The smartphone revolution means everyone routinely has a camera on them these days, but for some photography aficionados, a good-quality DSLR simply can’t be replaced.
However, the quality of smartphone cameras is improving all the time, with handsets capturing stunning images with remarkable clarity.
As a result, independent photography lab DxOMark, which regularly tests mobile phone cameras, believes they could eventually be on an even footing with dedicated cameras.
Clement Viard, senior director of image quality evaluation at DxOMark, told Digital Trends: “Smartphone cameras have a long road before they reach DSLR level, but I think the gap is closing, the progress has been huge in the last five years.”
Finding the best camera
Every smartphone manufacturer will tell you their handset offers a brilliant camera, so finding the best can be tricky.
That’s why DxOMark’s reviews have become so valued among customers, as they offer a simple and objective measurement that allows different smartphone cameras to be compared.
As a result, many manufacturers will advertise the DxOMark score they’ve achieved themselves, as it’s a measurement that consumers trust and understand, perhaps more so than a marketing tagline and dry technical figures.
Mr Viard commented: “When Google achieved top marks [for the Pixel], they covered London in ads because they were proud.”
How are smartphone cameras tested?
According to Mr Viard, smartphone cameras are always tested in auto mode, with pictures being taken as soon as the phone is switched on.
He pointed out that while camera users typically tweak settings, this isn’t the case for smartphone users, as they expect to be able to just push a button.
As a result, this has to be reflected in the tests, while all smartphone cameras must be tested in the same way and measured on the same criteria, such as contrast, exposure and autofocus.
Mr Viard also stressed that the tests can’t be confined to a lab, so the same external locations are tested at around the same time of day.
“We try to find places where the colours will always be the same, where there is dark and light to see how it handles shading,” he said.
Once the photos have been taken, they are meticulously checked by experts and a 100-page report is compiled.
Of course, some elements of judging photography are objective, but DxOMark will simply call in additional experts if the panel is struggling to agree on any specific issue.
Interestingly, Mr Viard revealed that the exact methodology behind its scoring system is confidential – and this is for a very good reason.
He stated that if the way it designs the score formula becomes known, it could influence some of the choices that companies make.
As a result, keeping it secret ensures DxOMark’s ratings remain the best third-party benchmark of smartphone camera quality, without anyone trying to effectively play the system.
The sheer number of phones that are coming on the market mean it simply doesn’t have the resources to test every single model.
However, Mr Viard said that since more and more companies are highlighting the quality of the camera, it has had to broaden its scope beyond the likes of Apple, Nokia, Sony and Samsung.
“Today everybody is putting emphasis on the camera, ” he observed.
“HTC, Huawei, OnePlus, and Google have made huge improvements to the camera, so the number of companies we test has grown.”
A good quality camera is no longer something that is simply nice to have – it’s become a key differentiator of quality and a big selling point for many handsets.
And this trend looks set to continue, especially if – as DxOMark believes – smartphone cameras will be up there with DSLRs in the future.