Sony predicts phones to soon overtake DSLR cameras — is that really likely?


Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Sony has always been at the forefront of mobile camera technology, with recent reports Nikkei Japan has shown that it believes that the company’s breakthroughs will bring smartphones together and overtake the capabilities of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras in 2024.

At a recent business briefing, Terushi Shimizu, President and CEO of Sony Semiconductor Solutions (SSS), said: [from smartphones] It will exceed the image quality of SLR cameras within the next few years. A slide from the same briefing point to 2024 as Sony sees smartphones as “still images are expected to exceed the ILC” [interchangeable lens camera] image quality. “

Saying the same thing is a little different. Phones will outperform digital SLR and mirrorless cameras in the next few years. Of course, there are a wide variety of mirrorless cameras with features and prices to suit different budgets. Defeating cheaper models is not as difficult as overtaking premium tiers. So is this just Sony’s marketing fluff, or is this claim true?

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Mobile cameras continue to improve

Sony Xperia Pro I camera profile from right

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

There are some important elements that Sony has quoted to give confidence to that claim. First, mobile image sensors are expected to reach and exceed 1 inch in size over the next two years. The Sony Xperia Pro I already boasts a 1-inch 20MP primary image sensor. However, due to the distance limitation between the lens and the sensor, Sony’s Ultra Premium cameras use only 12MP on the surface of the sensor. This is equivalent to the approximately 1 / 1.3 inch sensor that is very common on other flagship smartphones. This is an issue that Sony has not addressed directly and may reveal how large the mobile sensor will be due to smartphone form factor limitations.

Sony sees new sensors, AI and fast readout as the keys to overtaking DSLR cameras.

That said, Sony has sharply emphasized the potential for breakthroughs in the new dual-layer CMOS sensor. This new setup separates the photodiode and transistor layer manufacturing processes and optimizes each one more effectively. In previous designs, both elements are on the same wafer. Sony states that the new structure saturates each pixel with twice as much light, significantly expanding the dynamic range and reducing noise in dark places compared to traditional back-illuminated image sensors.

Even if the smartphone’s sensor isn’t as big as an APS-C camera, a smaller sensor can capture much more light and fill the gap in the near future. It’s not yet known when this technology will be used in smartphones, but it’s appearing in Sony’s finest mirrorless cameras.

Sony Mobile Imaging Roadmap 2024

Third, Sony is looking at the growth of AI processing capabilities that, when combined with improved hardware, continue to push the boundaries of multi-frame HDR, long-range zoom, and high-quality video recording. It’s undeniable that computational photography has already helped smartphone cameras punch far beyond the station. For example, take a look at Google’s $ 599 Pixel 6 and the widespread trend of combining traditional image signal processing with machine learning silicon both on-chip and in-device. The processing power of smartphones has already surpassed that of digital SLR cameras and may accelerate.

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In addition to the presentation, Sony will also debut the mobile industry’s first variable focal length camera with the Xperia 1 IV. SLR cameras range from 85 to 125 mm and offer a DSLR-like experience with a mobile form factor. If it is possible to extend the focal length range, this technique can negate some of the problems caused by the use of multiple image sensors, from cost and space to image and lens quality discrepancies. increase. Perhaps one day the phone will completely abolish multiple cameras.

The processing power of smartphones has already surpassed that of digital SLR cameras and may accelerate.

Sony believes that when combined with 8K high-speed reading, improved depth information and software blur, and post-processing lighting adjustments, it will be even more difficult to distinguish between professional and smartphone photos in just two years. I am.

A smartphone that surpasses digital SLR cameras, really?

Sony Xperia phone upright next to Nikon DSLR camera

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

There is no doubt that there are still some ways for smartphones to reach their form factor limits, but it’s not clear how far they can go and how fast they can go. Yearly improvements are slowing down in many ways, making it difficult to gradually improve image quality from generation to generation. But it’s a testament to how good smartphone photography is in recent years. With good lighting and increasingly dark places, it is often difficult to break down a high-end smartphone camera.

However, as mentioned earlier, it is difficult to attach a larger image sensor to the phone without significantly increasing the size of the camera bumps and the thickness of the phone. This is one of the reasons why periscope cameras exist, increasing the distance between the lens and the sensor and increasing the focal length without using a bulky phone. The trade-off is the space you need. In addition, the sensor needs to be small enough to fit the body at 90 degrees, allowing it to capture less light. Even with the advent of better sensors, how much space can a phone sacrifice to a camera array, rather than a battery, tactile sensation, speakers, or other components?

reference: Why is the camera bump on your smartphone so big?

It may be closer to the 1-inch primary sensor, but the ultra-wide-angle and telephoto sensors are still smaller (usually less than 1 / 2.5 inches). It’s doubtful that a camera array with three big high-quality sensors will come out in the near future, but I’ve seen models with two big sensors out there. Mobile phones can get stuck with different levels of image quality, including primary lenses, ultra-wide-angle lenses, and zoom lenses, especially in dark places and HDR environments. Don’t worry about DSLRs and mirrorless cameras (lens quality is a factor).

Physics imposes limits on the size and quality of mobile image sensors and lenses.

The other half of the “quality” issues for smartphone cameras are lenses and apertures. With the exception of some switchable aperture phones, the handset camera is stuck with a fixed aperture and is limited by ISO noise and shutter speed to balance the exposure. This is fine in some cases, but it is a problem for advanced photographers who demand full control. Especially for portraits and macro photography that require a wide aperture due to soft bokeh.

High quality yet small lens elements that provide a wide aperture without distortion are very difficult and expensive to build. Smartphones boast the same seemingly wide aperture and focal length as popular full-frame camera lenses, but with the real deal in terms of producing the distortion-free edges and creamy bokeh that every photographer wants. Is far from that. Check out the following examples taken with the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra at 22mm primary and 70mm telephoto, as well as a nearly equivalent mirrorless with 25mm and 80mm lenses.

The photo of the 22mm lens is close, but it’s worth noting that the mirrorless works with a smaller f / 3.5 aperture compared to the S22 Ultra’s f / 1.9, but it’s still less noisy and more blurry. is. why? This is because Ultra’s sensor is close to the lens and relies on the crop to create an equivalent focal length at the expense of depth of field. In other words, the S22 Ultra and other phones rely on nearby subjects for blurring, rather than aperture or focal length. Telephoto comparison emphasizes this more clearly. Mirrorless provides a much shallower depth of field, even though it closely matches the focal length with the Ultra f / 2.4 aperture lens.

reference: These photography tips will help you take your photos to the next level

Despite similar aperture and focal length claims, smartphones rely on crops to mess with numbers. That is, you cannot get the same depth of field as an ASP-C or full-frame camera. A similar bokeh can be achieved with a DSLR lens aperture close to f / 5 for a 2mm primary and f / 12 for a 70mm telephoto lens. The phone relies on the software’s portrait mode and artificial blur, as it’s not what you need for portrait photography.

There are still some pictures that the best smartphones can’t take.

However, even the best portrait mode software blurs can’t make up for this natural bokeh look. Of course, this gap could close in the next two years, but along with the algorithms, many of the basics of smartphone photography need to be improved.


Control flower photography with Samsung Expert RAW manual

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

The best smartphones have already thinned out autofocus cameras, steadily approaching the bottom layers of the DSLR / mirrorless camera market. Advances in sensor hardware and variable zoom lenses have filled the hardware gap, but AI processing power, portrait photography enhancements, and automatic HDR technology have already surpassed those found on many DSLR cameras. I am.

Sony’s prediction that smartphones will exceed the image quality of interchangeable lens cameras in 2024 is likely to be accurate, with many caveats. It’s certainly possible in the technical sense of capturing noise and light, but it’s not so clear in terms of flexibility and artistic quality. Still, the industry’s direction is already known, with ideas such as larger sensors, better lenses, software bokeh and portrait lighting that allow users to quickly share competitive photos in different scenarios. increase. The same is true for the increasingly popular RAW editing tools. And the only way is upwards, especially when AI and video are involved.

Mobile phones are filling the gap with improved optical capture, HDR, and AI processing, but DSLRs could remain more artistic and versatile.

That said, the capabilities of today’s ultra-wide and zoom cameras are inconsistent, making it difficult to supplement these extremes with good software. It can take a couple of years or more for a smartphone to be as versatile as setting up a high-quality mirrorless camera. It goes without saying that the fixed aperture, limited depth of field, and multiple image sensors overcome the limitations of the form factor.

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Adventure-loving and professional photographers will not throw their professional equipment into their cell phone cameras in the coming years. The gap is getting narrower year by year, but there are still photos that cannot be easily captured by smartphone hardware.

Will smartphones surpass mirrorless cameras by 2024?

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