What makes a good smartphone camera?

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Of course, cell phones were once used mainly for making calls. That has changed radically. For many people, the smartphone is now more of a camera than a telephone.

When it comes to beautiful memories, photos and videos are indispensable and irreplaceable. Countless people use them to express their creativity on Tiktok, Youtube & Co. The source for most of these pictures and films are, of course, smartphones. But which devices are best, or at least particularly well suited, for recording moving and still images?

Are the manufacturers’ flagship models, which often reach prices in excess of 1000 euros, a point of reference? In principle yes, says Andreas Seeger from the mobile phone specialist magazine “Connect”: “You can say that the more expensive a smartphone is, the better the camera equipment is, because this is basically what is most expensive in terms of hardware .”

Does it have to be 1000 euros?

However, buyers can also stack a little lower in price. Andreas Seeger mentions around 500 euros as the price limit for smartphones that take better pictures even in poor light. “In good light, most smartphones actually take good photos, even devices that only cost around 300 euros,” explains the expert. In more difficult situations – in backlight or when it’s dark – the wheat separates from the chaff. “Then you need a device that is a bit more expensive.

From 1000 euros, it is mainly the focal lengths that make the difference, says Seeger. In this price range, smartphones have several lenses: In addition to the normal wide-angle and the ultra-wide-angle, which are actually standard, there is also an optical zoom – with two, three or even five times the magnification.

The light intensity is missing

The quality of the enlargements is limited: “Powerful zooms with a good light intensity do not fit into these flat mobile phones. After all, nobody wants to carry a five-centimetre-thick part with them,” points out Werner Lüttgens from the photography magazine “ColorFoto”.

“Therefore, the solution at the moment is to install many complete cameras with optics and recording sensors,” explains Lüttgens. This is very expensive and increases the price. Basically, the expert welcomes the effort: “The many cameras are good because they offer the possibility to take pictures with different angles.”

Operating the many cameras is then relatively self-explanatory, says Lüttgens: “The camera does a lot on its own.” Otherwise, the various cameras could be selected directly on the display.

Pay attention to optical image stabilization

Which other factors influence the photo quality of smartphones? “A larger image sensor is better because it delivers less noisy images,” says Michael Wolf from Stiftung Warentest. “An optical image stabilizer is also very useful if done well.” Beyond that, however, it is hardly possible to draw conclusions about the image quality solely on the basis of technical characteristics. You just have to test that.

Under no circumstances should you get caught up in pixel madness, warns Wolf. “More pixels in no way mean better picture quality.” On the contrary, it increases image noise when too many pixels are squeezed onto a tiny camera sensor. The smartphone then has to calculate this noise out of the photo with great effort, which can lead to other image errors.

The thing with the sounding names

And can one orient oneself to the well-known names of optics or camera manufacturers, which are often emblazoned on smartphones or lenses? Probably not, says Michael Wolf, dampening expectations: In our tests we have not observed that mobile phone cameras with prestigious names are always the best, he says.

But Werner Lüttgens is certain that these companies make sure that everything with their name on it has a certain quality: “Of course they don’t make these cameras, but they work on the development, certify the processes and they test them the whole thing too.” You can therefore be sure that you will receive a certain quality.