When Samsung launched the Galaxy A9, the world took note (pun intended). While the Chinese manufacturers were only slowly beginning to make triple rear cameras the norm, Samsung threw a wrench in their plans and one-upped the game.
However, when the first reviews came out, the results were a bit disappointing. Reviewers panned the quad camera performance on the phone, calling out the poor image quality.
This faux pas begs to ask an important question whether the smartphone makers are trying to take customers for a ride by adding more cameras on the pack than what can possibly be gained out of doing so? First, it was the race of megapixels and now it seems like manufacturers just want to shove as many cameras on the back of your phone as the physical space would allow without any actual benefits.
But what can four camera sensors possibly do? Does your phone combine information from all the four sensors to create the sharpest image possible? Or are they there for different situations? To answer these questions, it is important to understand the types of cameras you usually find in dual or triple camera setups. We’ve tried doing that in the most simple terms below.
1. Wide-angle camera
This is the primary camera on your phone and has existed since before dual camera phones were a thing. The lens on the sensor allows you to capture, well, photos that aren’t too zoomed in or zoomed out. Think of photos from this lens as something that a 23mm lens on your DSLR would capture. Just about the best focal length that can be used for a variety of situations. It isn’t exactly 23mm all the time and varies by manufacturer, but remains close to this number
2. Depth sensor
Depth sensor helps your phone capture information around depth in an image. Why? To create portraits with brokeh (blurred backgrounds). That’s pretty much the job of a depth sensor and it doesn’t really matter if it is a 5MP unit or a 32MP unit.
Usually, depth sensors are offered in cheaper phones because it is a cost-effective solution to offer iPhone X like portraits. Although, the depth sensors do a shoddy job at capturing details around edges or things like hair. The resulting portraits aren’t the best.
Phones like the RealMe U1 and the Zenfone Max M2 use this type of secondary sensor.
3. Ultra-wide camera
Ultra-wide cameras can capture a lot of the scene which a regular phone camera can’t. By that we mean your photos while being the same dimensions, have a wider field of view (think of it as ultra-zoomed out). Something shot on a DSLR would have a focal length of 9-11mm.
Now, ultra-wides aren’t great at capturing the depth of field (brokeh), but when used with a normal lens in conjunction, they can help create portrait mode photos with blurred backgrounds. They will anyway do a better job than just a depth sensor but might not create the best brokehs.
Phones from LG are known to use ultra-wide cameras.
The most popular secondary camera on flagship phones, a telephoto allows you to get a zoomed in view without having to lose detail like you would if you were digitally zooming in. Think of something shot at 75mm on a DSLR. They also get the job done when trying to capture portraits with brokeh.
These cameras do not capture the colors and instead capture higher detail as a tradeoff. When combined with the photo from the other lens (usually identical focal length) that has the color information, you get a picture with great detail and all the colors.
Used in some Motorola phones, they are not as popular anymore.
So how do they work together?
Usually, you will find that at a given time, only two cameras capture the details and process it into a single image. Even if your phone has all the five sensors, it doesn’t make sense for information from telephoto and ultra-wide to be processed together since a telephoto wouldn’t even capture half the field of view (a tree on the extreme right will not be captured by the telephoto).
Triple cameras make sense to give users the option to click the picture that fits the situation. Say, telephoto for portrait and ultra-wide for landscape. That’s the equivalent of having a DSLR with 3 lenses. Of course, a DSLR does a better job at it, but you get the point.
As such, it doesn’t matter if a phone has five cameras on the back or if your second camera on the phone is 30 megapixels but is just a depth sensor. You should avoid falling for the marketing spiel and instead do your research before choosing the phone with the best camera setup for your needs. Fans of portraits can look at phones with a telephoto lens, while those into capturing landscapes would be better off with ultra-wides.