Battle of smartphone cameras hots up

The smartphone's camera is becoming a major factor when consumers shop for new models of such phones.
The smartphone's camera is becoming a major factor when consumers shop for new models of such phones.ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

Users can expect newer and better features as manufacturers try to get ahead of their rivals

The smartphone is now so much more than just for making calls and sending messages. And it is probably the only camera you use.

In fact, eight of the top 10 cameras on the Flickr photo-sharing site are smartphones. The Apple iPhone 6 tops the list, which includes two DSLR cameras.

Thus, the smartphone's camera is becoming a major factor when consumers shop for new smartphones.

"Having a good smartphone camera is convenient, as I do not need to take another camera with me anywhere I go," said 32-year-old banking executive Gong Lei, who uses a Samsung Note 4.

Mr Gong said he hopes the smartphone camera can become as good as DSLR cameras one day.

  • How we test

  • The Straits Times looks at the cameras of five flagship smartphones that are currently available in Singapore.

    For a fair comparison, all photos were taken using the native camera app of each smartphone. We used the Auto mode with automatic high dynamic range turned on for all the shots.

    We tested the cameras by taking day and night landscape shots of the same scene. We also took selfies in good lighting conditions.

    Portraits were also taken with and without flash under indoor incandescent lighting.

 

Smartphone makers have to innovate with the phone's camera because it is one of the reasons for consumers to purchase a high-end flagship smartphone rather than a cheaper, low-end one, according to Mr Ian Fogg, senior director at market intelligence firm IHS Markit.

"There is tremendous room to improve smartphone cameras, such as low-light performance, telephoto or zoom, and depth-of-field effects," he said.

To improve low-light performance, smartphone makers have to lower the number of megapixels so that the size of each photo-sensing pixel is larger and thus absorbs more light.

Mr Fogg pointed out that the likes of Samsung and Huawei have all adopted this lower-megapixel strategy with their smartphone cameras this year. However, upping the resolution would still be key for a smartphone's front-facing camera. According to market research firm GfK Asia, the trend next year will be increased resolution, or megapixel count, for the front camera.

"As consumers get increasingly engaged with various social-media platforms, they will recognise the need for devices with strong front-camera capabilities to derive greater user experience through these social apps," said Mr Gerard Tan, GfK Asia's technology senior director.

Another smartphone camera trend next year: Dual-camera, which allows for optical zoom and depth-of-field capabilities.

"For smartphones integrated with dual-camera, this segment has gained significant traction with a growth of more than fivefold in 2016 and we believe this will continue into 2017," Mr Tan said.

During an earnings call in February this year, Sony's chief financial officer Kenichiro Yoshida said that dual-camera systems in smartphones will take off next year.

There will also be an increased focus on depth-sensing smartphone cameras, said Ms Karissa Chua, consumer electronics analyst at Euromonitor International.

"Pokemon Go (mobile app game) has demonstrated the potential of augmented reality on mobile devices," she said, noting that companies like L'Oreal and Wayfair are focusing on augmented reality to enhance the shopping experience for their customers.

With depth-sensing technology that can take more precise measurements of space, the augmented reality experience becomes more realistic.

"With mobile commerce set to continue to gain momentum in 2017, smartphone cameras with depth-sensing capabilities will be the ones to look out for," Ms Chua said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2016, with the headline 'Battle of smartphone cameras hots up'. Print Edition | Subscribe