Smartphones have multiple cameras on their back. And in various configurations.
Early iPhone models had a single rear camera, which was used for all shooting purposes. But as phones transformed into the primary cameras for billions of people worldwide, smartphone makers began packing multiple cameras on the back.
These days premium Android devices flaunt up to seven cameras! But why is there a need for multiple cameras on a smartphone? Let’s find out!
Why do smartphones have multiple cameras?
Cameras are one of the most important components to look at when you’re buying a smartphone.
To make you consider their product, smartphone makers try to equip their smartphones with multiple cameras. This aims to offer more versatility in mobile photography to you, the end customers.
Each camera lens and image sensor serve a particular purpose and works synergistically to produce photos not possible with just one.
For example, the primary wide-angle camera mimics human vision for everyday shots. A telephoto lens provides optical zoom for distant subjects. Ultrawide angle cameras increase field-of-view to capture landscapes or tall structures. Monochrome sensors sharpen detail and depth cameras add professional background blur.
Combining data from several cameras reduces noise and enhances dynamic range resulting in intricate, true-to-life photos. Multiple cameras also enable special effects like selective focus, fisheye, tilt-shift and advanced depth-of-field.
With computational algorithms, even budget phones can offer DSLR-like controls giving users greater creative freedom.
Benefits of multiple cameras in a smartphone
Having 3 or more cameras significantly bumps up versatility, allowing smartphones to be the only camera most people need day-to-day.
Here are several benefits a smartphone with 3 or more cameras offer:
1. Enables different focal lengths
One camera can have a regular angle lens while the other has a telephoto lens for optical zoom and portraits. An ultra-wide camera captures a wider field of view.
2. Improves image quality
Multiple cameras with different megapixel counts and aperture sizes can capture photos with greater detail and dynamic range. The cameras combine data to reduce noise.
3. Adds depth perception for portraits
A depth sensing camera creates a depth map to artificially blur backgrounds and make subjects stand out. This adds a professional “bokeh” effect.
4. Enhances low light photos
Special night or low light cameras use advanced sensors and pixel binning technology to allow more light even in dark conditions. This reduces grain and blur.
5. Enables professional effects
Multiple cameras allow smartphones to capture images comparable to DSLRs. Special effects like tilt-shift, lighting adjustments, and filters can transform photos.
6. Improves AR/VR experiences
With front-facing, rear-facing, depth and wide angle cameras, smartphones can better map environments, accurately place objects and detect planes.
Drawbacks of multiple cameras in a smartphone
In the pursuit of advancing photography capabilities, smartphone makers often go overboard without evaluating actual consumer needs. But more isn’t always better, when it comes to cameras in a smartphone.
Here are some drawbacks of multiple cameras in a smartphone:
1. Increased cost
More advanced optics, sensors, lens elements/coatings and stabilization technologies makes these smartphones a lot pricier.
2. Complex manufacturing
Sourcing excellent quality components from various suppliers and precisely aligning lenses increases production costs and time.
3. Bulky cameras
To house the mechanisms for multiple movable cameras, smartphones have thicker top ends with awkward, asymmetrical humps.
4. Drain on battery
Running multiple power hungry cameras significantly decreases battery life when recording videos or capturing numerous photos.
5. Overkill for many users
Casual users won’t use most functions or edit advanced shots from dedicated macro, depth or wide angle cameras.
What is the purpose of 3 cameras in a smartphone?
Most triple camera smartphones have three distinct cameras to serve different purposes:
- Primary/Rear Camera or Primary Lens
- Telephoto Camera or Telephoto Lens
- Ultrawide Camera or Ultrawide Lens
1. Primary Camera
The primary 12MP-108MP camera captures photos and videos in normal lighting. It offers the standard field of view that’s close to human perception. Most people use it all the time, without ever switching the lens.
2. Telephoto Camera
The telephoto camera with 2x-5x optical zoom lets you get closer to subjects. It is ideal for portraits as faces appear sharp while the background blurs. Some even go to the extent of using specialized telephoto lenses known as ‘periscope lenses‘ in smartphones.
3. Ultrawide Camera
With a 120-degree+ field-of-view(FoV), the ultrawide camera captures sweeping landscapes and tall buildings by fitting more of the scene into each photo. It is great to capture more things in one go, which the primary camera in your smartphone cannot achieve.
Together, these three cameras handle a variety of everyday shooting situations reasonably well. Switching between them also allows for some nifty photography effects.
What is the purpose of 4 cameras in a smartphone?
Quad camera phones take smartphone photography to more advanced levels with the following setup:
- Primary/Main Lens
- Telephoto Lens
- Ultrawide Lens
- Depth Vision/Time-of-flight sensor (Yes, not a camera)
The fourth camera circle that you see in most flagship smartphones is not a camera. It’s most probably a time-of-flight (ToF) or depth sensor.
The highest resolution main camera captures crisp, evenly exposed photos using the various shooting modes.
As explained earlier, the telephoto lens offers lossless zoom for portraits or distant subjects.
The ultrawide camera expands horizons by squeezing vast spaces into a single frame.
4. Depth Vision/Time-of-Flight
This fourth camera (sensor) scans scenes to create depth maps for artificially blurred portraits. Some phones have proprietary Time-of-Flight (ToF) sensors to judge distance between objects more accurately. This offers enhanced augmented reality capabilities.
The quad configuration greatly extends the versatility for professional mobile photography. But it drives up costs disproportionate to the benefits most users actually need.
This is a good video if you want to understand about why there are so many cameras in smartphones these days, in-depth. It’s not mine but I can tell you it’s good.
Are 3 or 4 cameras necessary in a smartphone?
For regular people posting socially, triple cameras are enough. They allow casual users to capture nicer shots as the phone automatically switches to the ideal camera for common situations. Ultrawide and telephoto lenses offer creative options during travel or outdoor activities.
But amateur/professional photographers require the creative flexibility quad cameras provide for next level artistic shots. The field-of-view from the main, ultrawide and telephoto lenses facilitate incredible perspectives.
Serious influencers or content creators publishing high-quality photos/videos can justify the expense of 4 advanced cameras.
This is why 3 or 4 cameras are necessary in a smartphone for some specific customer base.
Multiple smartphone cameras each serve a dedicated purpose extending what’s possible with mobile photography. While triple cameras satisfy everyday shooting for regular folks, quad cameras give advanced users more artistry.
But the extra components hike up costs considerably while also draining battery life quicker. As sensors and lens technology mature, high-end photographic effects may become available even with dual cameras.
So unless you frequently capture professional shots or artistic content, triple cameras remain an optimal sweet spot balancing features, price and real world usage.