Smartphones with DSLR-quality cameras are coming sooner than you think

By Shawn Knight ยท 8 replies
Aug 4, 2015
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  1. Smartphones have forever changed the way we look at photography. Putting a camera in the hands of every Tom, **** and Harry has unfortunately meant that many now forego the quality of a standalone camera in exchange for the convenience of a smartphone camera.

    Don’t get me wrong – mobile cameras have come a very long way in a relatively short amount of time. They’ve evolved incrementally along with other smartphone components like displays and mobile processors but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

    Those that don’t pay close attention to the smartphone industry would be forgiven for not realizing that most subsystems in a mobile handset have hit a ceiling. Just as we’ve seen in the PC industry, smartphone processor clock speeds climbed and climbed until a certain point where it was no longer feasible to keep boosting the operating frequency.

    Striving to push the envelope even further, handset makers are now focusing on the multi-core approach and optimizing / refining chips to get the most out of them. The same can be said about mobile displays as we’ve now reached a point where cramming more pixels in the same size screen is futile. Even storage is less of a concern these days as the industry continues to steer us in the direction of the cloud.

    What I'm trying to say is that many of the key selling points of smartphones over the past several years are no longer advantages. Regardless of what flagship you buy today, it’s going to be packed with a processor and graphics chip that’s plenty capable, it’ll have a stunning display and it probably won’t have a ton of onboard storage.

    Simply put, processing power, displays and storage capacity is no longer exciting. Consumers need something new to lust over and advanced mobile camera technology is what needs to deliver the wow.

    We’ve been hearing for the better part of a year that Apple is developing mythical technology that’ll bring DSLR-like quality to the iPhone’s camera. I say mythical because there are plenty of skeptics, and rightfully so – the small sensor inside a smartphone just can’t produce the same quality image as a larger sensor in a true digital camera. But what if you simply add more sensors to the equation?

    That’s the idea behind Light, a Palo Alto-based mobile camera startup that recently wrapped up a $25 million round of funding led by Formation 8. Other contributors include StepStone Group LP, Bessemer Venture Partners, CRV, Foxconn, GlobalFoundries CEO Sanjay Jha and CrunchFund.

    Light’s plan is to add a large array of cameras – anywhere from six to 11 – to the rear of a smartphone. When a photo is captured, it would be done so across all cameras and is stitched together on-the-fly using Light’s software. The end result is a photo with up to 52-megapixels although the pixel count isn’t what’s most impressive.

    The company’s implementation is also capable of optical zoom, from 70mm to 150mm, using what’s called folded optics. The entire camera system has its own Qualcomm application processor and although it requires a bit of real estate inside a phone, the trade-offs sound as though they’d be worth it.

    Space is only a concern in smaller handsets. Bigger phones, like the iPhone 6 Plus, would have no problem accommodating the necessary hardware according to Light co-founder and CEO Dave Grannan.

    The multi-camera approach sounds very similar to what Linx – the Israeli-based company that was recently scooped up by Apple – has been working on. Regardless of which implementation ultimately wins out, one thing is for certain: vastly better smartphone cameras aren’t very far away.

    Lead image courtesy Pexels

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  2. Arris

    Arris TS Evangelist Posts: 4,730   +379

    Dynamic range, Depth of field, colour depth, non fixed aperture and many other things are still going to be lacking. Sony seems to have the lead with BSI/stacked sensors for smartphone cameras at the moment. The optical zoom mechanism sounds interesting but I will wait until I see how it comes out. After the Lytro refocusing Illum cameras that promised so much but output a final image of resolution around 2mp I'm very wary of getting exciting about these revolutionary ideas.
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2015
    wiyosaya, p51d007 and madboyv1 like this.
  3. Neojt

    Neojt TS Addict Posts: 223   +56

    Personally I really like the approch sony did with that slr like (QX) lens add on. just a bit pricy
  4. madboyv1

    madboyv1 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,471   +375

    This is pretty much everything I was thinking when I read just the article title. The concept of multiple cameras working together is novel and I know it's just a prototype, but the current array as pictured even cleaned up to production standards takes so much real estate in the phone that it is wholy impractical. Well, unless one of those miracle battery technologies finally makes it to us the consumers and shrinks the battery to 1/4 the size but the same capacity. :p
    p51d007 and Arris like this.
  5. p51d007

    p51d007 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,310   +651

    I don't see how placing a bunch of TINY sensors, unless you do a TON of software magic, equates to a "dslr" type photo. When the total of 11 sensors (using that example) is still less than 1/2 the size of an APS-C size sensor, not to mention the size of a a full frame sensor, you just cannot get the equivalent depth and dynamics of even the cheapest dSLR photo. Then you have to talk about one thing most camera types like me have a love/hate relationship with. THE GLASS in front of the sensor. There is a reason, a 1.8 lens cost many times more, than a 5.6 lens. I don't see how you can equate a better photo, other than up close to portrait photos, without good glass in front of the sensor.
    People will probably buy into some of this though, because they do not understand the physics behind a camera.
    wiyosaya and Arris like this.
  6. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 1,935   +763

    I think the operative word here is "DSLR-like" quality. In other words, marketing buzz to make lesser educated people think that they are getting a DSLR in their smartphone camera.

    Absolutely! Glass will be the absolute last thing that will keep "smart" phone cameras from equaling the quality of a DSLR. So far, no one has been able to eek the kind of image quality of a tiny "smart" phone camera lens as is found even in one of these and that one is not even among the best of DSLR lenses in the lineup.
    Arris likes this.
  7. dennis777

    dennis777 TS Enthusiast Posts: 285   +33

    They need to develop super battery first before anything else. :|
    aTree likes this.
  8. roberthi

    roberthi TS Addict Posts: 234   +54

    The ONLY thing they need to do here is work on the optic zoom. That's what makes real camera soar above anything you have on phones. You can up the picture size to 100 megapixel and all that will do is make your image file sizes super huge, take up more space on an already crowded phone or cloud drive, and make the pixel size MUCH smaller when you zoom in, faking the eye into thinking it's seeing a clear image.

    Optical zoom, as I've been saying for years, sees more or less what the eye sees and you get an image that's not digitized. Having said that, any processing done on the phone or camera will likely get digitized in the end. If we can prevent that and only do post-processing after the image is stored in a raw format, then we've got a winner.
  9. kittu krishna

    kittu krishna TS Rookie

    Can u say that the best mobile phone with dslr camera and mobile name

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