Budget phones should have one good camera, not four crappy cameras – Review Geek


You cannot work for a site called Geek Reviews without gaining hands-on experience with a ton of smartphones. But every time a new budget phone crosses my path, I get more and more frustrated with a stupid trend. These affordable phones all have three, four or even five cameras, but they can’t take a half-decent photo.

Budget makers sacrifice camera quality just to say, “Look how many cameras are in our phone!” It’s a terrible situation that doesn’t benefit customers, and it could all be fixed by reducing these phones to just one good camera and focusing the money on quality.

Why do phones have so many cameras?

The OnePlus Nord N10 5G, a cheap phone with four rear cameras.
Andrew Heinzman

Twenty years ago, people started realizing that their flip phones could replace a compact camera. Sure, clamshell cameras didn’t capture the best images, but they were incredibly handy. And after a few years of technological advancements, cameras have suddenly become one of the main selling points of mobile phones.

It’s been over a decade since the launch of the first smartphone, and yet camera quality is at the center of almost every phone advertisement. I would argue that the quality of the phone’s camera is more important than ever, because there aren’t many ways to make modern phones stand out from each other.

This demand for high quality cameras has pushed manufacturers towards an interesting trend. Manufacturers are now putting multiple cameras into phones, each with a specific purpose. And frankly, that’s a great idea. Select phones now pack a standard, ultra-wide, telephoto, and macro lens to suit a variety of shooting styles and environments.

If you buy a high-end phone with multiple cameras, you can expect each lens to take high-quality photos. Having on-demand access to all this material is an incredible convenience, unless all the cameras suck, of course.

Most new budget phones come with three or four terrible and awful cameras. This is one of the most bizarre trends in this market, and it does nothing to benefit customers. But here’s the thing; manufacturers cannot join the multi-camera trend without sacrificing camera quality. It’s a very simple compromise.

Additional cameras increase manufacturing costs

The new Moto Edge+ phone in hand

In order to make great phone cameras, manufacturers have to spend a lot of money choosing cool parts, going through R&D, and employing talented people. In the world of $1,000 iPhones, this stuff pays for itself, but budget phone makers need to save money.

Saving money isn’t always a bad thing – it’s why we have cheap phones in the first place! But when a manufacturer decides to stick four cameras on a $200 phone, it can only make stupid compromises. Resources are scattered, resulting in things like poor quality camera hardware or an unfocused R&D process. In the end, we’re getting a bunch of crap cameras in an otherwise decent phone.

I must clarify that it is not just a material thing. Some cheap phones have huge camera sensors, which should capture amazing photos! But the software seems to be a bit more important. Without good software, photos look washed out and discolored. the OnePlus Nord N10 5G is a prime example; its massive 64-megapixel camera takes some of the blurriest photos I’ve ever seen.

Brands like Google and Apple are masters of software, which is why iPhones and Pixel phones use relatively small camera sensors. The iPhone 13, for example, has a 12 MP main camera. But it takes amazing photos because Apple spends a ton of money developing computational photography algorithms.

Obviously, smaller brands don’t have the money to beat Apple’s or Google’s camera software. But budget phones don’t need perfect cameras; they just need cameras that consistently take good pictures. It’s clear that these brands just aren’t spending the money on the right products. So what is the solution ?

A good camera is all we need

The Pixel 3a in black.

Instead of stretching a small budget to dump four cameras into a cheap phone, manufacturers should focus on developing just one good camera (plus a decent selfie camera, obviously). This will give businesses more money to invest in hardware, software, and optimization.

At first, the results of this regimen may not be too impressive. But a manufacturer on a budget can reuse the same cameras in multiple phones, stretching software development over several years. That’s what Google and Apple do with their cameras, and it seems to work pretty well!

I admit that using only one camera in a phone has its downsides. You can’t take an ultra-wide shot without an ultra-wide camera and all that. But I’d still rather have just one good camera, and realistically some people don’t even know how to use the extra cameras on their phones.

Additionally, some brands have successfully tested the single camera strategy. the Google Pixel 3a, which is one of the best budget phones ever, has only one rear camera. And while Apple’s iPhone SE is regularly thrown under the bus, people generally complain about its outdated design, not its lack of lenses.

Will things improve?

The TCL 30 5G in blue and black.

It is clear that budget manufacturers should focus on substance, not appearance. It’s what customers want and expect from their phones. But I doubt that situation will change anytime soon, as any attempt to fix the problem could hurt a manufacturer’s bottom line.

Phones aren’t free, and neither are phone plans. Still, a phone is basically necessary if you want to maintain an income, a home, and other necessities. Suffice it to say, people don’t want that money wasted, they want a decent phone!

Here’s the problem; Learning about phones takes time and the knowledge you acquire constantly becomes outdated. The average person just buys a nice phone when their old one doesn’t work anymore. It would be a waste of time to learn about this subject.

If you don’t know much about phones and need a new one right away, you’re going to take things literally. And that includes the cameras. From a business perspective, sticking a single camera in a phone is a dumb idea, because that phone will look like a rip-off sitting next to the $200 handset with a huge quad-camera bump on the back.

While it might not be the most profitable position, I really hope manufacturers abandon the multi-camera trend and focus on quality. But I am not optimistic.

If there is a silver lining, then the quality of the camera will slowly improve in the industry. Affordable phones of the future will take better photos than today’s iPhones. At least, I hope so!

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