The year is quickly coming to a close, and looking back, it’s safe to say this has been the year of smartphone cameras.

HTC, Samsung, Nokia, Motorola, LG, Sony, and several others have tried their hand at innovating the next breakthrough in camera technology, creating the perfect balance of mobility, pocketability, and image quality. Some, obviously, did better than others.

HTC, for one, proved that while the image sensor on the One wasn’t the best in the industry, it’s meager 4-megapixel sensor packed a serious punch. LG managed to create one of the most balanced mobile cameras to date with its G2, while Sony dropped the ball on its much-hyped Z1.

Nokia, however, ruled the roost with its PureView camera on the Lumia 1020. With a 41-megapixel camera capable of taking up to 38-megapixel images with manual focus and oversampled 5-megapixel images, it set the bar astronomically high.

This gives us reason to believe the smartphone camera race will only heat up in 2014. The question is: what can we expect?

Nokia is clearly the company to beat next year, but even it will need to refine its technology and hone its tools. The Lumia 1020 was a rather chunky smartphone. Squeezing the 41-megapixel sensor down into a smaller housing won’t be easy, though.

Other companies aren’t likely to take on PureView full-on, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see leaps in sensor size and image resolution. Those looking to compete with Nokia in the mobile image sensing space will tackle high-resolution image sensors, optical image stabilization, and image oversampling.

g2 vs 1020 titleBut PureView is certainly not the be all and end all of the industry. Apple was granted a patent for a light field camera, or an array of micro lenses which allow the user to refocus images after they are taken, not unlike the intriguing Lytro camera.

There’s reason to be skeptical of light field smartphone cameras in the near future, as the patent is like a forward-thinking power play from the company. It would be difficult for Apple to pull off within the next year, but not impossible.

The most reasonable predictions we can make are a bit more tame. Samsung will likely adopt optical image stabilization in lieu of the lackluster software feature it currently uses. In fact, most smartphone manufacturers will likely adopt OIS in 2014.

With the new capabilities of the Snapdragon 800 afoot, we’ll also see bumps in megapixels, and potentially even additional cameras (yes, three or four cameras total) for contextual computing, gesture input, etc.

However, the vast majority of improvements over the next year will need to take place in software optimization – a better HDR mode, a decrease in shutter lag, better color reproduction and contrast, and much more.

Don’t expect major leaps and bounds in 2014. But do know there will be a lot of companies sharpening their teeth in the race to catch Nokia.

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