Your Smartphone Might be the Best Camera You Can Get

Originally published by Live Science

When Apple unveiled its new iPhone 7 last week, Senior Vice President of Hardware Engineering Phil Schiller called the device’s camera one of the most advanced ever put in a smartphone. Cameras in phones are so commonplace now that users take them for granted, but improving the picture-taking capabilities of the newest devices means cramming a lot of tech into a small, and thin, package.

Upgrading the cameras in smartphones typically requires improving the sensors that pick up the image, the optics that focus it and, perhaps most importantly, the software and computing power in the phone, said Daniel Sakols, vice president of business development at Amalence Inc., which makes the imaging technology for companies such as phone maker Huawei.

“There was a big increase in the available processing power to take this image information and do radically new things with it,” Sakols told Live Science. [Photo Future: 7 High-Tech Ways to Share Images]

One of the first cellphones with a camera was the Nokia 7650, released in 2002. At the time, Nokia said the technology was going to usher in the “multimedia messaging era,” according to a statement from November 2001. The camera, at 0.3 megapixels, was a far cry from current models, which range from 8 megapixels to 12 megapixels.

The pictures taken on the Nokia 7650 were 30 kilobytes and were saved on only 3.6 megabytes of RAM, according to a 2003 review by ZDNet. This means that few existing smartphone apps would fit on the Nokia phone, let alone image-stabilization software.

In comparison, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, which launched last month, has a processor similar to that found in a laptop computer and has 853,000 times as much data-storage space as the Nokia 7650. The Note 7’s camera has a sensor that picks up 12 megapixels, while the iPhone 6 has an 8-megapixel camera and a similarly powerful processor. Both Samsung’s and Apple’s phone cameras can run image-stabilizing programs, as well as apps that sharpen edges and adjust for lighting conditions, a whole suite of adjustments that the cameras make without the user even knowing.

Sakols said that improvements to phone cameras made taking pictures more convenient and allowed the phone to compete with point-and-shoot cameras, if not digital SLRs. “It’s what phone manufacturers are building around,” he said. “It’s no longer about just having a bigger sensor.”

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