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How many cameras do you really need?

By Anton D. Nagy July 17, 2018, 10:49 am

If you’re anything like me, your answer is “one”. Just one. A single, good, reliable camera is more than enough. Pixel 2 anyone?

We’re witnessing a race that will probably end up in consumers having multiple cameras on their phones. More than they really need. We already do, but just how much is too much exactly? The answer is a little bit more complicated, but it is very much related to the purpose they are serving.

I touched briefly on the topic of multiple cameras on Episodes 311 and 313 of the Pocketnow Weekly Podcast. I talked about the rumors claiming that the LG V40 and the beefed-up Galaxy S10 might feature double-multi-camera setups. Five shooters in total. Let’s not forget about those predictions for triple cameras on future Apple iPhone models.


If we disregard the early attempts at 3D on smartphones, with HTC’s EVO 3D and LG’s Optimus 3D, the first dual-camera phones were the HTC One M8 and M9. The first “real” ones though were the LG G5 and the Huawei P9 of 2016. Everyone else followed, including Apple, with different implementations from wide-angle to zoom functionalities.

multiple cameras

…until Huawei decided to change the mobile photography game with the P20 Pro, the first triple-camera smartphone to be officially unveiled. Also, the one to follow and beat, and rumor has it LG and Samsung are preparing to enter the ring. Apple too! A more in-depth history lesson about multiple cameras on smartphones can be found over at our friends at XDA Developers (though it needs updating to include the P20 Pro).

Let’s be honest: even the geekiest among us barely manually switch to that secondary telephoto or zoom lens. We sometimes do, but not as often as manufacturers would like us to. Why? Because while some implementations are good (took LG three models to figure out distortion free wide-angle photography), others not so much (zoom is still a hit and miss). The average user probably uses the added camera more because the system is switching to it automatically under certain scenarios, but do they ever manually do so?

Even if they did, that won’t stop manufacturers from trying to convince you that you need more. You “needed” two first. Now you “need” three. Soon you’ll “need” two more on the front, and so on.

The problem isn’t the number of cameras per se, though it partly is. With every hardware component a manufacturer is adding to the mix, the retail price of the smartphone goes up. It’s that easy! As if smartphones weren’t already expensive! But many of you, myself included, would be totally fine in paying extra for a camera, if that camera was actually something you can find useful, something that improves your life and existence. Else just give me longer battery life, better software, snappier performance, higher-quality speakers, etc.

Having a third/fourth/fifth/etc. camera just for the sake of having “the most cameras in the room” won’t cut it. We’re done playing “mine’s bigger”… when we passed the six-inch threshold. One camera lens for zoom, one for normal, one for wide-angle, one for color, and one for mono. There, plus two or even three more on the front, and seven-eight cameras will probably win you the “camera snob of the year” title.

Now seriously, those who are taking photography at anything more than amateur/hobby levels probably carry a professional camera, or a prosumer unit. The rest of us just want our photos to look good both on the screen and on the computer. Heck, most are fine with just Instagram. The three cameras on the P20 Pro produce excellent results but one would find it really hard to tell the difference between a picture snapped with the triple-camera P20 Pro and the dual-camera P20.

Need an extra camera? Here, take one. It’s on me!

AI and AR are the future (together with IoT), and 5G will open up tremendous possibilities. What I’m trying to say is this: I’m totally fine with having three, four, or even five cameras, if the added number of lenses is actually more than just a bragging right, a gimmick, or a reason to show your phone off. Whenever a company convinces me that that particular extra camera they added will improve my existence, I’ll be sold. Until then I’ll rely on the single camera that generates the best-looking photos, for my taste.

We haven’t even talked about front-facers. Dual stereoscopic webcams will probably instantly elevate your beauty selfies (we all love our beauty selfies!), but if OEMs were capable of solving the face recognition problem with a single camera (and some additional very smart hardware), chances are you’ll have one expensive selfie phone.

How about you? What’s your take on multiple cameras? What do you think is the sweet-spot, and what do you think is overkill? Drop us a comment and let’s talk about those dual-multi-camera vs triple-camera setups!


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