Oneupmanship is a game that competitors play, especially in the technology arena. Whatever a market leader does, some competitor down the line will do the same thing; only better. Or cheaper. Or with more of it for less money.
The latest trend among smartphone makers appears to be multiple cameras. The laws of physics being what they are prevent tiny smartphones from capturing the same amount of light as DSLRs, so makers have started adding more cameras. More? What rhymes with more?
Apple’s top of the line iPhone X models have three cameras. One selfie camera on the front. And dual cameras on the back– one wide-angle, and one telephoto. If that combination means truly better photos and movies, then what about a smartphone with four cameras? That’s the Samsung Galaxy A9. Rhymes with canine. The jury is out and hasn’t entered a verdict on whether four cameras are better than two or three, but it may not matter. Most mid-range and premium smartphones produce excellent photos.
At the other end of the scale is Google, the uncrowned king of computational photography, and hardware maker wannabe. Computational photography? That’s where software is used to improve the picture beyond what happens with lens and sensor. Google is good at it. The new Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL have only one camera on the backside and Google thinks one is enough.
Maybe so, maybe not. The Pixel 3 line does not handle video as well as iPhone Xs and Xs Max, and most people would be hard pressed to see a difference in any decent photo from an iPhone vs. Galaxy vs. Pixel vs. other manufacturers with more than one camera in their smartphone.
Does that mean the next iPhone will have three cameras? Or, four? Or, will Apple’s own version of computational photography in future iPhones make a leap so far forward that a wide-angle and a telephoto are all the lenses needed?
In the end, it doesn’t matter. The laws of physics still dictate how much light can be passed through a tiny lens onto a tiny sensor, and while computational photography will improve we have already witnessed the point of diminishing returns. How so? All the major smartphone makers have cameras that compete– to the less experienced eye of less experienced camera owners– with photos produced by entry-level to mid-range DLSs and mirrorless cameras.
In other words, they all look good these days. Maybe Apple will add more cameras to future iPhones. Maybe not. That seems like too much hardware to go in too little a space.