor. If those pixels are too small, the images will be plagued with apparent digital noise.
Another disadvantage of a higher megapixel camera is the larger image file sizes it produces.
So, in summary, instead of just looking at the pixel count, here’s what you should also take account:
- Sensor size: Aim for something about ½ inches or higher
- Aperture size: Aim for f/1.9 or better
- Pixel Count: Around 20MP is okay unless you want to make large prints like billboards.