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After Hours

Smartphone Cameras Step Closer to High-End Power

Smartphone Cameras Step Closer to High-End Power
February 28, 2014 9:36AM

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Super-thin smartphones are packing some big camera power these days. With new advances, smartphone photos, ubiquitous because of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, will be closer in quality to images captured by digital single-lens reflex cameras, also known as DSLR. Samsung, Sony, Nokia and other firms are in the mix.

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Expect sharper, clearer selfies this year. Samsung Electronics Co. has beefed up the camera in its Galaxy S5 smartphone due for April release and added smarter camera software, following Sony and Nokia in their upgrades of handset cameras. The tweaks mean smartphone photos, ubiquitous nowadays because of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, will be closer in quality to images captured by digital single-lens reflex cameras, also known as DSLR.

How to give a super-thin smartphone the power of a DSLR camera that can capture moving images with clarity is a key challenge for the likes of Samsung, Sony, Nokia and LG as they try to differentiate their offerings in a crowded handset market. Their efforts to make smartphone cameras more powerful have taken a toll on the compact, point-and-shoot camera market, but catching up to the high-end cameras used by professional photographers had appeared a far-fetched ambition.

The gap is getting narrower thanks mainly to improvements in camera software and other technologies, but may never close completely.

The global wireless show that wraps up in Barcelona on Thursday showed smartphone makers using software trickery to offset their camera weaknesses: inferior image sensors and lack of optical zoom lens. The companies are also making photo manipulation on the phone easier to learn than manually controlling DSLR cameras.

Instead of touting their smartphones as thinner, lighter or bigger screened, Samsung, Sony and LG were boasting how their latest mobile gadgets can record ultra-high definition videos known as 4K, take big-pixel pictures without a second of delay and capture clearer images even at a low-light settings and when a subject is moving.

One trend in smartphone camera this year will be phase detection autofocus, previously available only in cameras with interchangeable lens, said Chris Chute, a director at research company IDC.

Samsung showcased the feature in the Galaxy S5, the latest version of the South Korean company's flagship smartphone. It reduces the time it takes to focus on a subject to 0.3 second so even when the subject is moving, the image can be captured with a sharp edge, said Seshu Madhavapeddy, Samsung's senior vice president for U.S. product and technology.

"Now that phones are starting to have this, consumers will only be more likely to use phones for not just everyday pictures, but more and more for special event photography," Chute said.

With the 16 megapixel rear camera in the Galaxy S5, it is possible to preview the result of applying high dynamic range imaging to pictures. HDR imaging usually helps create better pictures in extreme lighting conditions but with digital cameras, it is processed after snapping a photo. (continued...)

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