They’re not what you expect
More and more upcoming phones nowadays are set to come with main rear cameras with high megapixel counts. Honor’s View 20 (or V20, whatever you want to call it) kicked things off this year, followed by Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 7. Upcoming smartphones like vivo’s V15 Pro and OPPO’s F11 Pro will have 32-megapixel cameras as well. At this point we should all expect high-resolution photos in our Facebook feed, right?
Well, not exactly. While these phones will come packing high-resolution cameras, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get a photo that’s higher than 12-megapixels.
Why go with hi-resolution cameras then? Hasn’t experience thought us that it’s not the megapixel count that matters in a phone, but the size and light-gathering capability of a camera’s sensor that matters?
That was the case previously, as companies scaled back to 12-megapixel sensors after previously dabbling with rear cameras that had 21-megapixels (and more). Common knowledge dictated that more megapixels don’t necessarily translate to better photos, as having more megapixels means smaller individual photosites that represent a pixel, which results in less light captured.
Well, advancements in sensor tech have allowed companies like Sony to pack a whole bunch of ultra-compact pixels inside a sensor that’s 1/2″ in size like the IMX586 that powers the View 20. Sony found a way to put a bunch of these ultra-compact pixels (measuring at just 0.8 ?m) without sacrificing light collection quality by using a Quad Bayer filter array. Basically 2×2 adjecent pixels come in the same color, which is combined with the signals from the four adjacent pixels, raising the sensitivity to a level equivalent to that of 1.6 ?m pixels.
This is similar to the technique used Huawei on their P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro flagships, which both have 40-megapixel cameras.
And similarly to the Huawei’s phones, devices equipped with Sony’s IMX586 sensor (or in the case of the Redmi Note 7, Samsung’s ISOCELL GM1) output images in 12-megapixels, not 48. That’s because the raw data captured by the 48-megapixel needs to be processed via pixel binning to produce a 12-megapixel image. While it is possible to take 48-megapixel photos on pro mode (at least on the Redmi Note 7), the image would look worse than the processed, 12-megapixel image.
The key takeaway? Expect more smartphones to come with high-resolution cameras, but don’t expect to take 48-megapixel images, at least ones that you can proudly share in social media.