Hi everyone, it’s me, Arjun Sankar, again with another number game. This time it’s the turn of pixels. Don’t mistake it with the tech giant Google’s Pixel series of products, it’s not that pixels but the real pixels behind a digital picture. For a long time, smartphone makers have been in a race to prove that their camera is better than the other based on the pixel count. Few years back, MegaPixel count was just growing from VGA resolution. But we’re now at a stage where even the low-end smartphones phones are putting more megapixels than they need, so it’s getting harder to choose the right one.
How can we reckon which smartphone has the best camera? Well it’s not the megapixels that count now, there are several other important things to look for in a camera than the pixel count. Can we dig in? Let’s go.
Does Pixel Count Matter?
Let’s begin with what a pixel is. A pixel usually means a picture element. Simply, a dot. The term megapixel actually counts 1,000,000 pixels. So an 8 megapixel camera captures images which consist of 8,000,000 tiny little dots. A larger number of dots (pixels) in an image mean that the image has more definition and clarity, aka a higher resolution.
This may lead us, i.e. common people, to think that a camera with higher pixel count will take better pictures than a camera with fewer ones. But is that the case always? Nope, nopey nope.
We’re in an era where almost all smartphone cameras have 2 digit megapixels. For example, a 1080p HD TV has a resolution of 2.1 megapixels, and even the high-end 4K displays only have 8.3 megapixels. We all know that even an 8k smartphone camera has a 13 megapixel rating these days, and your photos will be in a higher resolution than most TV screens or PC monitors can even display.
That is, you won’t be able to see any difference in resolution between pictures taken by two different smartphone cameras, because most screens on which you are going to view it, aren’t capable of displaying that many megapixels.
So, if it’s not the pixel count, what really counts?
Gone are the days where you rate a smartphone camera only based on the pixel count. The newest member to consider your phone’s camera strength is the pixel size. You’ll see this specification in a phone’s specs page listed as a micron value, which is a number followed by the symbol “µm“. Higher the micron value, clearer the picture is. i.e. A phone with a 1.4µm pixel size will almost always capture better pictures than one with a 1.0µm pixel size. Physics says that. So there need not be much doubt on that.
If you zoom your pictures taken by your smartphone camera, you could see the pixels distinguished, right? Those tiny little dots was captured by microscopic light sensors inside your smartphone’s camera.
These light sensors are also referred to as “pixels”. Each of them captures each pixel which is worth of light. So if you have a 12-megapixel camera, the actual camera sensor has twelve million of these light-sensing pixels.
Photons and Photos
Now there comes another partner for pixels. It’s called the photon. Each of these pixels identifies light particles called photons which help to determine the color and brightness of the corresponding pixel in your finished photo. When a bright blue photon hits one of your camera’s light sensors, it tells your phone to make a dot with bright blue coloring. So as we saw above, if there are twelve million of these dots together in their various brightness and colors, then you’ll end up with a finished picture.
But according to Physics, as mentioned above, these photons aren’t exactly predictable, and they can bounce around here and there. For example, if a red photon hit one of your light-sensing pixels in a blue one, you can see a random red dot in a playground of blue pixels if you zoom in.
To correct for this, the light-sensing pixels identifies more than one photon, then your software inside your camera works in between to determine the right shade and brightness for each pixel in the finished photo.
Now you can see why bigger light-sensing pixels would be helpful. If the actual surface area of a pixel is larger, it captures more photons. If it can capture more photons, the software will have a bigger sample size to work with when working color for each pixel, which will make sure that more accurate color and brightness for each of the tiny dots that build up your finished photo.
This is why nowadays most smartphones have stuck with a considerable megapixel count. By sticking with a reasonable resolution like 12-megapixels, they can ensure that each light-sensing pixel inside the smartphone camera is as huge as possible which in turn reduces noise and grain in all of your pictures.
The next thing to look for is the camera’s aperture, which is represented as f divided by a number (f/2.0, for example).
To help you understand aperture, let’s go back to pixel size which we have mentioned above. If larger pixels means your camera can collect more light particles to create more accurate photos, then imagine pixels as a vessel, and photons as water. The bigger the opening of the vessel (pixel), the more water (photons) you can collect, right?
So aperture is like a funnel for that vessel. The bottom of this fictitious funnel has the same diameter as the pixel vessel, but the top is wider — which means you can collect even more photons. In this regard, a wider aperture gives the photon vessel a wider opening, so it focuses more light onto your camera’s light-sensing pixels.
The main advantage to a wider aperture is that your camera will be able to take better pictures in low-light conditions. When there’s less amount of light, the light-sensing pixels have fewer photons to work with, so a wider aperture helps to take better pictures by allowing more light to enter into it.
One more thing, we’ve seen above that the f is divided by a number, right? So smaller number means a wider aperture, which means if you are looking for a smartphone with a better camera, you should go for a camera with a f/2.2 aperture rating or lower, especially if you are taking pictures at night or indoor conditions.
So, that’s it guys, I guess I was able to give you a rough idea about pixels, pixel count, pixel size and aperture. Now it’s your turn to choose your best smartphone camera. Next article will be on the best smartphone camera right now, stay tuned!