For years phone makers have been telling us that the best camera phone is the one with the most pixels, but that’s not necessarily true - things are changing.
From HTC with its UltraPixel cameras to Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P with their relatively small 12.3MP sensors, we’re seeing there’s more to a great camera phone than just megapixels.
Lenses help you take photos in perfect focus by controlling the light coming into the camera. Without good lenses, your camera phone will always takes slightly blurry shots.
And if you want to zoom in on subjects without losing image quality, your camera’s lenses need to be able to move apart or together. Normally this is a problem because phones have fixed lenses to save space but Samsung’s Galaxy K Zoom has a 10x optical zoom lens, letting you zoom like you would on a regular camera.
Image stabilisation helps you take clear photos without a tripod. Lenses are great for focusing light perfectly but they need to be held steady for a really clear photo.
Optical image stabilisation (OIS) is perfect if you have shaky hands. The OIS in the HTC One A9 sits the camera on tiny suspension that helps steady your shots.
Other phones, like the Sony Xperia Z5, use less effective digital image stabilisation where software tries to eliminate blur caused by shaky hands.
The camera sensor is the part that actually captures light to create an image. It’s also the part that determines the megapixels count, but we’ll ignore that number for now.
Most phones use what are known as CMOS sensors as they’re compact. But in a CMOS sensor, there’s a lot of stuff that gets in the way of the light, so they’re not the most efficient sensors around.
That’s why Samsung has created something called ISOCELL, which can be found in the Galaxy S5. ISOCELL takes a CMOS sensor and moves a lot of components to the back of the sensor, letting it capture more light at the front for better photos.
Next year, we might even see new Quantum Dot sensors in our phones. These ultra-advanced camera sensors capture photos in a similar way to old-fashioned film, which means they waste almost no light.
Pixels are the tiny dots on the camera sensor that register light. The more you have, the sharper your photo will be. But as there’s not much space in a phone, the more pixels you have, the smaller they are and the less light they let in.
Bigger pixels let in more light, so your pictures will show better, brighter colours and more detail but if you don’t have enough pixels, you’ll be able to see each dot.
That means it doesn’t just come down to how many megapixels your camera phone has anymore. The size of the pixels is really important too.
The last part of the great camera phone puzzle is the image processor. It takes all the information the camera sensor has collected and turns it into a digital image.
A good image processor makes the biggest difference in low light. That’s because there’s less information for the camera to collect, so you need a more powerful image processor to make sense of it all.
The image processor in the Sony Xperia Z5 is particularly good in dim conditions because it’s been taken straight from Sony’s professional cameras.
So now you know what to look out for in your next camera phone, take a look at which smartphones we think are contenders for the title of Best Camera Phone.