The impact of Large Sensor Super-Smartphones on Low-end to Mid-range Photography

HarryFilm

EOS 7D MK II
Jun 6, 2016
457
49
Within the past two years, I have espoused a new breed of photographic systems that stand poised to nearly take over the entire low-end to medium range photography "business". There actually IS a magical "Island of Stability" for sensor sizes that both fit the width and height dimensions AND the focal plane allowances (i.e. thickness) for most of today's larger smartphones.

These three sensor sizes are the 2/3rds inch, Micro-Four Thirds, and the APS-C sensor sizes which WILL FIT with a bit of extra phone thickness into the common 5.5 inch to 6.5 inch display-sizes of many modern smartphone configurations. By FIT, I mean that the final smartphone will be around 9mm up to 15 mm in thickness which is more than acceptable for many users IF there is an added benefit of extra long-life batteries being put in as a side-benefit of that larger phone size.

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Why is a larger sensor size even needed?

On MANY people's mind, having a SINGLE DEVICE that does everything from making phone calls, to surfing the web, to storing their downloaded video and music AND taking high quality stills and video of their family members, friends and vacation spots is something that is TRULY DESIRABLE! In my opinion, carrying around a Canon M6 or Powershot G7 AND a Samsung S10 is just too much, when for the mere additional cost of an extra 2 to 5 mm of phone thickness, I CAN have everything I ever wanted in a portable computing and imaging device.

Computational Photography is the NEXT killer app for all-in-one devices!

The Google Pixel-3 phone is arguably the BEST image taking phone out today! Why? Because Google is able to spend hundreds of MILLIONS of dollars to create autonomous A.I.-like software that can run on almost ANY of the CPU chips that are embedded into modern smartphones. Google has been been able to wring-out every last bit of imaging data from sensors that have photo sites as small as 1-to-2 microns in size. That is an an absolutely OUTSTANDING software achievement and Google SHOULD be commended for their efforts since they non-restrictively licence this technology to everyone who asks!

What is really missing from a modern smartphone?

A BIG SENSOR! And by big, I mean at least a 2/3rds inch up to as large as an APS-C imager which are PHYSICALLY capable of being installed in such devices. Once that occurs, ALL major camera manufacturers SHOULD be quaking in their boots when Google's A.I.-based computational photography software meets up with a big smartphone image sensor.

What is Happening Now?

Recently, I have been able to obtain access to systems that illustrate the capabilities of EXACTLY such big-image-sensor super-smartphone devices. And I should note that MORE THAN ONE MANUFACTURER has these prototypes in field testing right this moment in fall-2019. While NDA's (Non-Disclosure Agreements) preclude me from discussing too much more, I should let it be known that 2020 will be the year for BOTH announcements and actual device introductions. And the major reason for this, is that sensor costs have now been driven down for highly light-sensitive 24 megapixel (6000 by 4000 pixel) 2/3rds Inch to APS-C sizes such that their RAW BULK image sensor chip sales costs are now down to between $50 to $150 which is low enough for profitable inclusion into smartphone technology. Soon after introduction, 32 megapixel, 41 megapixel and 50+ megapixel sensors at those larger sizes will be brought down enough that within three years of introduction, larger sensors will become the default on almost ALL smartphones!

Are smartphones today really that bad?

NO! Thanks to companies like Google, Sony, Huawei, Samsung and Apple, computational photography software has done a pretty good job of washing over the limitations of a sensor that has 1 to 2 micron photosite sizes. THE NEXT LEVEL HOWEVER, is large sensor super-smartphones which are mated to just such computational photography software which will let even the most mediocre photographer take photos worth writing home about!

Is there a DOWNSIDE to bigger sensors?

There are TWO! And that is Battery Power and Phone Thickness! We just NOT going to have a full APS-C sensor on a 9mm thick smartphone and have it be able to run your phone all day like we do now. Because of the increased focal plane distance required for large image sensors, manufacturers can compensate by adding large and thicker batteries into parts of the thicker phone that are not being used by the sensor apparatus itself! This means your super-smartphone with its bigger image sensor will be between 9mm to as much as 15mm thick depending upon the sensor size included. This is caused by physics-based sensor focal plane issues that are not easily bypassed by technology!

Based upon my conversations with some premiere electronics design firms, I have found there is a sweet spot of 5200 mAh as the starting battery-size for a 2/3rds inch super-smartphone that runs all day. An APS-C goes as high as 7200 mAh and if you are taking 60 fps 4K 10-bit video that of course goes even higher in terms of milliamp-hours required of a battery!

What changes will we see to this next generation of super-smartphone?

Because of the thicker phone housing required to allow the requisite focal plane distance needed by larger sensors, we will see more powerful CPU's (i.e. Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 and better!) because there's more room for them now, a more industrial/ruggedized look to these new phones (at least initially!) and the inclusion of IP-67/IP-68 waterproofing/dust ingress standards so as to better protect the delicate innards of the larger image sensors. I expect that the modern Apple iPhone or Samsung S-10 "Fashion Phone Look" will only come later as new lens technology allows for 9mm and thinner phones to be made with the larger sensors.

Looks-wise, these will be more commercial/industrial looking phones more designed for the business person and photographic enthusiast. Price-wise we are looking at as little as $800 US for a 2/3rds inch sensor smartphone to as much as $1600 US for an APS-C sized sensor smartphone. Because these phones will TEND to have more powerful CPU's, better displays (i.e. full 4K resolution), be more rugged and of course have a large image sensor, those stated prices will not come down anytime soon!

Does it make sense for YOU, the Canon Rumors reader to buy one of these?

If you are THINKING about spending more than $400 US on ANY camera AND are thinking about getting a new phone then this is a no-brainer! Forget about that Canon Powershot G7 or M50 --- It's more cost effective to get the $800 to $1100 2/3rds inch super-smartphone and TAKE ADVANTAGE of the super-smart computational photography software that will be included. That combination WILL ALLOW YOU to take great photos AND still make phone calls and surf the internet! If you are thinking of that new D90 or used 7D2/5DMk4 then fuggediboutit! That APS-C will be so much better simply because of the high-end computational photography software mated to the large APS-C sensor! You would be getting equivalent-to or even BETTER than Full-Frame performance!

Lenses! What happens with those?

That is the giant elephant that is hanging about in the dining room! Super-smartphones WON'T YET HAVE DIRECTLY interchangeable lenses like a DSLR or Mirrorless ILC !!! What many super-smartphone models WILL HAVE though, is the ability to add an accessory cage to the phone which cradles it allowing for extra batteries, more SSD or SD-card-based storage, a full-size handgrip and a mount holder for attaching a separate lens. The phones will have built-in software settings to allow nearly automatic switching between their internal lens configurations and the external lens attachment.

For a direct EF or R-Mount permanently embedded on the phone, users would have to be comfortable with buying a super-smartphone that could be as thick as 20mm (for 2/3rds inch) to 45mm (for EF and R mount) which in most cases would be unacceptable to general consumers.

Professionals and super-enthusiasts might not care, but Ma, Pa and Grandma/Grandpa definitely WOULD! Current manufacturer research has found that 15mm seems to be the maximum acceptable smartphone thickness limit for the general consumer! The current limitation is focal plane distance related BUT I should also note that there is upcoming aspherical photosite microlens technology which MAY ALLOW for phones that have full EF/R mounts to be embedded on a phone as thin as 9mm! THAT would be the final death knell for almost ALL low-to-mid-range DSLR/MILC systems!

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Again, what is happening today with large sensor super-smartphone technology?

IP-67/IP-68 ruggedized super-smartphones with 2/3rds inch and APS-C image sensors and larger all-day batteries ARE NOW IN FIELD TESTING modes. I would look for mid-2020 probably just after the Tokyo Olympics to see the first few announcements coming out!

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AND to show you that smartphones have actually come a decently long way, below are some MACRO photos I recently took (September 2019) with a 2013-era Nokia 1520 smartphone which had that nice Zeiss lens in it! Now IMAGINE if I had a 2/3rds inch or APS-C image sensor and Google's computational photography software on that phone? Image HOW MUCH BETTER and MORE DETAILED those photos would be?

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Please do comment on WHAT YOU THINK should happen for the NEXT generation of large sensor super-smartphone!

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HarryFilm

EOS 7D MK II
Jun 6, 2016
457
49
Here are MY examples of Macro photos taken on a 2013-era Nokia 1520 smartphone. IMAGINE how much BETTER they would be if I had an APS-C sensor and Computational Photography software built-in to a NEW smartphone!

You need to PIXEL PEEP these photos by zooming-in FULL size to see that modern smartphones simply DO NOT have enough detail NOR enough general quality than what WOULD BE if a LARGER sensor was embedded into the phone and MATED to a computational photography software!

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Aussie shooter

@brett.guy.photography
Dec 6, 2016
489
496
Wouldn't matter if those images were taken on a 100mp phase one medium format sensor. They would still be s#@t. Subject, light and composition are all crap and those are the things that make a photo worthwhile.
 

YuengLinger

EOS 5D MK IV
Dec 20, 2012
2,627
747
Southeastern USA
Nice shots for a smartphone, Harry. Don't let somebody who got up on the wrong side of the bed tell you otherwise!

Much of what you wrote went over my head, but better cameras in the smartphones are inevitable, and they have already had a devastating effect on the camera industry.
 

Don Haines

Beware of cats with laser eyes!
Jun 4, 2012
8,178
1,735
Canada
For normal focal lengths (wide and medium) you are probably right. I know that I use a phone or tablet a lot at work for images because yes, it is good enough, and yes, it is way more convenient.

The big holdout remains long focal lengths.... you just gotta have the wide entry to the lens to capture enough light..... physics restrains your size.
 
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HarryFilm

EOS 7D MK II
Jun 6, 2016
457
49
Why are you calling those macro?

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Technically, many of those photos wee taken at between 6 inches (15 cm) to 30 cm (1 foot) away, so they can be considered MACRO photography. For a 2013 era smartphone, they're not bad at all! The colours are a little too saturated for my taste but on a general basis I can see some detail and sharpness that is pretty good for what it is. I have a few taken at around the same times and place with a 1DxMk2 ...BUT.... while the colour and detail is there because of the FF sensor, the point I was trying to make i that Large-Sensor Super-Smartphones WILL be coming and they WILL be actually ABLE to compete with low to mid-range DSLR and MILC systems.

What are YOUR required needs, features and ergonomic factors for a super-smartphone to become your primary camera?

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unfocused

EOS 1D MK II
Jul 20, 2010
5,030
1,404
66
Springfield, IL
www.mgordoncommunications.com
If the point of your post is to ask about the practicality of a smartphone-based interchangeable lens camera, I'd say there is little to no interest in such a device. The advantage of smartphone cameras are that you can fit them in your pocket and once you start attaching accessories to them that advantage disappears.

I'd be much more interested in an interchangeable lens camera that can load Apple's IOS and access it through the back touchscreen. It wouldn't have to be able to make phone calls, just access the internet through wifi, like an iPod Touch.
 

3kramd5

EOS 5D MK IV
Mar 2, 2012
3,083
404
Technically, many of those photos wee taken at between 6 inches (15 cm) to 30 cm (1 foot) away, so they can be considered MACRO photography.
Technically, macro has nothing to do with proximity to subject.

What are YOUR required needs, features and ergonomic factors for a super-smartphone to become your primary camera?
Hmm. The body of a camera, the controls of a camera, removable batteries of a camera, and a flapping mirror + optical viewfinder.
 

HarryFilm

EOS 7D MK II
Jun 6, 2016
457
49
Wouldn't matter if those images were taken on a 100mp phase one medium format sensor. They would still be s#@t. Subject, light and composition are all crap and those are the things that make a photo worthwhile.

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Perhaps these next smartphone images MIGHT persuade you that a more industrial look is in order when displaying the imaging abilities of a six year old smartphone!

Do these work for you as being worthwhile photos?

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HarryFilm

EOS 7D MK II
Jun 6, 2016
457
49
Technically, macro has nothing to do with proximity to subject.



Hmm. The body of a camera, the controls of a camera, removable batteries of a camera, and a flapping mirror + optical viewfinder.

Unfortunately, this smartphone I was using has a "Digital Macro" function which FAKES the closeup look by doing a 2x digital zoom and oversharpening the image. You STILL have to be at least 15cm away to get decent focus.

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NOW....if the super-smartphone HAD a built-in 35mm lens and an APS-C sensor, you could easily shoot portraits with it AND do some landscapes if it has a single Take-Photo for stills/Start Record for video button and everything ELSE was via touchscreen OR set to full A.I.-based automatic mode. I would say MANY people WOULD buy just such a super-smartphone if it did all the normal Android things such as make phone calls, surf the web, play games and store all your data, music and videos.

AND if you COULD just add a purchased-separately phone-cage that had a hot-shoe, extra SSD-based storage space, bigger batteries, a decent handgrip, extra button-based controls, a separate external lens attachement/mount, an optional OLED viewfinder AND could be snapped in/out in less than 3 seconds, I bet more than a few people would buy it, Right?

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3kramd5

EOS 5D MK IV
Mar 2, 2012
3,083
404
AND if you COULD just add a purchased-separately phone-cage that had a hot-shoe, extra SSD-based storage space, bigger batteries, a decent handgrip, extra button-based controls, a separate external lens attachement/mount, an optional OLED viewfinder AND could be snapped in/out in less than 3 seconds, I bet more than a few people would buy it, Right?.
More than a few? Yah. I can think of at least ten reviewers who would.
 

CanonFanBoy

EOS 5D SR
Jan 28, 2015
4,157
1,719
Irving, Texas
I hate to break it to you, Mr. Harry. I have an iPhone 8 Plus. It is too big. I don't dare slip it into my back pocket. Though I do see them peeking out of braziers and set to speaker. Mine hangs on a lanyard around my neck (on the rare occasion it leaves the house with me) and is the most worrisome piece of tech I own. Easy to lose. Lots of personal data is stored on it. I hate it. I might get struck dead for saying this, but I'd rather my camera had a phone app than to carry around a phone with a camera app and 500 other apps. I'm only 56 years old. For the life of me I do not understand the silliness of people who are absolutely constantly keeping their faces buried in those screens. It was bad enough worrying about getting run into on the road. Now I have to worry about getting crashed into in the grocery store and listening to people in the next stall carrying on loud conversations while taking a dump. BTW: Smartphone cameras ought to become inactive in lavatories. People have become slaves to tech that promised to give them freedom.
 
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Don Haines

Beware of cats with laser eyes!
Jun 4, 2012
8,178
1,735
Canada
I hate to break it to you, Mr. Harry. I have an iPhone 8 Plus. It is too big. I don't dare slip it into my back pocket. Though I do see them peeking out of braziers and set to speaker. Mine hangs on a lanyard around my neck (on the rare occasion it leaves the house with me) and is the most worrisome piece of tech I own. Easy to lose. Lots of personal data is stored on it. I hate it. I might get struck dead for saying this, but I'd rather my camera had a phone app than to carry around a phone with a camera app and 500 other apps. I'm only 56 years old. For the life of me I do not understand the silliness of people who are absolutely constantly keeping their faces buried in those screens. It was bad enough worrying about getting run into on the road. Now I have to worry about getting crashed into in the grocery store and listening to people in the next stall carrying on loud conversations while taking a dump. BTW: Smartphone cameras ought to become inactive in lavatories. People have become slaves to tech that promised to give them freedom.
For me, one of the things I hate about phones and apps is the quality of software. With a Canon, it just works with no surprises. Not so with my phone!

For example, you can use a phone to connect to speed and cadence sensors on your bicycle (tricycle in my case), and record your ride. To say that the quality of data gathered is suspect, is an understatement at best!
 

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CanonFanBoy

EOS 5D SR
Jan 28, 2015
4,157
1,719
Irving, Texas
For me, one of the things I hate about phones and apps is the quality of software. With a Canon, it just works with no surprises. Not so with my phone!

For example, you can use a phone to connect to speed and cadence sensors on your bicycle (tricycle in my case), and record your ride. To say that the quality of data gathered is suspect, is an understatement at best!
I used to work in factories and some of the ladies wore those old pedometers. They frequently reported they were walking 12-15 miles around their work stations each day. Technology hasn't come very far, I guess. :)
 

uri.raz

EOS 80D
Jan 5, 2016
155
113
For example, you can use a phone to connect to speed and cadence sensors on your bicycle (tricycle in my case), and record your ride. To say that the quality of data gathered is suspect, is an understatement at best!
I own a fitness watch. If I don't wait for GPS to lock before I start an outdoor activity (walk, run, bike, etc), its initial position estimates might as far as 2 miles off. It does know how fast I walk, so it might indicate that for the first 5 minutes I walked at a speed of 4 miles per hour, and covered the 2 miles from its initial incorrect position to wherever I was when it locked. My ability to warp the space time continuum should have earned me a spot among the X men :p

Pocket cameras are going the way of the dodo, I doubt they'll make a comeback as smartphones.
 
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CanonFanBoy

EOS 5D SR
Jan 28, 2015
4,157
1,719
Irving, Texas
I own a fitness watch. If I don't wait for GPS to lock before I start an outdoor activity (walk, run, bike, etc), its initial position estimates might as far as 2 miles off. It does know how fast I walk, so it might indicate that for the first 5 minutes I walked at a speed of 4 miles per hour, and covered the 2 miles from its initial incorrect position to wherever I was when it locked. My ability to warp the space time continuum should have earned me a spot among the X men :p

Pocket cameras are going the way of the dodo, I doubt they'll make a comeback as smartphones.
At least you've confirmed Einstein's theory of relativity. ;)
 

Labdoc

EOS 80D
Mar 23, 2016
131
18
60
USA
Don't see expensive fat phones being popular. Attachable modules, attached directly or apart via wireless. You could do more than a camera attachment with such a system. Another idea, reflector lens design like that used in telescopes to get around the physics problem.
 
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3kramd5

EOS 5D MK IV
Mar 2, 2012
3,083
404
For me, one of the things I hate about phones and apps is the quality of software. With a Canon, it just works with no surprises. Not so with my phone!
I don’t think that’s the software’s fault; it getting bad data.