Robert Triggs / Android Authority
Sony is always on the cutting edge of mobile camera technology, and in a recent report Nikkei Japan Indicates that the company believes its success will match smartphones and even surpasses the capabilities of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras by 2024.
In a recent business briefing, Tersushi Shimizu, president and CEO of Sony Semiconductor Solutions (SSS), noted that “still images [from smartphones] Single-lens reflex cameras will surpass image quality in the next few years. ” Summary The timeline points to 2024 as Sony looks at the smartphone: “Still images are expected to surpass ILC [interchangeable lens camera] Image quality. “
These are slightly different ways of saying the same thing: phones will surpass DSLR and mirrorless camera image quality in the next two to three years. Of course, there are different types of mirrorless cameras with a range of budgets to match the capacity and price. Losing cheap models is not as difficult as surpassing the premium level. So is it just Sony marketing fluff or is this claim true?
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Mobile cameras continue to improve
Eric Zeman / Android Authority
Sony has mentioned several key elements to add confidence to its claim. First, the mobile image sensor is expected to arrive in the next two years and surpass one inch in potential size. It’s worth noting that the Sony Xperia Pro I already boasts a 1-inch 20MP primary image sensor. However, due to the limited distance between the lens and the sensor, Sony’s Ultra-Premium camera uses 12MP of sensor surface, roughly equivalent to a 1 / 1.3-inch sensor which is quite common in other flagship smartphones. This is a problem that Sony doesn’t directly address, and the limitations of the smartphone form factor will probably put a lid on how big the mobile sensor can be.
Sony sees new sensors, AI, and high-speed readouts as the key to surpassing DSLR cameras.
That said, Sony has deeply highlighted the potential for success of its new two-tier CMOS sensor. This new setup separates the manufacturing process for photodiode and transistor layers, optimizing each more efficiently. The previous design has both components in the same wafer. Sony says the new structure fills each pixel with twice as much light, greatly increasing the dynamic range and reducing noise in low light compared to conventional back-illuminated image sensors.
Even if the sensors on the smartphone may not be large enough to compete with the APS-C camera, the smaller sensors will be able to capture much more light in the near future, closing the gap. It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post.
Third, the increase in Sony AI processing capabilities notes that, when paired with advanced hardware, pushes the boundaries of multi-frame HDR, long-range zoom, and high-quality video recording. It is undeniable that computational photography already helps smartphone cameras punch well above their station. Just look at Google’s $ 599 Pixel 6, for example, as well as the broader trend of integrating traditional image signal processing with machine learning silicon, both on-chip and in-device. Smartphone processing capabilities have already surpassed DSLR cameras and are likely to be accelerated.
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In addition to the presentation, Sony is debuting the mobile industry’s first variable focal length camera, the Xperia 1 IV. Up to 85-125mm with a single lens, the periscope camera provides a DSLR zoom-lens-like experience in a mobile form factor. If it is possible to extend the range of focal lengths, this technology can negate some of the problems arising from the use of multiple image sensors, from cost and space, to inconsistencies in image and lens quality. Perhaps one day, phones will completely remove multiple cameras.
Smartphone processing capabilities have already surpassed DSLR cameras and are likely to be accelerated.
Combined with 8K high-speed readout, advanced depth information and software blur and post-processing lighting adjustments, Sony is betting that in just two years it will be more difficult to tell the difference between professional and smartphone photography.
Smartphones surpass DSLR cameras, really?
Robert Triggs / Android Authority
There is no doubt that smartphones still have some way to go before they reach the limit of the form factor, but it is less clear how far they can go and how fast. Annual improvements have slowed in many cases, making it increasingly difficult for each generation to make increasing picture quality. But it’s also a testament to how well smartphone photography has evolved in recent years. In good light and increasingly low light, it is often difficult to find fault with high-end smartphone cameras.
However, as we mentioned, it is difficult to fit large image sensors in the phone without significantly increasing the camera bump and / or the thickness of the phone. This is one of the reasons for the existence of periscope cameras, increasing the distance between the lens and the sensor for long focal lengths without a heavy phone. The trade-off is the required space, also the sensor must be small to fit the body at 90 degrees and therefore capture less light. Even when it comes to better sensors, how much space can phones leave in the camera array compared to batteries, haptics, speakers and other components?
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Although we are moving closer to the 1-inch primary sensor, the comparison between the ultraviolet and telephoto sensors is still small (usually still 1/2 ″ or below). It is doubtful that we will soon see a camera array with three large, high-quality sensors, but we have seen models with two large sensors push. Phones can be stuck with their primary, ultraviolet and zoom lenses, especially in low light and HDR environments with different levels of image quality. Something not to worry about for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras (lens quality is a factor).
Physics places a limit on the size and quality of mobile image sensors and lenses.
The other half of the smartphone camera’s “quality” problem is the lens and aperture. With the exception of a few switchable aperture phones, handset cameras stick with fixed apertures and are therefore limited by ISO noise and shutter speeds to balance their exposure. While this is true in some cases, it is a problem for advanced photographers who demand complete control. Especially for portrait and macro shots that claim wide aperture for soft bokeh.
High-quality but tiny lens material that is free from distortion and still provides a wide aperture is very complex and expensive to build. While smartphones boast of seemingly wide aperture and focal length equivalent to the popular full-frame camera lens, every photographer’s desire to create distortion-free edges and creamy bokeh is far from the real deal. See below examples of fairly equivalent mirrorless shots of the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra with 22mm primary and 70mm telephoto vs. 25mm and 80mm lenses.
Although the images from the 22mm lens are near-ish, it is worth noting that the mirrorless is working with a smaller f / 3.5 aperture versus the S22 Ultra f / 1.9, yet it still achieves low noise and rich bokeh. Why? This is because the Ultra sensor is close to the lens and depends on the crop to create an equivalent focal length at the expense of field depth. In other words, the S22 Ultra and other phones rely on close factors to create bokeh instead of aperture and focal length. Telephoto comparisons highlight this more clearly. The Ultra achieves much shallow depth of mirrorless field, despite closely matching the f / 2.4 aperture lens and focal length.
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Despite the claims of similar aperture and focal length, smartphones rely on crops to retrieve numbers, which means you can’t get field depth like ASP-C or full-frame cameras. You will achieve a similar bokeh with a DSLR lens aperture near f / 5 for 2mm primary and f / 12 for 70mm telephoto. This is not what you want for portrait photography, so the reliance of the phone on software portrait mode and artificial blur.
There are still pictures that you can’t capture with just the best smartphones.
However, even the best portrait mode software Blur can’t create this natural bokeh look. Of course, this gap could close in the next two years, but with algorithms many of the basics of smartphone photography need to be improved.
Robert Triggs / Android Authority
The best smartphones have already overtaken the point-and-shoot camera and of course the DSLR / mirrorless camera has reached the bottom of the market. Advances in sensor hardware and variable zoom lenses are closing the hardware gap, while AI processing power, portrait photography enhancements, and auto HDR techniques have already often surpassed what you’ll find in many DSLRs.
Sony’s expectation that smartphones will surpass the image quality of interchangeable lens cameras in 2024 may come true despite many warnings. This is certainly possible in the technical sense of sound and light capture, but less obvious cuts in terms of flexibility and artistic quality. Nonetheless, we’ve already seen the direction of the industry, with larger sensors, better lenses, and concepts such as software bokeh and portrait lighting that allow users to quickly share competitive photographs in a wide range of situations. More so with increasingly common RAW editing tools. And there is only one way, especially where AI and video are related.
Phones are closing the gap with improved light capture, HDR and AI processing, but DSLRs are likely to be more artistically versatile.
That said, the capabilities of ultraviolet and zoom cameras are less consistent today, and these extremes are hard to compensate for with good software. It can take years for smartphones to become as versatile as a standard mirrorless camera setup. Not to mention overcoming the limitations of form factor with specific aperture, limited field depth, and multiple image sensors.
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Adventurous and professional photographers will certainly not underestimate their professional-grade equipment for phone cameras in the next few years. There are still images that you can’t easily capture with smartphone hardware, even though that gap is shrinking every year.
Will smartphones surpass mirrorless cameras by 2024?