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Megapixels & Camera Phones 323

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the something-to-think-about dept.
CEmongler writes "Consumer Electronics publication CoolTechZone.com tackles the integrated camera attachments in today's cell phones. According to the author, "The camera integration has in fact reached such a stage that any self-respecting phone would incorporate at least a megapixel camera. The cutting-edge feature to have though is the 2-megapixel variety. The question is: is it really worth the extra money you pay for it? Without getting into model-by-model comparisons, I am questioning the entire range of 2-megapixel camera phones. Are they really worth it? For the most part, no."
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Megapixels & Camera Phones

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  • by vidarlo (134906) <vidarlo AT bitsex DOT net> on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @09:18AM (#15112925) Homepage

    And why? Because the optics still sucks. I guess there ain't enough space for a good camera inside a phone, because the optics ain't small enough. While the ccd or cmos sensor is small enough, it needs good optics to give good quality.

    Say you've got the good optics, and a decent sensor... A ccd uses more power than a cmos, and needs more light. A cmos however, gives lots of artifacts (noise) in the picture, but performs better in low-ligt conditions, and needs less power.

    • CMOS sensor - low power, low light level needed, but artifacts (noise) in the picture
    • CCD sensor - powerhungry, needs good lgiht, good quality

    Ok, so we go for a ccd. Then we need a good flash, which takes even more power. Power which has to come from a capacitor since a battery can't deliver high enough voltage and enough current fast enough. A capacitor and flash takes up space.

    In short, if we want small phones, we won't get decent image quality. If we can accept a phone twice as big as the ones we have, we can just bundle together a normal compact camera and a phone...

  • by mtg101 (321836) * on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @09:30AM (#15112996) Journal
    Having a 2 megapixel camera is pretty pointless if you only use it to put a picture of your partner on the phone's main screen, or to send multimedia messages (which reduces the quality to something like VGA quality).

    However if you can get the image from the phone to an internet site like Flickr, TextAmerica, Kodak, &c, then it is worth having a 2 megapixel image, just like it's worth having a decent amount of megapixels for your regular digital camera. The higher quality is useful for displaying on a PC, or for printing the photo, and so on.

    Unfortunately it's very hard to get your pictures from your phone to the internet. Email and WAP uploaders have proved not good enough for this task, and hardly anyone does this.

    A new generation of software is emerging on phones though. Services like ShoZu [shozu.com] allow you to upload full quality images from your phone to sites like Flickr, TextAmerica, &c, in a very simple manner, and also allow editing of titles, descriptions and even tags both before and after upload. With this sort of service on your phone it really is worth having a decent camera in your phone.
  • by Dysfnctnl85 (690109) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @09:45AM (#15113093)
    The convenience of digital exceeds the convenience of film and therefore a compromise must be made seeing as how I cannot carry my SLR everywhere I go.

    This is where the cameraphone finds its niche.

    If I was saying that digital *quality* was crap, I can see where my comments would be unfounded, but seeing that I'm not, it doesn't make sense to discount my comments...
  • by cmiller173 (641510) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @09:46AM (#15113102)
    Youd be surprised. Especially with employers that have to be HIPAA compliant. My emloyers policy: No cameras, camera phones, flash drives, flash music players, PDAs etc.
  • by Chicane-UK (455253) <chicane-uk@nOSpaM.ntlworld.com> on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @09:48AM (#15113112) Homepage
    I have to say I feel it was entirely worth it.

    Firstly i'm not coming on to defend my purchase. To be honest the phone was free anyway on a contract upgrade I needed to make so I thought i'd go for it.

    The phone is a Nokia N70 and, for all of its foibles (including the incredibly annoying slide open camera activation / lens protection cover) the camera stands out as a superb product.

    I'd love to link to an image i've taken from it but fear the slashdot effect would ruin me on hosting charges.. but under the right conditions (ie NOT night time) the camera returns impressive pictures. Yes, in low light it makes everything look incredibly washed out - yes the delay is enormous on taking a picture - but in good average daylight conditions pictures come back looking almost as good as those of my old 2MP Olympus point and shoot which i've since retired.

    One of the 'points' of camera phones for me was just having a camera with you at all times in case something unusual happened - be that a car accident (and you need to record photographic evidence of the scene), a good sunset, etc - the increase in MP allows you to do this more and more - previous generations meant that the picture was only 640x480 or so and this didn't really allow you to get the whole picture across!

    Cheers.
  • Re:Problematic (Score:5, Informative)

    by StevenHenderson (806391) <stevehenderson AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @09:56AM (#15113184)
    As a sprint consumer, I would like to inform you that Spring Mobile Phone Corporation doesn't offer a Treo without a camera.

    Try again. [sprint.com]

  • by AmigaAvenger (210519) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @10:02AM (#15113230) Journal
    Just one thing to point out, every single high end Canon digital SLR camera uses CMOS sensors. (at least the lower end up to prosumer slr's do, can't afford to buy a pro canon digital so I haven't bothered investigating them, but I'm fairly sure they are cmos also)

    CMOS CAN be result in quality that surpasses CCD, all while using far lower power and generating much less heat.

  • by rlk (1089) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @10:09AM (#15113274)
    Image quality is limited by optics and by the size (overall size -- in millimeters) of the sensor. With trashy optics and a tiny sensor, it doesn't matter how many (ever tinier) pixels one jams onto that sensor; the image quality just won't be there.

    I advise people who want a point and shoot (which has a much bigger sensor than a cell phone, but much smaller than an SLR) to not bother with more than 3 megapixels or so. There are some expensive "advanced" non-SLR digital cameras that have sensors comparable to SLR sensors, but most point and shoot cameras have sensors no more than 1/2" on the diagonal. Most digital SLR's are about 1.2" diagonal, and 35 mm SLR's (such as film cameras and the EOS 5D and 1Ds digital cameras) are a bit less than 2" on the diagonal.

    The basic issue here is the pixel size, which (along with lens speed) controls how much light the pixel can gather. The larger the pixel, the more light it can gather and the less noise it will have. There's also the wavelength of light to consider; as the pixel gets smaller, the ability to resolve between neighboring pixels becomes less.

    The sweet spot for digital SLR's with APS-C sensors with 1.5 or 1.6 cropping factors (such as the low to midrange Canon and Nikon cameras) seems to be about 8-10 megapixels. Canon's latest offering (the 30D) stayed at 8 MP. The Nikon D200 is 10 megapixels, but it's noisier at high ISO settings than the 20D/30D. This would suggest that full-frame (35 mm) digital SLR's won't get much above 20 megapixels (based on pixel size), and you'll have to go to medium format to get much more than that. If the Foveon sensor ever gets perfected the marketing numbers will triple (since each position would have a sensor for each color), but the grid won't change.

    It's possible to reduce noise by lowering the effective ISO (in other words, allowing more light into the sensor by requiring longer exposures). So while the EOS 20D has excellent noise performace even at ISO 800, a typical point and shoot (with its tiny sensor) will be very noisy above ISO 100 or 200.

    Finally, there's the matter of the lens. My own tests suggest that I only get the full 8 megapixel resolution out of the 20D if I use a good lens (such as the 85 f/1.8 or 200 f/2.8 prime lenses), well stopped down and very carefully focused, and otherwise in good conditions (on a tripod or with a very short exposure). I recently took a shot at sunset with a 1 second exposure at f/16 with my 200 mm lens and there was very sharp single pixel detail. Even slight blur will very quickly reduce the useful pixel count; if it's blurred to the extent that there's no useful detail at less than 2 pixel resolution, you're effectively at the 2 megapixel level.

    So what does all of this mean? Camera phones have tiny sensors, with cheap lenses, and can't have long exposures. However many pixels the sensor may have, I'd be surprised if the effective resolution of the output is more than a few hundred thousand pixels.
  • by heliocentric (74613) * on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @12:11PM (#15114282) Homepage Journal
    I doubt even 1% of employers have rules against camera phones

    So, the DoD is just "one employer" in your survey? It doesn't count that they have *lots* of employees?

    Ah, statistics (especially those made up on the fly, such as yours) - I love when they can be (mis)used to convey interesting ideas.
  • Re:Problematic (Score:4, Informative)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @12:16PM (#15114328) Homepage
    One of the IT guys got upset that he was going to miss his wife's call that she was ready for the hospital with their kid and came up with the idea.

    WE contacted a tamper sticker manufacturer and asked them what could be done and if they had any "removeable" types. They did we tested several different types and picked one that only needed an alcahol pad to fully clean the tiny bit of residue fro mthe phone after use. They are a PITA to install without flaking off the tell-tale indicator paint/layer but after a few months the security guys are good at it.

    so we had them print up some with serial numbers. works great.. might not be DoD security standards but it passed us subversive types attempts at thwarting it here.

    I was only able to make silicone oil to make it so I could remove it without damage. but it's extremely obvious when putting the sticker on that sometihng is wrong as it will slide all over instead of sticking.
  • Old Argument (Score:3, Informative)

    by severoon (536737) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @12:47PM (#15114539) Journal
    Us photographers have already had this argument dozens of times over dSLR vs. pocket camera (and a phone camera is the ultimate pocket camera). The problem with non-dSLRs is not the MP, nor is it necessarily the optics. The limiting factor is the chip size. No tiny camera phone is going to achieve a low-noise image because the photosites on the sensor are packed so close together. These cameras will never be serious for picture taking until technology provides a high-dynamic range, noise-free image from a tiny sensor.

    Having said that, the best camera is the one you have with you. What do I use my camera phone for? When I park in a parking lot next to a jerk (someone who's askew in their spot, over the line, etc), I snap a picture that includes their license plate, make/model, and the horribleness of their parking job. If there's a ding in my door when I get back, they're busted! If I ever get caught snapping by the jerk, I'll just tell him I run a website called inconsideratebuttholes.com and I'm thinking of making him the feature of the day.

    (I've often thought about leaving such parkers a note--something along the lines of, "Your parking job is inconsiderate and I hope you'll think about this next time you leave the house"--using nothing, of course, but my ignition key and their hood.)

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