Home >Technology >Gadgets >Smartphones with multiple cameras: an idea that clicks

Samsung launched the Galaxy A7, its latest mid-range smartphone, in India on 25 September. A strong competitor in the sub-₹30,000 category, the phone’s most talked-about specification is the triple camera set-up at the back. There is a combination of 24 MP AF primary lens with f/1.7 aperture for better low-light photography, an 8 MP Ultra wide lens for a 120-degree field of view, and a 5 MP depth-sensing lens. This should, in theory, enable users to take the perfect picture in diverse light conditions.

Earlier this year, Huawei launched the P20 Pro, which also has three rear cameras—one 40 MP main sensor, a 20 MP black and white one and a 3x zoom 8 MP camera.

The idea, essentially, is to bridge the gap between the quality of images taken with phone cameras and the sophisticated DSLRs used by professionals. But the question is: how many cameras are really needed to take the perfect photo? And how complicated does it make phone photography?

“I have just graduated to dual-camera smartphones that allow you to take portraits. But the blur effect they provide is so uniform, it is industrial. There is no way to control it like there is in an SLR camera," says photojournalist Ritesh Uttamchandani, whose debut photobook The Red Cat And Other Stories captures known and unknown corners of Mumbai on his smartphone.

The first phone with dual back cameras was launched in 2011—the HTC Evo 3D. Now, most flagships from almost all phonemakers, including Samsung, Apple, LG, Motorola, OnePlus, have dual cameras. There are also reports of smartphone makers working with multiple camera set-ups on the back. According to technology blog Android Police, LG is working on a successor to its flagship V30 that will feature three rear cameras and two in the front. Leaked design sketches and images in September show that HMD Global, the Finnish company that makes Nokia phones, is working on a phone that has five rear cameras. In June, technology columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler wrote in The Washington Post that the camera maker Light is working on a prototype phone that will have between five and nine lenses on the back.

According to a report by analyst firm Counterpoint Research, approximately 42% of all smartphones sold globally in July featured two to three cameras. The firm estimates that the adoption of multi-camera modules will grow to 60% by the end of the year.

Samsung says the Galaxy A7 has been developed “based on the consumer insight that nearly half of the Indian millennials use their smartphone cameras daily and their rear camera twice as much as the front camera" and that “more than 40% of millennials edit their images prior to using them on social platforms". According to estimates from market research and strategic consulting firm Keypoint Intelligence, 1.3 trillion photos will be taken this year and smartphones will be used for 87% of them.

Smartphone makers are also buoyed by the fact that professional photographers too are veering towards phones as their primary devices. Mobile photography exhibitions are now held across the world. The May cover of Vogue India, featuring actor Aditi Rao Hydari, was shot on the OnePlus 6 by Errikos Andreou. Cinematographer David Franco of Game Of Thrones fame, in fact, shot a 96-second video last year using the LG V30.

“The smartphone changed the game by bringing in the spontaneity of random photographs on the road," says Uttamchandani. “But now, in their endeavour to compete with DSLRs, which is the natural progression of the smartphone camera, the spontaneity of the everyday random photo is gone."

And that’s the thing. Smartphone cameras are so good today that they have almost replaced point-and-shoot cameras in the market. But given the constraints of keeping the thickness and weight of the phone in check, there is only so much engineers can do in terms of hardware. It will be interesting to see how far this multiple rear camera set-up phenomenon goes.

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