Shopping for a new mobile phone can be a complicated business. With all those specs numbers and tech lingo, knowing exactly what you’re getting can be tough. One of the biggest recent trends on the mobile market is that of dual (or in some cases even triple like in the Huwei P20 Pro leaked by Tiger Mobiles last month) cameras. Wondering why dual cameras are necessary? Wondering if this is a feature you should be looking for? We’re here to tell you all about multiple cameras so you’ll know if this kind of mobile is right for you.
Mobile Photography: The Basics
Mobile photography is awesome. No more carrying around an extra device, and you’ve got a camera right in your pocket. However, mobile phone cameras just can’t compete with a traditional professional camera. A phone is just too small to contain all the tech that it would need to take truly pro shots. But that doesn’t stop mobile manufacturers from trying. Mobile cameras are becoming increasingly better, and multiple cameras is one of the reasons for this.
But not all multiple camera phones are created equal. The combination of lenses on the camera effects what that camera can do. Essentially, there are three reasons why a phone might have multiple cameras, depending on the lens set up that the device has.
1. More is Better
Without getting too technical, different cameras and lenses are better or worse at different things. For example, a wide angle lens with a low aperture will take awesome close up shots, but it will take terrible action shots. A lens that’s longer will take terrible low-light pictures, but will take great shots from a distance. On a traditional camera, photographers have a host of lenses and settings they can change to make each individual shot perfect. Mobile cameras can’t switch out lenses or aperture settings (for the most part), but they do have one advantage.
Taking two different shots from a traditional camera leaves you with two pictures. The advantage that a mobile camera has is that it can take two different shots (one from each lens) and then combine those images into one picture. This lets you get the best of both worlds, the advantages of each of the lenses that outweigh or cancel out the disadvantages of each. So in the end you get a better picture than you could have got with either of the individual cameras.
In basic terms, this is the real reason for multiple cameras. Combining images from two lenses gives you better pics. And on phones like the Galaxy S9, the iPhone 8 Plus, or the LG V30, that’s exactly what’s going on. Some multiple camera phones though have specialized secondary lenses that change things in a different way.
2. Colour vs. Black and White
Some phones, such as the Huawei Mate 10 or the Essential Phone, do things differently. They have one colour lens and one black and white lens. This is a neat way of getting detailed shots that still get great colour reproduction. A black and white lens captures detail more easily than a colour one, and a colour lens captures, well, colour. Stick those two photos together and you’ve got a shot that’s bright AND sharp.
As an added bonus, black and white lenses focus more quickly and therefore what you see initially on your phone screen is likely to be more accurate and more like the finished shot. But there’s one more reason a phone might have multiple cameras.
Finally, there’s the issue of zoom. Mobile cameras are terrible at zooming in, simply because they’re not big enough to hold a large zoom lens. But multiple cameras can offset the zoom problem, at least a little. By having one normal lens and a secondary lens that’s already zoomed in (you’ll often see the secondary lens listed as 2X, meaning it’s zoomed in twice as much as the primary lens) you can take great pics close up or from far away. Phones like the iPhone 7 Plus and the Galaxy Note 8 use this kind of technology.
As an added feature many of these double zoom lenses have a different “F-Stop” spec. This just means that while the primary lens lets in lots of light, the secondary lens lets in less light, giving you a fantastic picture whether you’re working at night or in bright sunshine.
Are Multiple Cameras Right for You?
Whether or not you want to put multiple cameras on your must have feature list is really up to you. If you’re serious about your mobile photography, then a multiple camera phone will be a great buy for you. If you’re a pro photographer though, even a multiple camera phone isn’t going to come close to the shots you’ll get with a traditional DSLR camera. You can, however, get much better shots than you would with a single lens mobile camera.
Currently, dual cameras are really a top end mobile feature, though we’re beginning to see the trend appear in mid market phones. And one top end model, the Huawei P20 Pro, even has triple lenses, so it takes care of all three of the reasons mentioned above.
Should multiple cameras over-ride other features when buying? Again, that’s really up to you. If you’re paying a fortune for a new mobile (and if you’re looking at dual camera phones then you’re likely to be paying a few hundred pounds) then there are more important things. Screen specs and performance specs should be your primary concern. Once those boxes are ticked, however, dual cameras come a close third.
Mobile photography is improving, and whilst it’s still not quite as good as using a dedicated camera, dual camera set ups can help you take better photos. So if you love snapping with your mobile, then you might want to consider multiple cameras on your next new phone.