The best camera is the one you have with you. Digital SLRs and medium sized point-and-shoot cameras are great, but they are always limited by their size. The camera phone is different. Because it’s your phone, you’ll always have it with you, and that means you won’t miss a single photographic opportunity.
Just like the digital camera market, the camera phone market is vast and full of surprises. There are a variety of models, and only a handful are as useful as the most basic point-and-shoot. Some of them have a great reputation, but that can only take you so far. It can be a complicated mess to decipher, which is why I want to quickly point out what’s important and what isn’t in a good camera phone.
How many megapixels? Is it important?
Here’s the short answer. 5 megapixels. That’s it. Now here’s why.
If there’s one thing I strongly believe when it comes to digital photography, it’s this. Megapixels only matter up to a point. In the early days of digital photography, when you got less than one megapixel, photos had little to no detail, often appearing “blocky” and “pixelated.” Any improvement in resolution made a big difference because it gave you a lot more pixels to see the details.
Have a look at these two images. The first is an image at its normal resolution.
Now let’s have a look at the same image at 1/4 of its resolution:
This is the kind of image older digital cameras produce. More megapixels were a godsend back then because it gave you smoother edges and more detail overall.
But somewhere around 5 megapixels, it stops mattering. That’s the magic number near the threshold of human perception. Your eye really can’t tell the difference between a 5 megapixel image and a 10 megapixel image when viewed on a computer screen. That difference only comes out when you attempt to print the two images and view them side-by-side.
If you get a camera phone with a least 5 megapixels, you’re getting something that’s good enough. Everything else is just an attempt to upsell and get you to pay more than you should.
What about the flash? How important is that?
The flash is arguably the single most important feature offered with a cameraphone. Why is that? To be blunt, we humans spend a surprising amount of time indoors. Almost all of us want a camera phone that, at the very least, does a decent job indoors. You can’t fit studio lights and an expensive lens into your pocket, so you need a flash that does the same thing.
Most cameraphones use LEDs as a flash, and that just isn’t going to cut it. The flash is too weak to freeze motion, meaning you’ll get nice pictures of boring things like dishwashers and manilla envelopes, but you won’t get any good pictures of people having fun at a party or enjoying a meal together. As a matter of fact, it’s downright disappointing.
What you really need is a xenon flash just like the one that comes with your digital point-and-shoot or digital SLR. xenon flashes are about 10,000 times more powerful than L.E.D. flashes. If anything can capture your friend waving his hands in the air like he just doesn’t care, it’s a xenon flash. Other cameras will always give you a blurry result.
It’s really quite funny because some of the top of the line camera phones on the market still don’t offer a Xenon flash. They’ve completely missed the boat in this regard. In my book, if a camera doesn’t have a xenon flash, it doesn’t have a flash. Everything else is just a toy, and if you convince yourself that they’re not, you’ll be sorely disappointed with the results.
How important is the lens? What should you look for?
Because there are so many third-party lenses available for camera phones, the lens itself is becoming less and less important. It also doesn’t help that phone manufacturers often don’t tell you what kind of lens comes with the phone. I’m serious about that. You can’t just look up the lens that comes with some of the top models available right now. You kind of have to trust the phone maker’s word.
Even so, it’s nothing worth worrying about. If you don’t like the quality of the lens you’re using, you can purchase an extra lens that fits right on top of it and attaches with a magnet. Some of these lenses are pretty cool. They fit in your pocket or around your neck, and you can get a wideangle, telephoto, zoom, or fisheye.
At the end of the day, it’s all about the flash.
So there you have it. Those are the three most important things to look out for when purchasing a cameraphone. If I could pick the most important one, it would be the flash. Don’t even bother buying a cameraphone if it doesn’t have a xenon flash. I can’t tell you how many times you’ll be shooting in low light with your camera phone. That xenon flash will make all of the difference.
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