There is a revolution in camera phone technology taking place, one which has seen a slew of innovative and forward-thinking handsets rumoured and released in the last few months. Manufacturers such as Nokia, Samsung and HTC are all pushing the boundaries of camera technology and creating devices, the likes of which have never been seen before.
Since the advent of the smartphone era there has been a steady increase in the power of the cameras fitted to mobile phones with a rise in megapixel power along the way.
Thirteen megapixels has now just about become the standard amongst high-end handsets, a spec seen on the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia Z, but many firms are moving away from this simple increase in power in order to make their smartphones stand out from the pack.
After all, if every handset on the market has the same camera with the same megapixel count, what is there to distinguish between them? Any company making a new handset needs to have unique selling points and including a camera that is the same as that on every other device is not going to attract anyone’s attention.
Inevitably, there will be some brave but unsuccessful attempts from smartphone makers along the way who bring in ideas that just don’t take off, but some leftfield innovations could enter the mainstream and become commonplace.
Nokia has long been a leader of camera phone technology and is continuing to push ahead in this area, if the recent rumours about the Finnish firm’s EOS device prove correct. Having introduced its brilliant PureView technology to the smartphone world with the 808 PureView last year, it is possible that that handset’s incredible 41-megapixel camera could make it to a more mainstream, Windows Phone 8-running handset.
There has been some debate about the veracity of that 41 megapixel tag, since the camera actually uses a process called oversampling which combines information from pixels to create a more detailed image, which can ultimately be up to 41 megapixels in size. However, there is no denying that the 808 PureView can capture very high quality images and its inclusion in the rumoured EOS would be exciting.
But even if the camera that the EOS eventually houses is only a more regular 8.7 megapixels, as some rumours have suggested, it could still be an impressive offering. PureView impressed us on the Lumia 920 and the short time we spent with the Lumia 925 recently also gave the impression that the technology has a lot to offer. Further rumours surrounding the emergence of photo-sharing app Instagram on Windows Phone 8 as an exclusive to Nokia handsets make the EOS an even more enticing prospect.
Nokia is far from the only firm bringing innovative camera technology to smartphones, with HTC having grabbed headlines with the introduction of its UltraPixel camera on the HTC One. The camera surprised not with its power but with its apparent lack of it; at only 4 megapixels the device seemed vastly under spec for a high-end flagship.
What the UltraPixel camera really does is combine three layers of four megapixels, making a final image which is far more detailed than its specs suggest. Combing this technology with the HTC Zoe feature suite, which allows short clips to be captured and specific elements of a shot to be edited, makes the HTC One a very powerful offering which stands out from the crowd.
Further to these developments with pixels and the way in which they are used, Samsung has gone down the route of bringing smartphones and compact cameras closer together with the recently announced Galaxy S4 Zoom. Building on what the firm did with the Galaxy Camera at the end of 2012, which saw the Android platform used on a camera device, the S4 Zoom puts a 10x optical zoom lens on a smartphone with a 16 megapixel camera.
This photographic power combined with the editing and sharing capabilities of an Android device could make the handset very appealing to amateur photographers. And, in a move that sets the S4 Zoom apart from the Galaxy Camera, you can still use it to make voice calls as you would on any other handset.
In order to stand out from the huge array of smartphones available manufacturers are getting creative and making weird and wonderful devices that set its range apart from the rest. As we said there will no doubt be some innovations which fall by the wayside, but it is far better having smartphone makers competing to be different than racing to be the same.