Today, consumers take for granted having a high-quality camera integrated into their phones.
But it wasn’t always like this.
Millennial phones weren’t particularly smart, and few had any form of image capturing technology.
Even years later, smartphone cameras tended to capture tiny thumbnail images at resolutions like 250 x 88 pixels, creating JPG files just a few kilobytes in size.
So what inspired the breakneck pace of smartphone camera evolution that occurred from the mid-Noughties to the late 2010s?
It might surprise you to learn that the first commercially successful camera phone was made by Sharp – not a company many people associate with phones at all.
Their J-SH04 could capture a paltry 110,000 pixels. And disappointingly from a domestic perspective, it was never marketed outside Japan.
In truth, phone bodies were simply too small to accept the cumbersome hardware needed to take pictures.
However, the diminishing size of hardware components made it increasingly practical to squeeze cameras into slimline devices.
And no phone did this more successfully than the clamshell Motorola Razr V3, launched in 2004 and offering a VGA camera which could even record video clips.
Having said that, video quality was just 0.3MP, and the paltry amount of internal storage made a microSD card an essential purchase.
For many people, Apple’s iPhone introduced the concept of high-quality photography in 2007.
Its 2MP rear camera delivered 1600×1200 images, making this one of the first phones whose pictures looked decent when viewed on a computer monitor.
The last decade was a period of steady but unremarkable smartphone camera evolution.
We’ve seen IP68 smartphones capable of taking images underwater, the relentless rise of the selfie camera (more recently with bokeh background blurring), and panoramic images.
Pixel resolution has climbed to the point where today’s cameras can capture 4K images, and combine pictures from different lenses to deliver remarkably accurate colour representation.
Manufacturers have introduced DSLR technologies like image stabilisation, wide-angle field of vision and user control over ISO/focus/shutter speed settings.
Even the reborn Nokia 3310 has a 2MB camera – heresy to some, yet arguably an essential inclusion on any modern handset.
An open and shutter case?
Despite the undeniably rapid pace of smartphone camera evolution, there are still things today’s handsets struggle to accomplish.
We’ve yet to see a smartphone capable of supporting 10mm wide angle photography without significant distortion at the edges, due to the limitations of their diminutive lenses.
The binary nature of camera flashes is also unsuitable for photographing large internal spaces if the available light isn’t consistently spread. A dedicated flash gun remains far superior.
Red eye reduction technology has hugely improved since 2000, but even the latest smartphone cameras occasionally make pets appear possessed by Satanic forces.
Regardless, smartphone camera evolution means even a mid-priced handset should be capable of capturing images which would have been the preserve of specialist cameras twenty years ago.