Are mobile phones really becoming more and more like cameras?

The latest involution in the mobile phone industry still occurs on the camera lens. On the Mate 50 series mobile phones released by Huawei, a technology called Super Optical Camera has become an important selling point. At the scene, the official said that this mobile phone lens uses a physical aperture and supports ten-speed adjustment, which is the first in the industry.

Aperture, this may be the first professional term that many people hear when they contact photography. It controls the amount of light entering and affects the depth of field. It is one of the three elements of photography. An old bird must be proficient in adjusting the aperture (for example, when the light is strong during the day, the aperture should be narrowed, and if the light is dim at night, the aperture should be opened wide), and cooperate with the other two elements - shutter, ISO, The right combination of trade-offs to take your favorite photos.

Due to the precious space, smartphone lenses are mostly fixed apertures, and the mature solution is to simulate adjustable effects through in-camera algorithms. However, there are also people who eat crabs. The earliest physical variable aperture mobile phone appeared in 2009. At that time, the mobile phone giant Nokia, which was in full swing, released the N86 series mobile phones. The adjustable aperture range is F2.4~F4.8, which supports three adjustable apertures Adjust the gear (F2.4, F3.2, F4.8). Later, Samsung also released the Galaxy S9 series with variable aperture technology.

The relationship between aperture, brightness, and depth of field丨Image source The Smartphone Photographer

However, limited by the size of the camera module of the mobile phone, it is necessary to balance the optical design and mechanical structure in such a precise structure of the mobile phone lens. Before Huawei launched the super-optical variable camera, the two mobile phones Nokia and Samsung had variable apertures. Playability is not high. Many commentators believe that the ten-speed adjustable technology released by Huawei has injected fresh vitality into the mobile phone market that has entered a "bottleneck period. However, ordinary consumers, once again passively accept a professional term. Just like in the past few years, even people who are cold-hearted about smart hardware are familiar with marketing terms such as ultra wide-angle, large aperture, tens of millions of pixels, and AI beauty even if you can never get it to understand their true meaning. Behind these professional names is a 20-year evolutionary history of mobile photography.

The history of cell phone photography  

The era of feature phones with stacked pixels

Do you remember your first camera phone? This is a strange question for most young people these days: Which of my phones can't take pictures? Indeed, to return to the proper context of this question, the time has to be dialed back even more, which belongs to the memories of the post-70s and 80s Nokia 7650. This mobile phone, released 20 years ago, has made rapid progress in camera pixels, more than double the Sharp J-SH04, the world's first camera-equipped mobile phone released in 2000, reaching an amazing 300,000. So its starting price of 5,000 yuan is also amazing, and you can actually buy a toilet in (then) Beijing.

People don't know what they want until you put it in front of them. Mobile phones that can take pictures quickly detonated public demand. Seeing that the market is gaining momentum, other manufacturers have followed suit and gradually paid more attention to it. The shooting function of mobile phones. The Nokia 7650 is also regarded as an important milestone in the opening of the mobile phone shooting era and is regarded as a modern exhibit, which is collected in the Lishui Photography Museum, China.

New phones with enhanced camera capabilities have sprung up. In 2003, Sharp launched the J-SH53, the first mobile phone with a megapixel lens in history. Five months later, Casio released the world's first 2-megapixel mobile phone, the A5403CA. Opening:

In 2004, Casio launched the first 3-megapixel camera phone, the Casio A5406CA. Samsung hit the stage in early 2005 with the P850, a flip phone with a rotating display and a 3.15-megapixel camera. At the end of the year, the N80 released by Nokia also reached 3.15 million pixels. The war then came to 5 megapixels, and Samsung introduced the M509; the Nokia N95 hit the mark; the Sony Ericsson K850 and LG KU990 Viewty quickly followed.

Since then, the competition seems to have become a rolling numbers game, 7 million, 8 million, 10 million. By the first decade of the new century, mainstream mobile phone manufacturers have raised the door to 12 million pixels. In order to achieve higher pixels, the design of the mobile phone is sacrificed: the deformed appearance, the heavy body, the huge lens, and the cumbersome control buttons gradually turn the mobile phone into a stitch monster.

We can’t deny the improvement that pixel enhancement has brought to the quality of mobile phone photography, but simply and rudely stacking it has become less and less able to bring consumers a poor perception of experience. People can’t help but wonder: if there is a digital camera, why do you need a parallel camera? Not a more convenient camera phone than it?

The era of smartphones with full involution

Pixel stacking is temporarily exhausted. A new species, the appearance of smartphones has changed the direction of involution. In 2010, the iPhone 4 was born, which not only established a new benchmark for mobile phone design but also made photography truly eye-catching. The 5-megapixel camera can still produce good-quality photos, and the new experience brought by the addition of the front-facing camera has become a new target for mobile phone manufacturers to follow.

The smartphone era led by the iPhone 4 affects the direction of mobile phone photography in at least two aspects: on the one hand, the simple and ultra-thin design has become a consensus, and there is no room for the scheme of rudely stacking hardware; Prosperity, the mobile phone has officially become an important social platform, and the one-click solution and convenient operation of snapshot have become the basic needs of consumers for mobile phone photography functions.

In order to meet the new photography needs, mobile phone manufacturers seek improvement solutions from various aspects such as sensors, lenses, processors, etc. that affect the imaging quality of mobile phones, and the era of comprehensive involution is coming:

Lens: A camera can't solve the problem? Then two. In 2011, HTC and LG were the first to launch dual-camera phones. In 2014, Honor and Coolpad joined them. In 2015, ZTE and 360 also launched dual-camera phones. In 2016, Apple launched its first dual-camera model, the iPhone 7 Plus. Still can't solve it? 

In the past two years, mainstream mobile phone camera solutions have transitioned from dual-camera to triple-camera or even multiple cameras. Ultra wide-angle + portrait + telephoto as the core combination. As a result, the new iPhone integrates the "Yuba" on the back, and the Nokia 9 PureView even uses five cameras, plus a flash and another sensor, with as many as seven openings on the back.

The development of telephoto lenses for mobile phones also ushered in a historic moment in 2019. Huawei P30 Pro was equipped with a periscope lens design for the first time, and later included a number of domestic and foreign manufacturers such as Xiaomi, Samsung, Honor, and Vivo. All have launched mobile phones equipped with periscope telephoto lenses.

Sensor: In the era of traditional cameras, the sensor is the second most important field of struggle in addition to pixels. Taking pictures with a mobile phone did not escape this disaster.

Generally speaking, the larger the sensor size, the clearer the photos can be taken in darker environments, and the better the blurring effect. The sensor size of the iPhone 4 released by Apple in 2010 is about 1/3.2 inch, and by 2021, the flagship machines of various brands are basically equipped with a 1-inch outsole sensor chip.

Mobile phone photography has indeed made great progress in purity and blur, but the use of 1-inch sensors on mobile phones has basically hit the ceiling, and manufacturers have begun to stop continuing to pile on sensor size.

Algorithm: The number of mobile phone cameras cannot continue to increase, and the sensor size cannot be increased indefinitely. To improve the camera performance of mobile phones, we need to find other ways. Various manufacturers have turned their attention to software again, hoping to further improve the effect of taking pictures through software algorithms.

Google's Pixel series of mobile phones have a far-reaching influence on the camera algorithm, realizing the lack of hardware through software algorithms. Huawei launched XD Optics computational optics technology, OPPO, Vivo, Xiaomi, and other mainstream manufacturers have also launched their own algorithms, and the era of Computational Photography is still coming.

Joint name: As early as 2016, Huawei began its joint venture with Leica. The Huawei P9 series released that year was equipped with Leica dual cameras. Since then, other domestic manufacturers have also followed suit. Through the process map made by digital blogger DTCHAT, it can be clearly seen that since Vivo and Zeiss launched the X60 series in 2020, almost every year, a manufacturer has begun to cooperate with major camera manufacturers.

In 2021, OnePlus began to cooperate with Hasselblad cameras and launched the OnePlus 9 series. This year, OPPO added Hasselblad filters to the first Find X5 series models. The Xiaomi Mi 12S Ultra, which was launched in July this year, is co-branded with Leica. is a big selling point.

In addition, this year, we also turned our attention to custom ISPs: OPPO launched the OPPO Find X5 Pro with its own Mariana X chip built-in; Vivo launched the Vivo X80 Pro with built-in Vivo v1 + self-developed ISP. Whoever finds a new differentiation first will be the first to get out of the predicament.

Gimmick or black technology?  

Adding the adjective tall and high before professional terms have always been the favorite choice of mobile phone manufacturers when promoting, such as true full screen and super wide-angle. Huawei is also unavoidable this time, a super light-changing camera" Obviously it sounds much more advanced than a variable aperture camera.

Of course, compared to the previous two or three variable apertures of Nokia and Samsung, Huawei not only gave 10 variable gears this time but also for the first time put the complex mechanical structure that only existed in professional cameras into a small In the mobile phone lens, it is indeed an amazing creation.

Moreover, the possible improvements brought by the variable aperture to mobile phone imaging are also clear at a glance: for example, it can achieve a greater depth of field effect, improve the aberration and reduce vignetting to a certain extent, improve the image quality, and control the shutter speed more autonomously. From another point of view, theoretically better image quality also provides the better raw material for mobile phone camera algorithms, making algorithm tuning smarter, which in turn helps improve mobile phone imaging quality.

However, as mentioned above, the improvement of mobile phone picture quality not only depends on the lens but also considers the cooperation of multiple hardware such as sensors and chips. Considering it comprehensively, there is no optimal solution that is both necessary and necessary but requires Real-world issues of reasonable trade-offs. Therefore, the market will inevitably have doubts that "gimmicks are greater than reality", and the final evaluation also depends on the actual effect.

iResearch once revealed in the 2020 China Artificial Intelligence Mobile Phone White Paper that among the factors that Chinese consumers care most about, shooting accounts for nearly 30%, much higher than traditional impressions such as processor, appearance, screen, and fast charging. promotional selling points. From this point of view, in the current situation where it is difficult to see breakthroughs in other hardware levels of mobile phones in the short term, the investment at the camera level seems to be the most cost-effective selling point.

For consumers (whether it is a public demand or a professional demand), every attempt to involute mobile phone camera technology, even if it is not worth paying for it all, does not prevent them from paying attention.

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