Smartphone photography keeps marching on — and why not. After all, cameras, screens, and battery life are the key distinguishing features of most phones, especially in the Android ecosystem. And that is why we continue to see Android hardware makers — Samsung, Xiaomi, Huawei, and others try to one-up each other with camera technology and megapixels. 

Samsung will soon launch a new Galaxy (23) model featuring a new 200-megapixel camera sensor. The new sensor, the ISOCELL HP2, will pack 200 million 0.6-micrometer pixels in a 1/1.3″ optical format. This isn’t the first 200-megapixel sensor made by Samsung. The higher pixels allow for “pixel binning,” which allows the sensor to perform better. So, for instance, four pixels can be binned together to create 1.2μm size pixels to output 50-megapixel images. Bin 16, and you get to a 12.5-megapixel image, which can lead to a better quality of images. Apple’s iPhone also uses Pixel Binning in the latest iPhone 14 models. Apple uses Sony sensors.

Samsung says it has a new technology –Super QPD that leads to faster and more accurate auto-focusing, especially in low-light environments. In addition, Samsung says the sensor uses a “Dual Vertical Transfer Gate” that leads to better colors, less overexposure, and fewer washed-out colors. 

Since Samsung supplies these sensors to others, such as Xiaomi, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see new phone models show up with these sensors. What will distinguish one phone from another is how the software harnesses the capabilities of these new sensors.

Pixels aren’t the only thing, for image quality improves with sensor size. Larger sensors have better dynamic ranges and less noise. But don’t tell that to those who create marketing hype around the notion that “more pixels are better.” It would be cool to see Apple introduce phones with one-inch sensors. It was done before. Leica has collaborated with Sharp to make two such phones that feature a one-inch sensor.

You move, Cupertino! 

January 18, 2022. San Francisco

Here is my take on what happens to traditional camera makers in the long run:

The camera industry is going to become an industry of niches. The likes of Leica, Hasselblad, and PhaseOne will have a lucrative, albeit the smaller, higher end of the market made up of brand loyalists and those in need of specialized devices. Others will depend on working professionals — wedding, sports, and event photographers — to keep the home fires burning. And that isn’t that big a market.  It will be a bruising battle for the enthusiasts who like landscape, urban, and wildlife photography. 

I woke up this morning thinking about the new Apple Studio Display’s webcam hiccup. It has reaffirmed my belief that the camera, and by extension, the visual sensor, is becoming a key interface to the information and how we interpret it. What keyboard and mouse were to what was textual computing, visual (and other sensors) will be a key to computing in the future.  

An article in the New Yorker laments that smartphone photography is too algorithmic. Similar laments were made when William Eggelston started experimenting with color film. Since then, our everyday memories have been captured on color film, each generation getting better than the others. It is the same for computational photography — we started with the grainy photos from Nokia, Blackberry, and the first iPhone. I remember the first iPhone and the photos that came off its puny sensor. We have already come so far in this journey. Writers need to overcome nostalgia have to think different – the camera isn’t just a camera. It is so much more!

As I said, it is the camera stupid



But back to the Studio Display camera problems. 

Looking beyond, the speed with which Apple can fix the problem by issuing a software upgrade will reaffirm the advantage of what I wrote earlier about putting “smarts” into previously dumb devices. Apple’s ability to take all the gains offered by its iPhone business & its scale gives the company a significant leg-up in its ability to reinvent products. It will help it become the key player in the next evolution of computing — spatial computing, as it is colloquially known. Yes, sometimes a display is not just a display


Talking about iPhone — it accounted for 37 percent of all 5G phones sold, according to data from CounterPoint Research. “The 5G smartphone penetration for North America and Western Europe reached 73% and 76% respectively,” they point out. Over 51 percent of the phones shipped now are 5G phones, though it doesn’t necessarily mean you get to enjoy the benefits of 5G speeds in the U.S. 

OpenSignal data shows that the South Koreans have got their 5G zooming! In South Korea, average download speeds were 129.7 Mbps at the end of 2021, up from 52.4 Mbps at the start of 2019, before 5G. The U.S. is not in the top 25, even though more people have 5G iPhones around. Why? Because AT&T and Verizon are essentially shit when it comes to 5G. 

FYI: I like to read a lot. When I find something interesting, I share it in my link blog. Think of it as "collected wisdom." You can visit it here. And if you want to see my photos, visit my photoblog. 

March 19, 2022. San Francisco

In December 2020, with the release of the iOS 14.3, the owners of iPhone 12 Pro (and ProMax), got to experience Apple’s new photo format, ProRAW. In simplest terms, the iPhone camera captures multiple image frames, picks out the best bits from these frames, and stitches them together in a photo with higher amount of data that can be manipulated for editing later. These are big files — about 10-12 times the sized on normal files captured by the iPhone.

In more recent days, Adobe announced a new version of Photoshop (and Camera Raw) image editing software especially for the M1 Mac. As part of these upgrades, the company unveiled a new feature called Super Resolution.

“The term ‘Super Resolution’ refers to the process of improving the quality of a photo by boosting its apparent resolution,” Adobe engineers write on the company blog. “Enlarging a photo often produces blurry details, but Super Resolution has an ace up its sleeve — an advanced machine learning model trained on millions of photos.”

Think of this as turning a 10-megapixel photo into a 40-megapixel photo. While I don’t need Super-Resolution with my Leica digital files, it is an interesting proposition when applied to cameras with smaller sensors, especially smartphones. I thought it made perfect sense to marry the ProRaw files from Apple’s iPhone 12 ProMax with Super Resolution. So, I did.

Last evening, I took a handful of photos with the iPhone’s normal and short-tele lenses in ProRaw format. I applied the Adobe SuperResolution in CameraRaw, made some adjustments, and opened the files in Photoshop. I edited them using my normal editing workflow — one I reserve for my Leica SL photos.

I was editing them on the Apple’s M1 MacBook attached to the XDR Display, which is about 32 inches and has 6K resolution. And the results were nothing short of astonishing. Sure, the files lack the dimensionality of a Leica. But for a camera phone, they are stunning. I printed the files on paper sized 11 x 17 inches on my Epson P800 printer. The print quality from the file, which is about 7000 x 6000 after my preferred 7 x 6 crop, is highly satisfactory.

What impressed me most was the detail that the marriage of ProRaw and Adobe’s Super Resolution could capture and enhance. Below, I’ve included two different crops of one image for you to take a look at. Remember, this is from a tiny smartphone sensor. And when you stop and think about how we have only just gotten started with the marriage of smartphone cameras and artificial intelligence, it is impossible not to be excited about the future of smartphone photography.

Phone Cameras FTW

The iPhone 11 Pro is just another step in the seemingly unending march of the camera phones. The falling sales of cameras across the price and performance spectrum is a testimonial to how everyday people take photographs. As a believer in computational photography and the improvement curve of phone-camera capabilities, I have often written about … Continue reading Phone Cameras FTW