The age of Dual-Camera Smartphones -Greater Photography with Slimmer Bodies

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Huawei P10 Dual Camera

OpinionThere were days when technology vendors tried hard with dedication to bring quality photography into your mobile phone. There was a theory, which actually is correct, that for better quality photos a camera needs to have a larger sensor, bigger lens opening or even the size of pixels on the sensor was an important factor.

Smartphone Photography Progression

The phenomenon above is absolutely correct and Nokia has proved it by introducing the bigger camera modules in its smartphones. Their cameras (or phone cameras literally) did really well to produce amazing photographs to be from mobile device years ago. The issue to most people was that they didn’t welcome the humpy and extruded camera modules on the back of the phone.

There were techniques of combining more pixels into one (pixel binning) to reduce color noise and gain fine image detail. That way, the manufacturers needed to make more pixels on the image sensor but smaller in size to allow room for pixel binning (or oversampling) – remember the 41-megapixel smartphone? that however was a piece of both a larger image sensor and pixel binning. In addition, that was the second smartphone to have an optical image stabilization.

Even though the pixel binning is still in place today more or less and doing its job as a hidden agent but larger image sensors on smartphones didn’t make their way to consumer’s acceptance. Manufacturers preferred the slimmer profile of smartphones without any kind of camera module humps. Improvements occurred from time to time but that kept them from bringing any revolutionary transformation in smartphone photography until the proper use of dual-camera configuration came to age.

What is Dual-Camera and how does it work?

In simple, dual-camera smartphone refers to a phone that sports two cameras (two separate image sensors) on the back and work together or separately to produce one photograph. Manufacturers are currently using dual-camera in two type of configurations. Both configurations feature a primary image sensor that works as standard smartphone camera.

The second image sensor is what manufacturers are currently using as a monochrome (black & white) sensor for greater picture clarity or a color sensor with telephoto lens for optical zooming. Both configurations help produce depth of field to simulate background blur in the pictures – mostly known as bokeh.

Huawei P10 Dual Camera
Huawei P10 Dual Camera Configuration – Credits: Huawei

Dual-Camera & Stereo Camera

An array of two more cameras cameras inline is not something new as it has been used in dedicated cameras for years. Most commonly known as stereo camera, used purposely for stereoviews and stereoscopic 3D pictures and videos. “This allows the camera to simulate human binocular vision, and therefore gives it the ability to capture three-dimensional images, a process known as stereo photography.” –

Wait! we are not talking about 3D cameras here, but the most recent dual-cameras. The term “dual-camera” was used far later than actually a smartphone had already been shipped with two cameras on the back. If you remember the HTC EVO 3D of year 2011, it carried two cameras but configured to take 3D/stereoscopic photos.

Verascope-40-stereo-camera
Verascope 40 Stereo Camera – Credits: Mme de Sévigné | CC3.0

The Advent of the term “Dual-Camera”

Following the years, many well and less known manufacturers had adopted the dual-camera configuration on their boards but none did actually something remarkable to be noticed. They were all sporting one high-resolution sensor and a one very low-res sensor. Most of them were just gimmicks and not well advertised.

Apple’s iPhone was then hyped to sport a dual-camera in late 2015 which was the peak era when people started to think if the dual camera was actually something. But fortunate for the Chinese smartphone maker – Huawei, as it attracted all that hype in early 2016 when the company partnered with the German camera maker – Leica and announced the first Leica dual-camera smartphone known to be Huawei P9 with both high-resolution image sensors and feature rich camera application.

Huawei P9 & Huawei P9 Plus

First of its kind, the Huawei P9 and P9 Plus were worlds 1st smartphones to boast the leica dual-camera. The Huawei P9 sported two 12 MP rear cameras with Leica lenses. P9 also boasts dual-pixel technology with 27mm, f/2.2 lens. An RGB sensor and a monochrome sensor for greater brightness and more detail in images, even in low-light conditions. Huawei P9 Plus also had optical image stabilization in addition. The phones have been reported to sell over 12 million units.

Fully Wide Camera Plating on the Back
Huawei P9 Dual Camera – Credits: KA/TechProlonged

LG G5

Since then numerous brands have joined joining the bandwagon of dual-camera. LG introduced the first proper dual-camera smartphone with its own configuration. LG G5 offered to take ultra-wide angle shots at 135-degrees with the second 8MP camera. Though 16MP camera – the first of the duo, takes the shots at common 75-degree angle.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus

Apple introduced iPhone 7 Plus later same year with dual-camera configuration. Its configuration was more focused to offer optical zooming with a telephoto lens on top of the second camera. Apple made it the best iPhone camera but couldn’t lead the others with single camera module.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus
Apple iPhone 7 Plus – Credits: Apple

Huawei Mate 9

The same year, Huawei introduced the improved version of its dual-camera into Mate 9 and Mate 9 Pro – called as 2nd generation of Leica dual-camera. Mate 9’s dual-camera module incorporated a 12MP RGB sensor for colored photos and a 20MP monochrome sensor. The configuration was accompanied by OIS, PDAF and Laser AF. Not optical zoom but the higher pixel count allowed to offer 2x lossless zoom.

Huawei P10 and P10 Plus

Carrying on the legacy, Huawei brought the improvements of Mate 9 to P10 and P10 Plus earlier this year. P10’s 12MP RGB + 20MP monochrome image sensors featured Hybrid Zoom with an auto-focus system and ultamte portrait mode. Huawei P10 also named ‘European Image and Sound Association (EISA) Smartphone Camera 2017-2018’ for its brilliant camera technology. On the other hand Huawei P10 crossed iPhone 7 ranking on DxO marks list.

Huawei P10 Review - Dual Camera
Huawei P10 – Dual Camera – Credits: KA/Tech Prolonged

LG G6

LG G6 had improved version of dual-camera but unlike the wider angle shooter on LG G5, the G6 reduced the field of view on both sensors to 71-degree and 125-degree from 75 and 135 respectively.

What’s next?

Above are only the noteworthy smartphones with dual-cameras but there is dozens of them now from manufacturers like ZTE, Asus, Xiaomi, XOLO and more. Following are the two which are are looking ahead for.

Nokia 8

HMD Global recently announced its first flagship phone sporting dual-camera with Zeiss optics – Nokia 8. The phone is not yet launched and set to be available from September. Its dual-camera configuration is more like Huawei’s configuration of RGB+Monochrome sensors. Nokia 8 offers features like #bothie that can use both the front and the rear camera at once and split the screen in half to shoot both sides of the scene. Not only share, it broadcasts live from both cameras at once.

Nokia 8 - Carl Zeiss Dual Camera
Nokia 8 with Dual ZEISS Camera – Credits: Nokia/HMD Global

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Finally, with the announcement of Galaxy Note 8, Samsung has also joined in with dual-camera smartphones. Galaxy Note 8 is yet to be available later this year and we have yet to test its camera power but what the company has shown with their official camera samples, they are worth having a look at.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 with Dual Camera – Credits: Samsung

Huawei Mate 10

Lastly, Huawei Mate 10 is currently in great hype to have everything polished. Huawei has plans to announce the its upcoming Mate smartphone in October. It’s rumored to have a dual-camera with 3D sensing technology that will help capturing augmented reality content. Mate 10 will allegedly feature 3D facial recognition as well.

Huawei Mate 10 - Render
Alleged Render of Huawei Mate 10

Is Dual-Camera really better than the Single Camera on a Smartphone?

Undoubtedly that technology in terms of innovation and convenience is progressing on a daily basis. That leaves us thinking what will the smartphone boasting a dual-camera be like? The next smartphone with a dual-camera will definitely make the smartphone photography experience better. What’s the next dual camera we can image? It will do camera more intelligent?

Still there are smartphones with single camera modules such as HTC U11 that is currently ranking top of the DxO Marks list while on the second the Google Pixel also has a single camera. So believe it or not, it’s the implementation and optimization of hardware and software that makes the camera better. Dual-camera configuration has to show something real to prove if it’s better itself than any single camera module.

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