Are multiple cameras in smartphones the trend of the future?

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Are multiple cameras in smartphones the trend of the future?

A month ago, a rumor leaked to the network about Nokia smartphones with five main cameras. How should we treat this? An interesting and promising rumor or another strange thing? As unique as this design may look, Nokia will certainly not be able to become a pioneer in the field of introducing an unusual number of lenses and sensors into compact devices. The Light L16 camera was equipped with 16 lenses in 2015, and the company apparently has a new prototype in the works. Above, you can see what this could potentially look like.

With the triple camera introduced in the Huawei P20 Pro, the transition to a smartphone with five cameras no longer sounds as comical as it might have been a couple of years ago. However, the main question remains – what is the point in this?

What to do with so many lenses?

The first thing that comes to mind is the variety of camera sensor types available in today's smartphone market and the ability to add more. Why choose between wide angle, telephoto, portrait with bokeh, or monochrome when you can get it all in one device?

While theoretically possible, such a design would be quite awkward to use. The software will have to switch between modes automatically or offer a complex set of options to the user. Moreover, the development of such a design would be very expensive with all the dubious advantages of such a solution. Each camera would function largely independently, and buyers would hardly be using a large number of modes. And it's unclear how much they would be willing to pay for such functionality. So cameras with multiple modules need to do more to attract the user.

Huawei The P20 Pro already offers its own version of how multiple camera modules can work together to produce interesting results. We are talking about technologies from Huawei such as Monochrome and Hybrid Zoom. The former improves the dynamic range of standard frames by combining data from a conventional RGB and light-sensitive black-and-white sensor. And Hybrid Zoom promises even more: it combines data from multiple cameras to increase image resolution for better zoom. As a result, the P20 Pro's 8MP telephoto lens enables you to shoot at 10MP at 3x and 5x zoom.

Higher resolution means more flexibility

The first Light L16 camera worked in a similar way, using periscope mirrors to fit the camera modules into a compact body. The camera took data from several modules at 28, 70 and 150 mm, depending on the zoom level. The end result was a large 52MP shot taken from 10 slightly different angles, available up to 5x magnification. The concept of the new model, designed for smartphones, works with 5-9 lenses. Such a camera module is capable of taking large 64-megapixel images.

This multi-shot idea also adds advantages in low-light and HDR photography at the expense of multiple apertures. A high-quality depth of field effect is also made available through both software emulation and multiple focal lengths.

The Light L16 was disappointing, but the idea itself was promising. And the next generation may well be worthwhile. The company claims that a smartphone will be announced at the end of the year, where their latest multi-lens solution will be installed.

Are multiple cameras in smartphones the trend of the future?

The same idea can be traced back to Nokia's expertise in implementing multiple cameras, given the old history of investing in Pelican Imaging in 2013. Unlike Light, the sensor is much smaller here. Even so, the technology promises very similar benefits, including programmatically changing focus, measuring depth and increasing the size of the final image. Unfortunately, Tessera bought the company in 2016, but the idea itself may not have left the minds of Nokia engineers.

Zeiss, Nokia's current photography partner, has a patent on switchable zoom, but we haven't heard from them any more about the multi-lens design. Perhaps more promising is another Nokia partner, FIH Mobile. This company is owned by Foxconn, makes Nokia phones, and also invested in Light in 2015, licensing it to use the technology.

And if you think the Nokia leak and the Light prototype have something in common, it's not a coincidence. The link between the two is Foxconn. So will a Nokia smartphone be the first to use Light technology?

So is this the future?

Ultra-high resolution is not a new concept; in 2014 the Oppo Find 7 followed a similar principle, and the Hybrid Zoom from Huawei allowed the technology to work with multiple cameras. Historically, high performance requirements, algorithm quality, and power consumption have been the main technology challenges. But modern smartphones have more powerful signal processors, energy-efficient DSP chips and even improved neural network capabilities, which gradually reduces the significance of the problem.

High detail, optical zoom, and customizable bokeh top the camera requirements for a modern smartphone, and multi-camera technology can help you succeed. Rather than having separate cameras perform different functions, the future of mobile photography is combining multiple cameras to provide more advanced and flexible capabilities.

There are still some questions about the Light technology, especially when it comes to stitching images with different focal lengths. We can only wait and see what changes for the better in the second generation of technology.

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