Choose the right mobile phone
What do you want most out of a phone?
Photos and video
The number of pictures taken on phones long ago overtook the number of snaps captured on proper cameras. It's not surprising really, as we carry our phones with us everywhere we go.
As a result they're within easy reach when we want to capture those one-off special moments, such as your mate bursting his trousers while trying to jump over a bin on the way home from the boozer, or your nan's dentures falling into the trifle at the Christmas dinner table.
The quality of cameras on phones varies widely. Some are so poor and pixellated they make photos look like a Minecraft screenshot, while others are starting to get close to dedicated cameras in terms of clarity and sharpness. The latest high-end models can now even shoot HD video in full 1080p glory.
Don't fixate on megapixels When you're looking for a phone that can also do a reasonable job of doubling up as a camera or camcorder, it's easy to become fixated on megapixels, but they don't tell the whole story about the quality of shots or video that a camera can produce. Other factors such as the quality of the camera's sensor and lens, whether it has fixed or autofocus, and the sophistication of its image processing have a huge impact on the quality of the photos you'll get from your phone.
Nevertheless, the number of megapixels does give you an indication of how seriously the phone maker has taken the camera. As a rule of thumb, if a phone has a higher than 3.2-megapixel sensor then it'll have a reasonably good camera onboard. A 4- or 5-megapixel camera will provide enough detail for shots to be printed at A4 size. High-end smart phones have 8 or more megapixels.
Lens and autofocus are important Many phones now have cameras with much higher megapixel counts, but a higher number isn't always better, as the sensors on camera phones are often tiny and packing in more megapixels often just increases picture noise. Just as with a normal camera, the quality of the lens on your phone can be as important as its megapixel count. A higher-quality lens can help more light reach your camera's sensor and focus that light better for improved image sharpness.
You should also look for a phone that has autofocus, as this will help you avoid blurry shots. Some phones with autofocus, however, can take a long time to find the correct focus. The best camera phones, such as the iPhone, are much faster at this, allowing you to capture pictures faster so you don't miss the moment. Also, if you like taking close-up shots then a macro mode is a must. It lets you get right in close on a subject while still keeping it in sharp focus.
Shedding light on the subject with a camera flash Because they use very small sensors, phones generally struggle to produce good photos in low light. This is why you'll want your phone's camera to have a flash. Some camera phones have a xenon flash, which produces the best results, but these are relatively rare, and manufacturers are increasingly relying on LED flashes instead. These produce plenty of light, but aren't as flattering on skin tones as xenon. Still, any kind of flash is better than none at all.
Image processing for better photos The software that drives the camera in phones is also becoming much smarter, with manufacturers adding extra processing options. Apple added a High Dynamic Range mode on the iPhone 4, for example, and lots of other manufacturers have followed suit. When shooting in HDR mode, a camera takes multiple photos with different exposures and then blends the results together to create pictures with greater intensity levels across the image. The results can look especially good on landscapes and other outdoor shots.
As the lenses in camera phones tend to be relatively narrow angle, a panoramic mode can be very useful for capturing bigger scale photos. All the main smart phone OSes now have some form of panoramic mode built-in and many even let you take full 360-degree panoramic shots.
Good quality video The vast majority of camera phones can also be used to shoot video and some are even capable of capturing video at Full HD 1080p resolution. Even the best camera phones around tend to struggle to retain sharp images when capturing at 1080p, especially if there's a lot of movement. Often you'll actually get better and sharper results by dropping down to 720p resolution instead.
- High megapixel sensor
- Quality lens with autofocus and macro mode
- Camera flash
- Processing feature such as HDR and panoramic modes