As indicated by the amount of conversation surrounding Nokia’s strains of PureView, HTC’s UltraPixel, Apple’s iSight and many other flagships with unbranded image sensors, cameras on smartphones are always a hot topic. It’s a topic I personally devote a lot of time to in full reviews. And on today’s podcast, Michael admitted that reviewing the camera is his favorite part of every device review.
Often, the camera can stand between a device being a mundane, iterative piece of hardware and being off-the-charts awesome.
But it’s also difficult to weigh the camera against all of the other features in a phone. Is a less-than-stellar camera the difference between a phone getting a review rating of 8.0 and 9.0? Or is more of a minor point change, from 9.0 to 8.9 or 8.5?
If a smartphone has an overall excellent user experience (one of the best displays around, excessive storage, decent to great battery life and ample software features), can it be completely ruined by a poor or mediocre camera?
Our knee-jerk reaction is plainly to say, “No”. Of course not. A smartphone is composed of hundreds (thousands?) of different components that all come together to create a cohesive machine. No one specification can ruin the device.
Alas, it truly depends on who you ask. Everyone has his (or her) own set of unique preferences. Everyone weighs the various elements of a smartphone differently, which is what makes multiple reviews on the same device so intriguing. No matter how subjective our take is, an inkling of personal preference is always present. The guy with a keen eye for pixels and the important aspects of a display would heavily critique any shortcomings of an expansive smartphone panel. The next guy in line may not have an eye for it, or maybe his vision isn’t as great – he would omit several facts in his verdict on the display.
Likewise, a professional photographer will judge a smartphone camera much more thoroughly (hopefully with reason that accounts for the smaller technology that pales in comparison to their $3,500 Canon 5D Mark III) than Facebook Cindy who loves to take angled mirror selfies.
Point being, some people simply don’t care about cameras. As long as it has a sensor on the back that they can point in a general direction and capture what they need, they’re fine. Yet the sky constantly falls on the vocal minority, especially when a flagship phone is released with a 4-megapixel camera when every other flagship gets bumped from 8-megapixels to 13. And we’re sure some people exist in the rational medium.
What we’re interested in, however, is where you stand, and how an upsetting camera experience affects your preferences for a particular device. Does a lackluster camera immediately omit a smartphone from your wish list? Or is it merely a chink in a large set of armor?
Strangely enough, as much emphasis as I put on smartphone cameras, they actually weight very little in my final decision on a phone. I have owned every Nexus to date, and every Nexus has had a paltry camera in comparison to the standards of their respective times. The camera is easily the most disappointing feature of the Nexus 4, yet I keep switching back to it. The HTC First is far from having the best camera around, not to mention its other specs, yet I openly admit I would carry it as my personal daily driver.
Carrying the iPhone is undoubtedly what raised my standards for mobile image sensing. In fact, the camera was the sole reason I carried the iPhone 4S and 5 for so long. I carried the iPhone in one pocket, which was practically used only for taking and sharing pictures. And in the other pocket was an Android phone of some type, which I used for everything else.
I got tired of having to constantly juggle two smartphones all the time, and I decided to consolidate. This meant I had to make a sacrifice, I had to choose between a superior camera experience or the extra utility and seamless Google integration with Android. I chose Android and have put up with some pretty awful camera ever since.
Some argue the Galaxy S III and Note II had awesome cameras. But my personal mileage has varied … a lot. So I’ve dealt with poor cameras before, and rather than fill my social time lines with low-quality images, I take pictures more sparingly, and I share even less.
And, yes, smartphone cameras, collectively, are getting better all the time. But with so many under-performing image sensors out there, I’d rather pick a great phone and deal with a terrible camera than to hold out for some unicorn smartphone camera that won’t exist for another five years.
What say you, ladies and gents? Where do you stand? Is the camera a make-or-break feature for you? Or do you just put up with a poor image sensor for the rest of the experience? Be sure to cast your vote in the poll below, and feel free to elaborate in the comments!