What should be the fourth lens of a smartphone? | Hard Philosophy

Seesaws and ugliness have always been important reasons for people to complain about the rear lens of smartphones, but the addition of cameras has sturdyly improved the experience, not only shooting clearly, shooting far, but also taking large shots, prompting mobile phone manufacturers to enter multi-camera era.

"Three cameras are standard, and the top configuration must have four cameras" has almost become the new standard for smartphones in recent years, and an infrequently mentioned fact is that the world's first 4-camera phone is the Samsung Galaxy A9s released in 2018.

In the past three years, the number and types of cameras have become more and more uniform. The mainstream mobile phone manufacturers have not further increased the cameras. Is it a technical limitation, but there are not no 5-camera phones on the market.

So, is the existing camera configuration already meeting people's main needs?

The three-camera combination of main camera + super wide-angle + telephoto meets the basic shooting needs

The development history of smartphones has only been more than ten years. During this period, image performance has always been one of the protagonists. On this development path, two different directions can be clearly seen. One is to improve the quality of the main camera. 2 million pixel camera to 100 million pixels today.

The high-resolution resolution is stronger, and it also allows the phone to shoot more clearly, which is convenient for post-cutting adjustments, and then is supported by features such as optical image stabilization. The experience of easily taking clear and good pictures matches people's shooting needs.

The other direction is the idea of ​​adding cameras. The first to create commercial influence in multi-camera is Huawei. The P9 launched by Huawei in 2016 added a 2-megapixel black-and-white lens to the main camera. The actual shooting performance is indeed Not bad.

However, because the black and white lens plays a role in assisting shooting, many people do not buy it and are suspected of making up the number. The iPhone 7 Plus launched in the same year gave another answer. It added a telephoto lens and supported 2 Optical zoom.

Based on this telephoto lens, iPhone introduced the popular portrait mode. The new shooting method and the improvement of shooting quality have justified the dual-lens design. At this point, commercial success and new shooting methods have made the multi-camera system popular, and various mobile phone manufacturers have begun to invest in the development of multi-camera systems.

With the development of the mobile phone market, the position of this second camera has gradually become clearer. It is an ultra-wide-angle camera. From the shooting demand, it solves the problem of wide shooting. It is used in multiple scenes such as architecture and selfies. There is better utilization, and the high utilization rate makes it a fixed role.

If you pay attention, you will find that in the past two years, mainstream Android manufacturers such as Huawei and Xiaomi have used a "dual main camera" design on their flagship products, a dual main camera combination of a wide-angle lens and an ultra-wide-angle lens, and even two OPPO Find X3 series. The image sensor used for the main camera is IMX766. It can be seen that the main camera + ultra-wide-angle lens combination meets the needs of mainstream users and will be further reflected in the unified choice of various mobile phone manufacturers.

As for this third camera, it is undoubtedly a zoom lens.

The high-quality main camera solves the shooting clearly, and the ultra-wide-angle solves the full shooting. In our daily life, it is also important to shoot far away. Shooting distant scenery through a telephoto lens can better highlight the subject, and then get more Good perspective.

Apple has done a lot of research on this. Starting with the iPhone 11, a seamless zoom experience has been achieved through a triangular lens arrangement. Last year, the telephoto lens of the iPhone 12 Pro Max was increased from 52mm to 65mm, further increasing the shooting distance.

The development of mobile photography obviously refers to traditional photography. It satisfies people’s needs for clear, far-reaching, and more photography in the limited space of mobile phones. In addition, mobile phones are portable devices, and it is impossible to replace cameras. Photographing is obviously a more convenient and direct choice.

The combination of main camera + ultra-wide-angle + telephoto meets people's daily basic needs, prompting mobile phone manufacturers to move towards a consistent choice of three-camera system, but on this fourth camera, each company has failed to agree with each other, and the answers are different. .

Regarding the fourth camera, each company gave different answers

For the fourth camera, Android manufacturers mostly chose 3D ToF lenses at the beginning. Huawei P40 Pro is a typical one. On this phone, its specific function is to perceive object depth information.

When taking portrait photos, it can be used to record distance information to simulate the effect of optical perspective through calculation to achieve more detailed edge blur and highlight the main character.

Starting with iPhone 12, Apple has also used LiDAR, which is actually the same product as 3D ToF, but the technology implemented is not the same. However, Apple's layout of this radar is obviously not limited to photography assistance, and more importantly, it is more important to pave the way for the layout of AR content.

With the development of technology, various companies have gradually given different answers. Samsung has used ultra-telephoto on the Galaxy S20 Ultra, and the magnification has been increased from 2x to 10x hybrid zoom, or even 100x magnification. It is far beyond the range that the human eye can recognize.

At one time, it also caused people to worry about privacy. With such a large magnification, it is easy to be photographed even when the doors and windows of the house are opened, and the freedom of dressing is lost at home.

But the final result proves that this kind of worry is unnecessary. On the one hand, the actual effect of 100x magnification is not particularly good. Most of them are realized through digital cutting, and the utilization rate of this function is really not high. It is hard for some users to think of it after being fresh.

▲ Galaxy S21 Ultra still supports 100x zoom, which is also one of the exclusive features of the super cup

In daily life scenes, it is still relatively rare to really use super magnification.

On the other hand, ultra-telephoto is often realized on mobile phones through a periscope structure, which takes up a lot of mobile phone space, and at the same time further increases the weight, which is not in line with the current development trend of thinner mobile phones.

We can also draw similar conclusions from the latest flagship Android device equipped with Snapdragon 888. The utilization rate and the high requirements for the space and weight of the mobile phone have made the ultra-telephoto lose the favor of the mobile phone manufacturers. The ultra-telephoto design is in It's becoming rarer on mobile phones.

Finally, there is the "microscope". OPPO gave a 60x microscope lens at the position of the fourth camera on the Find X3 series. During the experience, we also said that it is more suitable for shooting flat objects. At this time, the film rate is also relatively high. high.

There is also the operation of shooting the screen display arrangement, but this is still a more curious function. After the early adopters like the super telephoto, it is difficult to remember to use it daily.

Even if it is used in vertical industries for professional purposes, the 60x microscope lens is still far inferior to industrial microscopes. There are bright spots in the experience, but compared with the first three cameras, there is still a certain gap in practicality.

▲ A notebook plane taken with a 60x microscope lens

Why can't the fourth camera form a fixed combination with the previous main camera + super wide-angle + telephoto?

As a popular product, the image application of mobile phones is still based on people’s daily life scenes. After the first three cameras meet people’s daily photography needs, the fourth camera does not find a real just-needed scene, which is the same from the product point of view. Almost out of the scope of traditional photography "recording what the human eye sees".

From this phenomenon, we can also get a glimpse of the future development direction of mobile photography.

The fourth camera should be 3D ToF

Previously, I discussed the future development direction of the smart phone multi-camera system with practitioners in the mobile phone industry in Shenzhen, and his views were:

While multi-shots fill the vacancy in focal lengths, support for more features is added. For example, telephoto can add a super macro function.

Judging from the current mobile phone market, the situation is indeed similar to what he said. The ultra-telephoto and microscope lenses are both explorations of new features, but their practicability and usage rate are not as good as the first three, although they are not a total number of cameras. , But it will inevitably be complained by users. This is to sell new technologies instead of starting from user experience.

From a marketing perspective, whether it is a 100x magnification or a 60x microscope, it is promoted as an important selling point of the product. The curiosity of new technologies and new functions can still attract many ordinary users, especially in the popular mobile phone market. , Big Cup, Super Big Cup product strategy.

They are often used as flagships of super big cups. They are one of the important product differences from the medium and basic versions. Consumers spend a few thousand yuan to buy super big cups, but only get back a curious application with a low usage rate. This does not seem to be counted. It's worth it.

Of course, innovation has a cost, but whether this cost needs to be paid directly by consumers on the product is still worth discussing.

As for the remaining 3D ToF or LiDAR, it is more likely to become the fourth lens of a smartphone. Although it is more of an auxiliary function in the field of photography, its real ability is indeed not in the photographic content, but Serving AR content.

That is to record the information of real things and display it on the mobile phone screen through calculations and other methods. This is similar to the original iPhone without the physical keyboard. The iPhone without the keyboard introduces a new way of interaction. Based on the flexibility of the screen in the content display, people can enjoy more types of content and services through mobile phones.

▲ Using AR to watch the new iPhone after the Apple conference has become a new habit of digital enthusiasts

AR is the same. It is a brand-new content medium that allows smartphones to break through the limitations of two-dimensional and display three-dimensional content, which is similar to the future in science fiction movies.

The impact of new content and services on experience and even life is revolutionary. From this perspective, with the development of technology, the fourth lens of a smart phone should be a 3D ToF lens in the future.

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