In theory, smartphone cameras have the relatively simple job of taking a picture when you press a button on the phone body or screen.
In reality, there are numerous technical challenges involved in capturing a high-quality image.
As a result, the smartphone market is awash with abbreviations, acronyms and techie terms. RAW files, ISO settings, image stabilisation…the list goes on.
Fortunately, smartphone camera jargon doesn’t have to be a minefield of misunderstandings.
Below, we’ve provided plain-English descriptions for the terms you can expect to encounter when researching a new phone…
Common smartphone camera jargon
Selfie camera. There is a modern vogue for taking self-portraits. Consequently, most smartphones now have front-facing cameras.
Because these are on the same side of the phone as the screen, the taker is able to see what they’re snapping – ensuring a perfect balance of foreground and background every time.
Twin lenses. Some manufacturers include two lenses in the main rear-facing cameras. One specialises in close-ups and the other handles distance shots.
Huawei have introduced a triple camera on high-end handsets. The third lens takes black and white shots which are overlaid onto colour images from the other lenses, for more clarity.
Megapixels. Each digital photograph is made up of pixels, and higher quality photos tend to use more pixels to capture fine details.
A 10MP photograph is made up of 3,872 horizontal pixels in 2,592 rows. In total, these add up to ten million individual pixels – written as 10MP. Higher numbers are generally better.
ISO. ISO is one of the more confusing pieces of smartphone camera jargon. It basically describes how sensitive the camera’s sensor is to light.
A good camera should have a wide range of ISO settings – ideally from around 100 to at least 800. Being able to manually adjust ISO settings helps when taking pictures in low light.
Sensor. We’re straying into the realms of professional photography guides here, but the sensor is the part of a camera responsible for converting light into images.
Any sensors ought to deliver perfectly adequate images, though some smartphone manufacturers sprinkle stardust on their products by using premium brands like Carl Zeiss.
Dual flash. The LED lights built into smartphones (doubling as torches) can be a bit too powerful, sometimes making photos look artificially bright.
A dual flash softens itself to give more natural illumination in dusky or gloomy environments. It’s also worth checking if the front-facing selfie camera has its own flash.
FPS. An acronym of frames per second, this is a measurement of how many individual pictures a camera records in each second of video footage.
Higher fps figures mean smoother footage, especially when it’s slowed down for dramatic effect. Premium smartphones offer a frankly unnecessary (but nice to have) 960fps.
RAW. Most photographs are captured in a format called JPG, which works on any device and is far more space-efficient than bigger BMP or RAW files.
RAW files are easier to modify in photo editing packages like Adobe Photoshop. They need a smartphone with lots of memory, since RAW photos are much bigger than JPGs.
Optical image stabilisation. This is one of those blinded-by-science terms for something that’s actually pretty simple.
It’s hard not to move a smartphone slightly as you press the shutter, breathe in or lean into a breeze. Image stabilisation ensures photos aren’t shaky or blurry as a result of any movement.
Aperture. This is another technical term, recorded as f/number. It determines how wide the lens can open, just like the pupils in your eyes.
You’re looking for the widest range of numbers here. The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus has a minimum aperture of just f/1.5, making it highly suitable for artistic photography.
Wide-angle lens. The human eye has a field of vision of over 100 degrees, giving us a panoramic view. Wide-angle lenses attempt to replicate this.
A normal lens might only allow you to photograph half a room, whereas a wide-angle lens could capture two thirds or three quarters. That’s great for close-ups and landscape images.
Zoom. This is one of the most commonly quoted figures in smartphone camera spec sheets.
The higher the multiplication (8x, 16x, etc), the better a lens will be at zooming in on distant objects without becoming blurry or pixelated.