Monday, January 09, 2006

Article: Camera phone features

Historically refered to as Camera Phone, a camera on a phone now is a standard feature. However, all cameras are not created equal, and it's true for those on cell phones as well. There are differences in resolution, quality, zoom, file formats and photo handeling. Let's see the main things to look for when shopping for a cell phone.

The main feature, and the one that is usually advertised, is the resolution. Most low or mid-range phones come with a VGA camera. The resolution is shown as either VGA or an amount of megapixels, such as 1.3 MPx or 2 MPx. Without going into too many details, it's important to know that this is the main thing that will decide how good your pictures will look, because a higher resolution means you have bigger pictures, or more details in them. A VGA camera will save pictures in 640x480 format, which means 640 pixels horizontally, and 480 vertically. To find out how many megapixels that is, you take 640 * 480 = 307,200, which is 0.37 megapixels. So as you can see, going from a VGA camera (0.37 MPx) to a 2 MPx camera will make a huge difference. You can do the math for higher resolutions too. A 1.3 MPx camera will make 1280x1024 images, and a 2 MPx camera will make a 1600x1200 picture. Overall, a VGA camera will make poor pictures in almost all cases, simply because it's such a low resolution, but a 1.3 MPx or higher camera will be fine for printing photos.

The second feature is the zoom. Note that unlike old analog cameras, those on phones can have 2 types of zoom. The camera itself can provide a zoom, which is usually pretty good. But they can also specify a second zoom value, which is really just the software inside the phone taking the image, and zooming in, which is completely useless, since any image manipulation program can do that, and it reduces the image quality. So if you want to take images from far away, you will want a high enough zoom. Note also that while many camera phones now come with a flash, these flash are usually quite poor, and will do nothing for far objects.

Once the picture is taken, you have to be aware of which format the phone will save it as. You can always save it in the phone and come back to it using the phone's software, but at some point you'll want to save it elsewhere or print it. Also if you want to take lots of photos, you may want to buy a phone with an expansion slot, however even saving the photos to a removable flash card does not mean the photos on that card can be read on any computer or printer natively. It varies depending on the phone. Most phones will save files as jpeg, which is the common image format for web sites, however jpeg is a compressed format, and while useful as a space saving measure, it is the second reason (after camera resolution) why an image may be of low quality. This varies a lot between phones, and you can only find out what the resulting files will look like if you try it out.

Another aspect of photo manipulation to be aware of is what your provider does. Most providers will sell you a phone that is setup to use their own systems, and many of them will either easily allow you to, or often even require you to save your photos directly on their servers, using the cell network. This means that you will be unable to save the photo to your phone and transfer it to your computer via Bluetooth or wi-fi, and may even cost you some money for every photo you take because of bandwidth fees for sending it to the server. This is a very important part to check with your provider.

Lastly, the only way to be sure is to try it out, often at a store or with a friend's phone. To avoid being locked in, you can also decide to buy an unlocked phone or go with a provider that doesn't restrict their phones so much. Overall, recent phones deliver very good pictures, some going up to 7 megapixels, but if you want the highest quality or do professional photography, you will need an actual camera.

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