New phones have amazing cameras
If you’ve ever seen me on a Zoom call or watching TV from my home office, you may have noticed that my backdrop features a shelf full of old cameras, ranging from the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye that I had a Sony RX-100 that I paid $1,000 for a few years ago.
This Sony is an awesome camera and unlike those big DSRL (single lens digital slr) cameras it fits in my pocket so it’s easy to carry around. For years, I tried to remember to take it with me or a small, previous-generation digital camera for important events and trips. I’ve always worn it at trade shows to take product photos. But, for the past few years, this camera has been sitting on that shelf because even though it’s too big to put in my pocket, now that modern smartphones have such great cameras.
Before we continue, there is still a market for high-end digital cameras among professional and serious amateur photographers. High-end digital cameras have better lenses, the ability to handle a large and excellent zoom, and larger sensors that let in more light. They’re also easier to aim at your subject, especially if they have a viewfinder you can hold up to your eye and there’s something about the feel of a good DSLR that just makes them more satisfying to use.
Charlie Kaye, a New York-based professional photographer (charliekayphoto.myportfolio.com) and retired CBS News executive producer, uses high-end cameras and lenses in his work due to the larger sensors, lenses of better quality and “differences like the ability to take pictures in raw format”, allowing you to fine-tune your image in a photo-editing program as well as the ability to manually control many camera functions. It has said high-end cameras are essential if you’re doing big prints, but agrees that modern smartphones are more than adequate for typical snapshots, including family events or anything you plan to post on social media.
And even Kaye occasionally uses her cell phone camera because it’s always close at hand. As the saying goes, “the best camera is the one you have with you”.
I rarely print photos these days – most of mine are for social media or emailing or texting friends and family – but even reasonably sized prints of photos I take with my phone are quite beautiful.
Many phones have good cameras
Apple, Samsung, and Google are among the smartphone makers that brag about their cameras. If you’ve watched the phone announcements this fall, a lot of the time has been spent on the virtues of their cameras.
iPhone 14 Pro
I’m very impressed with the photo quality I was able to get from my iPhone 13, but with their new iPhone 14 and 14 Plus Apple has upped the ante, especially the 14 Pro which adds a physically larger 48 megapixel sensor that gives you more detail and better compensates for low light. There’s also Apple’s new “Photonic Engine” image processing technology, which Apple says will “significantly improve low-light photos.”
I’m no expert on the fine details of digital photography, but CNET’s Lexy Savvides, who wrote an article titled “iPhone 14 Pro vs. 13 Pro: 4 Important Ways Cameras Are Different”, discovered that ‘with the photonic engine, “combined with the larger sensor, I can see the difference compared to the iPhone 13 Pro in all the photos I took at dusk.”
There are plenty of other details for those who care about the intricacies of smartphone cameras, but – as you’d expect – the new iPhone takes better photos than the old model, but from what I’ve seen, the differences are relatively subtle and maybe not even noticeable in the majority of photos you’re likely to take with your phone.
New Google Pixel 7 Pro
The same can be said with Google’s new Pixel 7 Pro which I’ve been testing for a week.
Google says its Tensor G2’s advanced image processors “and Google’s cutting-edge computational photography…can instantly merge images to make features like Super Res Zoom even better.” The most obvious difference between the Pixel 7 Pro and its predecessor is that the new Pixel has 5x optical zoom and the ability to take wider-angle shots at 0.5 zoom, which means that it zooms out to give you a wider shot.
If you check this column online, (bayareane.ws/3DRHJiC), you can see a photo I took with the 5X optical zoom. You will notice that there are no license plates on the cars in the photo because I used Pixel’s Magic Eraser feature to erase them without erasing the paint behind the license plates. This can be done with photo editing software, but it’s extremely easy to do right on the phone.
Cheaper phones also have good cameras
I wrote on two high-end phones. The iPhone 14 Pro starts at $1,000 and the Pixel 7 Pro at $900, though AT&T and Verizon have very generous trade-in options that could bring the price down to $800. But if you’re looking for a new phone, chances are you’ll go for a cheaper phone that might not have the latest and greatest features, or maybe you you stick to any phone. I have already. Do not despair. I’ve tested phones at nearly every price point and have phones that are several years old that still take great photos. To prove it to myself, I rummaged through a drawer and grabbed a five-year-old iPhone 8 and a 4-year-old Pixel 3 XL and snapped some pictures. On close examination, they weren’t quite as good as you can get from two high-end phones I’ve covered in this column, but, as the snapshots went, they were still impressive. Unless you’re shooting in low light, planning to enlarge your photo, or want some of the special features of newer phone models, you’ll be hard-pressed to notice the differences.
Larry Magid is a technology journalist and internet safety activist.