Do you remember televisions from the day when they had tubes? No, not the boob tube itself; not the cathode ray tube that made up the screen, but an array of tubes inside the TV that made it all work.
Think of pre-transistors. Back in the day, televisions were defined by how many tubes they had inside. The more the better. Except that more tubes did not always mean better television quality. More is not always better.
Megahertz And Megapixels
My grandfather had a car with 12 cylinders. It was an early 1940s Lincoln Continental. My father did volunteer fireman duty for a local township that had a Seagrave Fire Truck with a 12 cylinder engine. Thankfully, physics prevented us from having 24 or 36 cylinder vehicles.
Televisions and radios of yesteryear had tubes and more tubes. Transistors changed both industries for the better. Early PCs were considered more powerful based upon how many Megahertz each CPU carried. Megahertz became Gigahertz and now nobody cares anymore. Likewise, digital cameras entered into the megapixel wars where more was better. Apple’s iPhone, which stuck on 8-megapixels for many years, showed that good photos did not always require more pixels.
Apple’s iPhone X has dual cameras on the back; a 12MP wide-angle at f/1.8, and a telephoto with an f/2.4 aperture.
Two cameras are better than one, right? Guess what? Three must be better than two? Word on the streets says future smartphones might have three cameras. Well, what’s better than three?
Nokia– yes, that Nokia, now a smartphone brand owned by a company in China– has joined the more-is-better club and left the less-is-more club and thinks five camera lenses might be the future.
This Nokia phone model is TA-1094, which has appeared in the news. Now that I saw the real machine, I felt very shocked. These include five Zeiss-certified cameras and a flash.
ITHome suggests that the five lenses may be telephoto, black and white, color, blur, and multi-lens pixel synthesis.
How long before Apple drops five lenses into a new iPhone model? Probably not this year. Probably not until after a few competitors have done the same thing. Apple has a problem with some new technologies because of the volume of iPhones sold each year, but more is better, right?
We live in the age of computational photography; an era where software, lenses, and sensors combine to produce near DSLR-like photos and videos from an incredibly small device. Yet, just as with engine cylinders, TV and radio tubes, Megahertz and Megapixels, there is a physical limit to how much space in a smartphone can be allocated to camera lenses.
There likely is a sweet spots somewhere before we hit a dozen camera lenses. What will photos and videos from such multi-lens camera look like? Well, tubes became transistors, and transistors became chips, so look at the difference in an old tube-based television vs. a 4K HDR display at Walmart and you get an idea of where we may be headed.