Smartphones are getting more and more cameras, they are shooting better and better, and they are taking bread not only from amateur compacts, but also aiming at the sphere of professional photographic equipment. It is no longer rare to shoot weddings on the iPhone or compare top camera phones with professional cameras. Against the backdrop of the announcement of a smartphone with a 108 megapixel sensor, it’s time to talk about what it’s good to shoot with a phone, and in what cases you can’t do without a camera.

When size matters
Everything that will be discussed further is somehow connected with the size – with the size of the matrix, the size of an individual pixel on it and their number, with the size of the lens and with the size of the final image.

Let’s start with a simplified diagram of how a digital camera works.

The image is projected onto a photosensitive matrix using a lens, the information from the matrix is ​​processed by the camera’s processor and stored on a memory card.

Lenses
It depends on the lens and its characteristics with what quality and on what scale a projection of what was in front of the lens at the time of shooting is formed on the matrix.

On the left is an 80x 16-megapixel superzoom with a total weight of about 1 kg, and on the right is a 107x lens for broadcasting in 4K (8 MP), which produces an impeccable picture in any conditions and is quite light at the same time: its weight is slightly less than 27 kg.

Some lenses do not know how to change the focal length (the degree of approximation or zoom) and the photographer has to change them or carry two or even three cameras. Remember the photographers at a wedding or a responsible report – they are always hung with photographic equipment. On the other hand, such prime lenses have better characteristics compared to zoom lenses, which justify their use.

The fact that high-quality optics cannot be small can also be judged by external lenses for smartphones – they are in the photo above. On the other hand, there is a pattern – the smaller the camera matrix, the smaller the lens to it, and vice versa.

Looking at how the lenses of mobile cameras protrude more and more, it becomes clear that manufacturers are becoming very crowded in narrow smartphone cases.

However, external optics for smartphones is not so much a lens as an additional attachment, because the lens itself in a smartphone remains non-replaceable and this is one of the reasons for the appearance of additional cameras in smartphones – a separate camera for different shooting modes. Cameras, on the other hand, manage with interchangeable lenses: with a fixed focal length (lenses without zoom, as a rule, with a large aperture, are used to shoot in poor lighting and strong background blur, such as when shooting a portrait), and zoom lenses, which allow you to zoom in on the subject. an object.

Many smartphones already have zoom lenses, but in terms of their properties, they still do not reach the interchangeable optics of cameras. As compensation, smartphones can offer digital zoom (digital zoom), but this greatly degrades the quality of the resulting picture.

An example of optical and digital 5x and 10x zoom.

The matrix
The second component is the matrix, more precisely, its physical size and how many light-sensitive elements it has – those same megapixels.

4/3 format camera matrix and medium format camera matrix.

For example, the cover of a glossy magazine is printed from 8 megapixels, and a spread, taking into account the frame format, from 17-18 megapixels.

How are all the “extra” megapixels from your camera used – ideally, when your lens is able to resolve all the available megapixels of your camera, you can print in a much larger format than a regular magazine cover, cut out a part of the picture (crop) , if you were unable to compose the frame correctly when shooting, and not lose quality when printing. Otherwise, they will simply settle like a dead weight in the memory of your camera, smartphone or computer.

When comparing the sizes of camera matrices, an indicator is used – crop factor or simply crop, showing how many times the size of the matrix is ​​​​smaller than the size of a standard film frame 24 x 36 mm (Full-Frame or full frame).

Comparative sizes of some matrices and corresponding photographic equipment.

It would seem that create small multi-pixel matrices and lenses corresponding to them in size and enjoy high-quality and miniature camera models. But two big physical problems got in the way: small photosensitive elements are too noisy at high ISOs (poor image quality in low light) and are highly susceptible to diffraction, which does not allow obtaining a sufficiently detailed picture on matrices with small individual photosensitive elements.

Examples and comparisons
Let’s just see how different smartphones cope with the detailing of their sensors.

Xiaomi Mi Note 10 pro, top right general view the rest is 100% crop

All image artifacts are even more noticeable when there are people in the frame.

Xiaomi Mi Note 10 pro, top left general view the rest is 100% crop

And a comparison test:

On the left is a general plan and 100% crop of the frame from the 12 MP camera of the Apple iPhone 11 ProMax, on the right the same 100% from 27 MP (Xiaomi Mi Note 10 pro shoots with this resolution by default). In the center, the same 27 megapixels are reduced to the size of the frame from the iPhone and the number loses here – the picture from the camera that effectively uses 12 megapixels looks better.

For example, a 100% crop from a camera that can effectively use all of its 100 MP:

Hasselblad H6D-100C

And an example of shooting at high ISOs (in low light):

On the left is a piece of a photo taken on the Apple iPhone 11 ProMax at ISO 800, on the right is an example from a full-frame 12 megapixel camera. And with a similar quality, the abyss separates these pictures – the picture on the right was taken at ISO 12,800.

Summarizing what has been said, it can be argued that the more difficult the shooting conditions – lack of light, scenes that require fast shutter speeds or close approximations, such as sports or wildlife photography – and the smaller the matrix of your camera or smartphone, the more difficult it will be for you to get high-quality pictures. And in some cases it will be impossible, because cameras with a larger matrix:

higher image detail;
better color rendition;
such a camera shoots better in low light;
the camera has convenient manual settings;
for most cameras there is a choice of interchangeable lenses;
The camera shoots better on the move.

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