Manufacturers, I know you wanted to gain customers, to market your products, but please stop glorifying your cameras as something amazing. I know it takes great pictures, but sometimes they take it a little too far by saying the quality is flagship-like, or they add high megapixel counts, sometimes more than a typical DSLR! (Ahem I’m looking at ya, 108mp HM2 sensor)
Many of the new midrangers boast large megapixels, as high as 108mp. Sure they can procure better details, but it does not necessarily mean better quality. This is why even Google Pixels and iPhones still use 12mp (apart from the Pixel 6 series, where it used a 48mp Sony camera). Samsung only did it for marketing purposes, even most flagships today use a high amount of MP, as much as 50 megapixels. If photographers really want great quality without or with little interpolation and quad-bayer processing, then get an actual DSLR.
Going back to the gimmicky cameras. If you have noticed, most budget and midrange phones will usually have the following: a high mp main sensor, then sometimes an ultrawide, and then either a 2mp macro and a depth sensor, or both. In other cases, they may replace either or both sensors with a black and white sensor, or rarely, a telephoto. A telephoto camera is actually useful in this case. Higher megapixel cameras promise on giving you more details especially when zoomed in. However, most users will post the pictures on social media anyway which would result in post-processing that will make higher details fruitless.
The 2mp auxiliaries actually do little to improve the photo quality. The macro sensor is meant so that you can take pictures of minuscule objects, but the higher quality main sensor does the job no better than the 2mp macro. Likewise, the 2mp depth is meant that you can take “bokeh” shots. But because even budget phones have an algorithm smart enough to recognise and isolate the subject and background, the presence of the 2mp depth camera is not needed. Overall, the “triple” or “quad” camera naming scheme is just for marketing hype.
Take a look at this Poco X3 NFC review by MrWhoseTheBoss for example, in the latter part of the video, the other two cameras are just auxiliaries. In that video, he calls these two auxiliaries “space-fillers”, that the phone’s photo quality will not change even if the two 2mp cameras aren’t present. However, the ultra-wide and main sensor definitely works. Also, touting it as a “flagship-level” camera does come off as deceptive especially if the sensor used is something in the midrange, in this case, it’s the Sony Exmor IMX682. While definitely impressive and sounds flagship, is barely used in any flagships today, with the exception of the Xiaomi Mi 10T.
We made an article regarding megapixels and camera quality, so please check it out as well. Here, we’ll be comparing the photo quality taken on the main lens and the macro camera. Test subject? The TCL 10 5G.
5MP MACRO vs MAIN CAMERA: Close-up shots comparison
Content creators will often say that the macro camera is useless on a phone especially if they have a very low resolution. Unfortunately, phones even in 2022 are plagued with the useless 2mp or 5mp macros that are quite gimmicky. What’s worse is that companies would often cut costs to these macros by equipping them with an outdated camera sensor, sometimes those released in 2013 or 2014!
In this comparison, we’ll be taking a gander at the macro camera of the TCL 10 5G. A phone released in 2021 and a phone we just reviewed. You can watch the video above, or by clicking this link. You can also read our article rendition of the review by clicking this link.
The macro and main camera both have different focal points so the images seen here are either a little close or are too far. In the image above, the main camera is a lot more vibrant and provides the same details, if not higher, than that of the macro camera. I took both of these images 5cm away. The main camera also managed to blur out and focus on the main subject more — the flower. The macro camera performed pretty well but is paler in comparison. For some reason, it did not blur out the background but you can still tell what is the subject being taken. Oh, these images were taken on a windy day too but it seems like the macro has a slightly faster shutter speed.
Honestly though, I prefer the colour reproduction on the main camera. Because it is technically a 16mp sensor, the main camera will produce a better, higher quality image and also provides more details. So yes, the 5mp macro is not that necessary if you want to take close-up shots because the main camera will do the job just as fine, and maybe better too. The fact that it managed to blur the background while taking a close-up shot when the macro didn’t says a lot really.
2MP MACRO vs MAIN CAMERA: Close-up shots comparison
The above image uses a higher 5MP macro camera. Let’s see how the even lower 2mp macro fares in comparison. This is also the most common macro camera seen on most midrangers and budget phones and the complaints of the macro camera being useless are usually applied on 2mp ones, not the 5mp sensors.
For this test, I used a Redmi Note 9 which I also have reviewed. Granted it isn’t the latest release, but its cameras still hold up today. The phone can even be re-released today. They did it with Redmi Note 9 Pro and relabelled it as the “Redmi Note 10 Lite” so what’s stopping them from re-releasing the Redmi Note 9?
One thing I like about Xiaomi is that the aspect ratio is kept no matter which camera lens you choose. The TCL 10 5G is a little inconsistent. For the macro camera, it used a 4:3 aspect ratio while the normal camera uses the regular 16:9 aspect ratio, so the Xiaomi here is going to be a lot fairer to compare.
As you can see, the 2mp macro fails in comparison. It is paler, softer, and lacks dynamic range. Meanwhile, the right image which uses the normal main camera has a lot more going for it. It also has a slightly less yellow tint (both images are taken at the same time) and also managed to blur the background more, although I think its more of a miss here. The field of view is also wider.
64MP vs 16MP: TCL 10 5G
Higher MP images take a lot of space and what’s worse social media sites like Facebook and Twitter will compress them so all those details would have been for nothing. Here we’re taking a look at the TCL 10 5G’s Samsung GW1 sensor which is 64mp in resolution. When taking a shot on “auto” or “camera” mode with a 64mp camera, the returning shot would be 16mp. That’s because the 64mp lens is a pixel-binned 16mp camera system. Taking four 16mp shots during the processing and then layering them to produce a 64mp image.
One thing you will immediately notice is that the aspect ratio is different for both shots. Most high MP shots restrict themselves to using a 4:3 aspect ratio while the auto mode is a lot freer, although by default it uses a 16:9 setting. To keep things faithful, I decided not to change any of the settings.
The 64mp shot tends to oversharpen the image which causes black “dots” or “squares” to appear when zooming it to the fullest. Take note that this image was developed through a screenshot done on a PC so the actual crop may be different when viewed on a phone. The 16mp shot is a lot more blurry but not to the point you can’t tell what the object is (it’s a window). The algorithm tried to make sure that when you zoom in far enough you can tell better on what the object is being zoomed so the image resulted in crop oversharpening. The quality isn’t necessarily better though.
48MP vs 12MP: Redmi Note 9
When the Redmi Note 7 debuted, everyone went bonkers over it as it included a 48mp main camera which was unheard of or is pretty rare, even on flagships. It was the phone that made high MP popular. Companies probably saw it as a marketing opportunity. Soon enough, development for high MP cameras, starting with 48MP, has begun.
The tradition continues even to this day. However as times pass, 48MP is getting much more restricted as 64 and 108MP cameras become mainstream. They are now more frequent on budget phones than higher-end midrangers. Still, only a handful of DSLRs and cameras actually have this high megapixel count.
During the writing of this article, I noticed that “pure” high MP photos take longer than usual to upload. This is all thanks to the big file size they have since they store a lot of information, and is also the main reason why social media sites tend to compress it. On WordPress however, it does not do that so it is trying to upload a big image and it’s taking some of my laptop’s power as well as our internet bandwidth. Keeping the image as it retains the quality so that’s one good thing.
One major advantage of high MP cameras is that they have the capability to zoom in closer without losing quality. Hence the reason why it is quite viable on telephoto cameras. I also think that high MP cameras are the reason why telephoto died prematurely on budget phones, as their main purpose is to close in on an image without losing quality, which high MP can technically do.
In comparison to the TCL 10 5G, the 48MP on the Redmi Note 9 is far less oversharpened and the algorithm worked much better here. Though this is again taken through a screenshot on PC so it may differ when viewed on a phone. The algorithm tried to make the picture viewable and clear when zoomed in as compared to the 12mp camera. This is the farthest I can zoom and ultimately, the 48MP camera zoomed closer and you can still tell that’s a house window without making it appear as if an NES game just played.
If you’re going to take close-ups, just use your normal camera. It will do the job better because of the better optics, sensor, lens size, and overall larger resolution. While this entire article is clearly saying that high MP does not matter, having too low MP counts is also bad. It can result in a very soft or blurry image with little details. Higher MP cameras have more details going for them and will have a lesser quality loss when edited or cropped but social media sites often still process the image, resulting in a lower quality. Higher MP also eats up a lot of storage to store all those tiny minuscule details.
Do not rely on megapixel numbers alone. Always look up for reviews on camera performance. Remember that each camera sensor and phone camera software performs differently, and judging on megapixel numbers alone is not reliable. Higher megapixels do not mean higher quality.
One advantage of high MP cameras is their ability to zoom on objects much much closer as opposed to lower MP counts and this is the effect of the quad-bayer pixel-binning technology. However, this technique can cause some images to be oversharpened which is quite noticeable when zooming in 5 or 10X.
Another thing, phones that have the 2mp auxiliaries will always be gimmicky due to how low-quality the sensors are. If you wish to do macro, do it using the main camera as the image there will be definitely better quality and have more details, and colour reproduction is probably better there too. Most of the time, the main lens is up-to-date, while macro sensors are often outdated. These two 2mp depth and macro are gimmicks, and they shouldn’t be taken as an extra camera just so manufacturers can say they added a triple or quad camera setup. It’s marketing talk.