The Ultrawide Camera in Phones Is Usually Terrible, and It Will Be for a While

This camera provides a lot of versatility, but its quality continues to be poor.

The ultra-wide-angle camera in phones is usually terrible, and it will be for a while
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Practically every phone has at least a main and ultrawide camera. And while versatility is always welcome, it’s worrying that in 2024, the quality of the ultrawide sensor is always noticeably below what we see on the main lens.

Whenever I review a phone, I always say the same thing: “The ultrawide angle camera gives you versatility, but it’s the lowest-quality sensor.” Why doesn’t this happen with the telephoto lens? Why don't phone designers put more love into it? The answer is simple: cost savings.

What You May Not Know About Ultrawide Lenses

Although the processing has a lot to do with it, there's one key component that largely determines the quality of the photos: the sensor. Phones like the Google Pixel have been proving for years that you don’t need a huge sensor to take good photos. Yet, the brutal progress of the competition in implementing larger ones has forced Google to make choices.

This is the key to what happens with ultrawide angle sensors. Most phones, even mid-range ones, have more-than-decent main sensors, although the ultrawide sensor is tiny. Why?

The ultrawide sensor is often the same one that phone designers use for selfie cameras, which inevitably makes it small and an afterthought.

It comes down to one interesting fact: Hardware manufacturers sell sensors that can be used for both selfies and ultrawide shots.

As such, the ultrawide sensor will undoubtedly be very small. Without going any further, this week, Samsung presented its new ISOCELL JN5, a sensor with a 1/2.76 optical format and a size of 0.64 μm.

What are the numbers on a telephoto lens? Samsung also just introduced the new GNJ, which is 1/1.57 inch (much closer to an inch), with a pixel size of 1.0 μm, practically twice as large.

The Size of a Good Camera Doesn’t Help, Either


Why don’t phone designers simply put larger sensors in the ultrawide camera? First of all, this is an inherently secondary camera. The telephoto lens, the one that allows us to zoom, is usually much more important. The ultra wide-angle is frequently forgotten, except for very specific photographers who need it.

On the other hand, the space under the camera module is tiny. Phone designers keep adding improvements to these modules in the main lens and telephoto lens, which arrive in dribs and drabs. But adding a large ultrawide lens is quite complex, at least if you want to respect current sizes.

In short, the mix leads to the inevitable: Ultrawide cameras that are and will remain the weakest sensor in phones for many years to come.

Images | Xataka On

Related | Phone Cameras Won’t Improve No Matter How Much the Sensor Size Increases. There’s One Clear Culprit

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