Smartphone photography jargon-buster

Smartphone photography jargon-buster

The current obsession with Instagram may be unprecedented, but it’s entirely understandable.

The latest generation of smartphones has placed sophisticated photographic equipment in our pockets and handbags, ready to capture that perfect landscape or romantic moment.

And while the proliferation of breakfast photos and tongue-out selfies may be less justifiable, photography has been opened up for mass participation.

Smartphone manufacturers have been quick to respond to this phenomenon, packing each new generation of handsets with ever more sophisticated hardware.

The end result is a baffling array of smartphone jargon – ISO, f-stop, RAW files, and so forth.

Sales assistants and internet product pages baffle customers with airy talk of megapixels and dual lenses, often confusing us more than informing us.

If you’re mystified by smartphone jargon when it comes to photography, these are the terms to be aware of…

Pixels. The headline figure for many cameras is effectively meaningless nowadays, since any modern camera will take photos with a decent number of megapixels.

Don’t be impressed by a camera claiming 30MP or 40MP output – this simply means the files will be larger (and occupy more space in your phone’s memory).

A 12MP photo could be even more impressive than a 40MP shot, depending on which lens it uses.

Dual-camera. This involves two lenses being fitted to the back of a smartphone; one is designed for close-ups, while a zoom lens specialises in distance shots.

Each lens is therefore able to concentrate on doing a single job very well.

The Huawei P20 Pro uses three cameras to take beautiful photos, but this will be overkill for the selfie-and-breakfast-shots market.

Optical image stabilisation. Computing power is used to ensure a shaky hand or windy conditions don’t result in blurry images.

Gyroscopes and algorithms determine what the camera is pointing at, so last-second movement doesn’t result in a loss of detail.

Selfie camera. Smartphones place their primary cameras on the back of their handsets, while a smaller front-facing camera is used for video calls and selfies.

The specifications for this lens are less important than the rear-facing ones, unless most of the images you take involve you and your mates pulling faces at the camera.

Many selfie cameras come with Portrait Mode, which blurs parts of the background to accentuate foreground subjects – i.e. our faces. It’s an effect known as bokeh.

Aperture. This is usually represented as f/number, where the number describes how much light enters the camera through its lens.

A camera aperture is like the pupil in your eye – it widens in low light to improve visibility, across a series of pre-set f-stop settings.

Smaller numbers like f/1.5 are better, since they allow more light in to capture better photos in dusky or internal environments.

Indeed, it’s commonly argued that the aperture settings on a smartphone are even more important than the pixel volume.

RAW. A RAW file is essentially the unprocessed version of the JPG file your phone displays in photo galleries.

RAW files contain a great deal of information typically lost when a photo is processed, making them ideal for post-production.

Higher-end smartphones tend to save RAW files as well as edited JPG images, but don’t expect this level of sophistication from a budget handset.

FPS. An acronym for Frames Per Second, FPS refers to the quality of video footage a camera is able to record.

Most modern cameras record in high definition – 720p or 1080p to match the output resolution of HD televisions, or 4K for ultra-high definition footage.

Higher FPS numbers ensure slow-motion videos will look impressive – for instance, Samsung’s Galaxy S9 records at 960fps for crystal-clear slo-mos.

ISO. Referred to as film speed in the days of traditional film cameras, ISO affects the exposure of a photograph.

Lower ISO numbers deliver cleaner images with less pixellation (known in the industry as noise), while higher numbers capture fast-moving objects without blurring.

This is very much the realm of professional photographers, and most amateurs will be happy with the default ISO settings deployed by their phone’s camera.

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