Most of us have taken selfies with our cellphones and seen the rapid progression of quality in the photographs over the years. Zoom lenses on cellphones are now pulling off amazing images.

How often have you even bothered to pull out your regular camera on your holidays? Most of us just rely on our convenient phones to snap images of friends and scenery.

So exactly how much further can cellphone companies and their optical providers go in improving image quality?

“Smartphone cameras may have evolved over the years and changed the way we take pictures, but there is a limit to what a phone camera can achieve,” insists Dr. Michael Kaschke, President and CEO of Zeiss Group.

Kaschke should know. His company is one of the top players in the optical systems segment with stakes in everything from cameras to smartphones, medical equipment and even spectacle lenses, The Indian Express reported.

While there will be limits to what a smartphone camera can do, computational photography could be a game-changer, he adds.

“There is more software to it and less hardware, and we are developing software for computational photography. That said, there is still a limitation, the smartphone can only be that thick,” explained Dr. Kaschke who was in Gurugram recently to open Zeiss’ camera lenses experience zone at Museo Camera, India’s first museum dedicated to photography.

Companies like Google, Apple and Samsung are aware of the ergonomic and technical challenges and are taking the help of software and computer processing to improve image quality.

Google, for instance, has mastered Computational photography and the Pixel 3 XL is the perfect example that proves how a software and hardware confluence can drive digital photography to new levels, the Indian Express report said.

The HMD Global Nokia 9 PureView. Handout.

Putting more camera lenses on phones is another way to improve picture quality.

Huawei P30 Pro has four cameras on the back, Samsung Galaxy S10+ has three cameras and Nokia 9 PureView offers five cameras on the rear. Apple is also rumoured to launch the next iPhone with three rear-facing cameras. But what do so many camera lenses do?

The idea of having multiple cameras, Kaschke said, is to make enhanced photos and treat smartphones DSLR-like.

However, the fact remains that because you only have such a small depth in a smartphone, you cannot increase the sensor size. So low light will always be a problem along with the lack of telescopic performance of a good camera, the Indian Express report said.

“So while the mass of standard photography will be done here, the professionals will use professional and semi-professional cameras,” he said, adding, there will always be a segment for highly qualitative, artistic and professional photography.

And this is exactly where Zeiss wants to focus.

It’s not that Zeiss does not want to work with smartphone companies and perfect the camera experience. In fact, the optics manufacturer now has a partnership with HMD Global, the Finnish company that has rights to produce Nokia-branded phones. Nokia and Zeiss share a long history and found success with phones like the Nokia N95, 808 PureView and 1020 PureView.

HMD Global’s Nokia 9 PureView, which was introduced at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, uses a penta-lens camera system on the rear that utilizes Zeiss optics.

While Kaschke agrees that the smartphone market has gone flat and companies have no choice but to differentiate their phones through camera technology, he’s convinced the industry will find a way to drive up volume again through increased performance, the Indian Express report said.

“I’m convinced we will find other new solutions. What exactly they are, I don’t know but the right thing is to go into computational imaging which means we need different ways of taking a picture with different sensors, not just one sensor because one sensor will never completely compete with a good camera.”

As for increasing megapixels — some smartphone OEMs on the verge of announcing 64MP camera phones — Kaschke is not impressed.

“More pixels are not necessarily better. Why? If you stay with the full-frame sensor and divide that sensor into more and more pixels, the pixels become smaller and smaller, and then you get into a noise problem. I think for most of the applications, also serious professional applications, my guess would be the 40MP is already more than enough.”

Sources: The Indian Express