Cameras have become one of the major selling points for modern-day smartphones. As a result, brands are always trying to cram in as many megapixels as possible to lure consumers and photography enthusiasts. Over the past year, we’ve come across phones having 48MP and 64MP cameras. And now, the limelight is on 108MP sensors, seen on phones like Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, Mi 10, and the freshly-unveiled Motorola Edge+.
So, what’s the reality behind the 108MP smartphone cameras, and what are their advantages and disadvantages? Let’s have a quick look at the same below. Read on.
The Truth of 108MP Smartphones Cameras
What does 108MP mean?
You may already know that a camera consists of a sensor that captures light to create photos. These sensors are divided into millions of pixels to capture light individually, making up for each megapixel.
So, just like a 12MP camera has 12 million pixels, a 108MP camera’s sensor boasts a whopping 108 million pixels onboard.
The 108-megapixel camera’s larger pixel count allows it to capture more information, compared to 64MP, 48MP, and traditional 12MP cameras. Hence, you get a more detailed image that can be zoomed in digitally or printed on a larger scale without becoming blurry or grainy.
Use of Pixel Binning Technology
Now, cramming in more pixels into a camera sensor means the pixels get smaller. And that’s primarily because of limited space for the camera module inside a smartphone’s body, especially when you already have about nine times more pixels than a regular camera.
Since each pixel is required to capture light information, the smaller size results in lesser clarity and more color noise in dimly-lit conditions. To tackle this issue, smartphone companies deploy special pixel binning techniques. The main idea behind binning is to combine data from neighboring pixels into one, to enhance the overall image quality.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra’s primary camera has 108-megapixels laid out in a 1/1.3-inch sensor, with each pixel having a size of 0.8µm. The Nonacell pixel binning used here combines 9 pixels to 1 make a super-pixel with a resulting size of 2.4µm. The final picture bears lower 12-megapixel resolution but looks better in reality. In the image given above, you can clearly see the better dynamic range in the binned image.
Similarly, the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 uses Tetracell technology in its 108MP camera to combine four pixels into one, yielding 27MP images with a resultant pixel size of 1.6μm. The 4-into-1 binning technique is present on almost all 48-megapixel and 64-megapixel camera smartphones.
Pixel Binning helps the camera compensate for smaller pixel sizes, especially in low-light. As a result, it gets to deliver brighter and clearer pictures with better clarity, dynamic range, and lesser noise. Though the overall resolution may be compromised, that you won’t mind giving up for the smaller image size.
Advantages & Disadvantages of having a 108MP Camera
The high-resolution 108MP cameras come with certain positives and negatives. To start with, they let you capture amazing shots in daylight with high levels of details that won’t pixelate on zooming in. And then comes low-light photography, where the software processing has to compensate for smaller pixel size through pixel binning.
Note that the high-resolution images often result in slow-processing times and extensively large files. For example, an average 12MP picture would measure about 2-5MB. At the same time, the image clicked at 108MP resolution will give you an approximate size of 20-30MB. That’s why most smartphones with a high megapixel count employ pixel-binning by default to capture lower resolution images.
That’s not it—the huge sensor size, coupled with a fixed wide aperture, results in a narrower plane of focus. You get a limited area to focus during close-ups, resulting in premature isolation of objects from the background. It may look good in some instances while bad in others, and this can’t be rectified using pixel binning. The use of variable aperture in future phones should mitigate such limitations, though.
Is it a Gimmick?
108MP cameras aren’t pure gimmicks, counting in the fantastic performance of Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. But it’s important to note that more megapixels don’t necessarily mean better colors, better dynamic range, or better low-light performance. For instance, a Pixel 4 or an iPhone 11 Pro would still be my choice for everyday camera use except for when I want insane zoom or super-high-resolution images.
Moreover, most flagship smartphones these days come equipped with telephoto lenses for optical zoom. This rectifies the need for a high-resolution sensor in many scenarios except for when you want to zoom after taking a picture. The Huawei P40 Pro would be an ideal example as the company went with a 50MP sensor, which has by far larger pixels than its 108MP competition.
In the end, having more megapixel on offer is indeed useful for attaining extensively high levels of detail. But then again, factors like image processing, sensor size, pixel size, aperture, and more are equally important in deciding image quality. You might’ve seen phones with 12MP outperforming the ones with 48MP cameras, haven’t you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.