The best camera is the one you have with you when you need it. Big cameras produce the best quality photographs - but who lugs heavy cameras around all day? A camera that can fit in your pocket but still takes great pics is often the best choice.
At one time, one of the main determinants of image quality was the chemical composition of the film and the developing techniques. Even so, the size of the film negative was also crucial as the larger the area of film, the more light that was captured and hence the better the quality of the image. With the emergence of digital photography, chemicals have been replaced by electronic activitybut the size of the sensor has remained very important in securing a quality image. Digital sensors that are approximately the size of old 35mm film are referred to as "full frame" although most digital cameras use smaller sensors.
Large sensors require larger and heavier cameras to hold the sensors as well as larger and heavier lenses to capture all the light they can process. Smaller sensors are used in most digital cameras and in phone cameras in order to fit within a smaller and lighter container. The images from many cameras and phones are quite adequate for personal use and usually look good on a phone or computer screen; however they may not look so good if printed on paper. Fewer people seem to print photographs in current times so that this is less of an issue. Professional photographers and high-level enthusiasts continue to use larger cameras to get the very high quality they are seeking, especially if they hope to have the images published in magazines or printed and framed for sale.
Now new developments are making higher quality images available without the weight and size of larger cameras.
A digital camera is actually a small computer. It does not play computer games or write documents etcetera but it does quite complex processing. The light that hits the sensor triggers movement of electrons though the camera's circuits and the consumer has, almost immediately, a digital image. But there are limits - the camera can only capture and store the information received at the sensor at the instant the photograph is taken.
A recent development has been the incorporation of multiple sensors and lenses in a single device. Each sensor independently captures information but the information from multiple sensors can be combined to produce an image of higher quality than can be obtained from a single sensor. This is part of a larger area of research called computational photography in which computer technology is utilised to maximise the quality of photographic images. The technology does not need to distort an image but simply extracts and utilises all available detail from the multiple sources and merges that into a single higher-quality image. Of course, images can be distorted or modified if the software so directs; for example, users may have options in regard to making colours more vivid or blurring the background or similar actions to achieve desired photographic effects..
One of attributes desired by camera users has been longer zoom lenses so that they can "zoom in" and get better quality close-up images from a distance. Traditionally this has required longer, larger fixed lenses or shorter lens structures that extend when required. With phone cameras, the requirement that the phone be slim enough to fit in a person's pocket has limited manufacturer's ability to add zoom lenses. A technical breakthough by Chinese manufacturers has produced the "periscope lens" which captures light, bends it by, say 90 degrees, in a small prism so much of the lens can fit lengthwise within the phone rather than poke out. This technology is relatively new and needs further refinement but offers the potential of staggering zoom capacity in small cameras.
Is There Still A Place for Large Cameras?
Is there still a place for large cameras? Yes, but that place seems to shrink with each new generation of small cameras, especially cameras in phones. There was a time when professionals scoffed at the whole idea of digital photography and insisted that high quality imagery would be achieved only with film. But film is now very rare and most professional photographers use digital cameras, albeit the large ones with large sensors and large lenses. Nevertheless, while they still use larger cameras in many instances, smaller cameras have become part of the equipment carried by professionals and enthusiasts.
Instances where larger cameras are still superior are sports and nature photography where the subjects are moving. While computational photography has achieved signifcant quality in landscapes and portrait photography, fast-moving subjects are not captured with the quality of a larger camera which can capture enough light for a great image in a very small fraction of a second. In contrast, the current generation of smaller cameras needs to capture light over a slightly longer period of time and the movement that occurs in that time leads to undesirable blurring of the image.
Is There Still A Place for Small Cameras?
Much of what small consumer cameras have been providing can now be obtained in a phone. Phone cameras are smaller and more convenient while delivering comparable photographic quality. And, of course, you can also check emails, browse the internet, play games and make phone calls. It is no wonder that the manufacturers of small cameras are worrying about declining sales of their products. First digital replaced film. Now miniature digital is starting to replace larger digital.
DXOMARK is a website that tests cameras and publishes reviews and ratings. It is based in France and has acquired a status as a respected authority in assessing the quality of cameras and lenses. Smartphones, larger cameras and lenses are rated separately. Visit this website and explore the valuable information it provides.
At the time of writing this article (October 2019), the top 10 phone cameras included seven made in China (four Huawei, one Honor, one OnePlus and one Xiaomi) and three made in South Korea (all three Samsung). Honor is a subsidiary of Huawei so that five of the top ten cameras were made by Huawei. One day, an American, Japanese, Taiwanese or other country's phone may make it back into the top ten but you can see that China and Korea are the world leaders. You can also see why America, once a leader in the field, is scared of Chinese competition, especially Huawei.
The Best Small Camera
According to the DXOMARK ratings, the number one smartphone camera (in October 2019) is the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. Although Huawei has not included a periscope lens in this model, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro appears to have the largest sensor yet seen in a smartphone together with the fastest smartphone computer chips and most advanced camera software. However the United States has tried to dampen enthusiasm for Huawei's advanced products via trade bans. While the Huawei Mate 30 Pro phone can use the generic android open-source software, it cannot access Google-specific features, such as Google Play Store, found on most android phones. Although Huawei offers alternative software sources, some users may find themselves unable to access favourite apps. However, if you are happy with your current phone but want a better camera, then perhaps you might like the best camera. It's so good it's worth buying just for the camera. Unless you happen to reside in a tyrannical country which does not permit you to buy the best camera. Or you can buy one of the other models (including older Huawei models) which do have Google services, if your country will permit you to buy one of those.
- The text on this page is provided under CC0 - public domain dedication.
- The image of an antique camera was obtained from publicdomainvectors.organd there are no restrictions on copying and using the image
- The image titled "Sensor_sizes_overlaid.svg": Moxfyre derivative work: Autopilot CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
- The image of the Huawei P30 Pro smartphone camera by Douglas Bagg on Unsplash
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