There once was a time when we measured computer performance in tests and specifications. More Megahertz was better. More Gigahertz was better. More pixels was better. These days, the only specification that matters is storage.
Yes, with faster internet speeds and cloud storage, even storage won’t matter much in the future. So, let me declare the absolute death of specifications; specifically, smartphone camera specifications. They don’t matter anymore.
F-Stop Me Now
The reality of photography is much the same as videography. The end product– photo or video– is the most important component of the technology we use. For those of us around cameras for a few decades, we’ve gone from SLR cameras to smartphones; from specific lenses for specific requirements, from hardware details to little more than point and shoot and let computational photography figure out what we wanted.
After living with dozens of cameras and nearly that many smartphones over the past 40 years I find it easy to say specifications do not matter anymore. F-Stop? Who cares? Shutter speed? Meh. Sensor pixels? What’s that?
If there’s a specification that seems to be trending among smartphones it’s how many cameras it has. iPhone 11 Pro has three. Some smartphones have four or five. Others, like iPhone 11 and the new Pixel models, stick with two cameras.
For now, the number of cameras in a smartphone matters far more than anything else because the photographs are difficult to distinguish, one from another. No, that’s not to say one smartphone is worse or another captures better photos. That’s still true. The difference is simple. We can see differences in photos but we cannot tell which smartphone shot the photo.
Do we care how many pixels are in the iPhone’s display? Or, the resolution? Or, the PPI (pixels per inch)? Or, the refresh rate? No. Why not? At the premium end, which is where you find higher quality components, those displays all look the same to the naked eye; differences perhaps, but not with an ability to identify the smartphone.
Now, with all that said, I still do not like digital zoom vs. actual zoom with a telephoto lens. Apple straddles the line, of course, and gives you all you need in iPhone 11 Pro– ultra-wide-angle, something called a wide-angle, and a minimal telephoto, but you get the idea. I prefer a real telephoto lens but zooming in on a high-quality image almost negates that requirement.
A year or two ago we bought another Canon DSLR and the photos it took were slightly better than iPhone X. Last year’s iPhone Xs provided much the same photos as the year before. This year’s iPhone 11 Pro came with notable visual improvements to point-and-shoot photos over previous years, and seem to be at least as good a two-year-old mid-range Canon DSLR.
What does it say when you can tuck a smartphone into your pocket that takes photos that appear as good as anyone’s DSLR, and capture videos that are better than broadcast?
It means specifications do not matter anymore.