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Apple expected to sit out on megapixel horserace with 2014 iPhones

post #1 of 152
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Smartphone manufacturers are expected to continue their battle for pixel-pushing dominance in 2014 with new cameras of 13 megapixels and beyond, but according to one insider, Apple is currently expected to sit out on the megapixel race this year to concentrate on other ways to better images from its next iPhone.

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People familiar with the matter have told AppleInsider that Apple will likely forego a high-megapixel camera in its 2014 iPhone offerings, in favor of tweaking other image-enhancing components. In other words, megapixels are less of a priority for Apple than overall image quality.

The current iPhone 5s is a good example of how Apple is not interested in playing the numbers game when it comes to camera sensor pixel count. Instead of boosting the number of pixels in the iPhone 5s camera, Apple enlarged each pixel's size to 1.5 microns in diameter, a 0.1-micron increase from the iPhone 5. The larger surface area increased the sensor's light gathering capabilities by 33 percent compared to the previous iSight rear facing camera.

Outside of the camera sensor, Apple refined the iPhone's optics package to allow for greater light transmission. The 5s brought a faster f/2.2 lens group into the mix, offering better low-light performance and improved image quality.

This does not mean that the next-gen iPhone will stick with the same 8MP iSight camera as the iPhone 5s and 5c, but may suggest Apple is planning a more conservative upgrade route. The most recent resolution change was seen with the iPhone 4S to iPhone 5, which brought a 3MP bump.

Apple's apparent lack of interest in "out-megapixeling" its competition comes as a number of upcoming high-profile smartphone releases from iPhone competitors are expected to reach 13MP and beyond. In a research note issued this week, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo detailed how major manufacturers are racing to shoehorn 13MP+ CMOS image sensors (CIS) into this year's handsets, including Samsung, numerous Chinese brands, and even Amazon, which is expected to enter the smartphone market in the next 3 to 6 months.

Suppliers
Source: KGI Securities


Sony has been the sole provider for Apple's backside illuminated iPhone CIS products since the iPhone 4S. This is interesting considering he also expects the Japanese electronics giant to be the dominant supplier for this year's round of 13MP+ sensors, taking a 65.7-percent share of the market.

"In terms of technology, Sony leads CIS suppliers with its BSI process, which boasts better sensitivity and color saturation quality," Kuo writes. "In 13MP and higher spec, the smaller pixel size creates more difficulty to sensitivity and color saturation. This is where Sony's BSI process stands out."

Shipments


The analyst sees shipments of smartphones carrying 13MP+ cameras growing 70 percent year-on-year, a rate significantly higher than that of phones using 8MP and 5MP shooters. Leading the charge is Samsung, which will also use Sony's CIS, as well as a variety of lesser-known Chinese brands.

Marketshare of 13MP-and-above smartphones will continue to rise in 2015 as higher resolution sensors replace the current high-end smartphone standard of 8MP. By the end of fiscal 2014, 13MP cameras will account for 65 percent of these high-resolution components, Kuo says.

Further, next-generation application processors (APs) coming out this year will offer support 13MP+ image sensors, meaning lower-end smartphones can use the technology as a growth driver. As seen below, most AP makers will have some sort of offering in 2014. The only company to keep its chips premium is Samsung.

Rival Samsung, however, is one of the main contenders and will ship the Galaxy S5 with 16MP camera in the next couple of months.

CIS


One final graphic from Kuo's projections show Sony will launch a 21MP 1/2.4" CIS in the last quarter of 2014. Although the pixel count is nearly triple that of Apple's current iSight camera, the introduction may hint at the direction in which the company will be pulled by component purchasers as the megapixel race continues.
post #2 of 152
But but...its all about the megapixels! More megapixels, means better photos!!!

/s

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post #3 of 152
Better 8MP of goodness than 30MP of crap. Indeed if it improved low light perf and S/N I'd be happy if there were a 5MP setting, which is more than enough for on-screen viewing.
post #4 of 152
...and as we all learned from their marketing at the Oscars, Samsung phones aren't capable of taking a decent picture.
post #5 of 152
I think the article means the last recent increase from the iPhone 4 to 4s, which saw the camera improve from 5 mp to 8 mp.

I don't mind the next iPhone sticking with 8mp, but can apple also improve the iPad's camera to 8 mp as well? The iPad's current 5 mp camera seems like an artificial limitation just to ensure the iPhone retains the better camera quality between the two.
post #6 of 152
Megapixels matter, but only to a point. I'm sure if they are not adding pixels this year they have their reasons. Phones are very thin, anyway. Perhaps phone manufactures including Apple should consider stacking the cameras vertically inside their phones so they can put in better cameras than the physical thickness will allow.
Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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post #7 of 152

I found a website site, cameraimagesensor.com, that has some mobile phones listed with information about their sensors. The iPhone 5 sensor size is 1/3.2" with a sensor dimension of 4.54×3.42 mm. The Nokia Lumina 1020 with it's huge sensor of 2/3" and sensor size of 8.80×6.60 mm means it's 4X the size of the iPhone 5. With 38MP (effective pixels), it's actually a bit more than 4X the number of the iPhone's 8MP (effective pixels). This should mean the pixel size is at least close to the same size so they both should about the same amount of light gathering capability. The Lumina's size is also the reason why it requires a big bump on the phone and why it takes up so much real estate inside the camera. Camera physics require a certain focal length to cover that large sensor. There comes a point where trying to cram a good quality CMOS sensor into a small device just doesn't fit the size requirements of that device. There have to be trade-offs.

 

One thing this article leaves out is the photo compression factor of the cameras in these phones. How much data is lost to this compression to allow more than a few photos to reside on the phones internal memory? We all know the Samsung phones don't have very much memory left for photos with all the garbage that's loaded on them so just how many 38MP photos will fit on the Lumina? What happens with video? What happens with a panoramic photo? How long does it take these photos to transfer to your computer or the cloud?

 

btw: my Canon 60D's 18MP sensor is 22.30×14.90 mm or 9X the size of the Lumina and has a pixel size of 18.5 microns; way more than any mobile phone would ever be capable of using. 

post #8 of 152
I wouldn't be surprised if we see a doubling of capacity, H.265 and 4K video this year.

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post #9 of 152

Please, Apple, stick with 8MP and continue to improve the lens (f2? optical stabilization?) or sensor size. The dual flash in the 5S is fantastic.

post #10 of 152
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

I wouldn't be surprised if we see a doubling of capacity, H.265 and 4K video this year.

I think 4K is jumping the gun a bit.  It will come but I don't think it will happen until the "6S" or "7".

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post #11 of 152
What is "conservative" about improving the image quality and functional capabilities of the camera? The megapixel race ended in high end DSLR cameras years ago.

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post #12 of 152
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

I wouldn't be surprised if we see a doubling of capacity, H.265 and 4K video this year.

Yes, that's relatively easy to achieve with enough processing power and storage. The sensor might need a spec bump, but not by much.

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post #13 of 152
Megapixel count still helps for digital zoom. Since most phones dont have optical zoom, you cant just discard that spec...
post #14 of 152
Quote:
Originally Posted by razorpit View Post

I think 4K is jumping the gun a bit.  It will come but I don't think it will happen until the "6S" or "7".

Quote:
Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post

Yes, that's relatively easy to achieve with enough processing power and storage. The sensor might need a spec bump, but not by much.

Here is my thinking on 4K video. The 8Mpx camera can already is equivalent to a 4K frame. And Apple recently hired that sole developer who wrote a clever app that would allow the device to take something like 10-20 8Mpx images per second. If Apple can use a faster sensor they could probably get that up to 30 still shots per second which would then be 30 frames per second for 4K video.

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post #15 of 152
So, Apple will choose quality over cheap marketing.

Yeah, sounds about right. I am sorry, but anyone who buys a Samsung phone gets what they deserve a POS with a large marketing budget. I was shocked when I found out how little usable space is provided on the Galaxy phones. To me this is toeing, if not crossing, the line of false advertising.
post #16 of 152
Due to the aspect ratio of 4K video - 16:9 and 21:9, if Apple sticks with the 4:3 ratio 8MP sensor in the next iPhone, it won't be able to incorporate 4K video even if it wanted too. It would require at least a 13MP 4:3 aspect ratio sensor to achieve that I think.
post #17 of 152
Quote:
Originally Posted by 1983 View Post

Due to the aspect ratio of 4K video - 16:9 and 21:9, if Apple sticks with the 4:3 ratio 8MP sensor in the next iPhone, it won't be able to incorporate 4K video even if it wanted too. It would require at least a 13MP 4:3 aspect ratio sensor to achieve that I think.

I didn't consider aspect ratio but I am also not aware of any iPhone that shots in 21:9.

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post #18 of 152
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

Perhaps phone manufactures including Apple should consider stacking the cameras vertically inside their phones so they can put in better cameras than the physical thickness will allow.

That doesn't work in practice, because there are compromises that aren't realistic for camera phones.

 

To stack the camera module vertically, you need a reflex mirror. Yes, that's been done before, since the 17th century, starting with the camera obscura.

 

The main issue is that the primary lens grouping needs to be in front of the reflex mirror for reasonable optical performance. That's fine for an SLR, the lens is mounted on the exterior of the camera body. However, with a reflex mirror, optical companies often select special retrofocus lens designs to improve image quality. These retrofocus designs require bigger glass, more elements, and result in greater costs and more weight/bulk.

 

An SLR company can simply make the lens bigger and advise the user to get a tripod if it's too heavy. You can't do that with a cellphone camera module.

 

When the back lens element is very close to the focal plane, you do not need to resort to retrofocus lens designs, and the lens can be much smaller. This is most noticeable when you compare 35mm film SLRs (e.g., Canon EOS body from 10-15 years ago) with 35mm film rangefinder cameras (e.g., Leica M6). The 50mm lens on the SLR is gigantic compared to that of the rangefinder, even though the focal plane shutter gate is exactly the same dimension (24x36mm).

 

If a cellphone manufacturer tried to stack the camera module vertically within the housing, the reflex mirror itself would force the primary lens group in front of it to protrude out of the handset by a considerable amount. The other option would be to miniaturize the parts (including the reflex mirror) to the point where the lens would not protrude, but that decreases lens resolving power, sensor area size, etc. to the point where a standard camera module would give better performance.

 

The reflex mirror design works well in many instances, but not when compact equipment is a priority. If you walked around with an SLR all day, you'd know because your neck would be sore.


Edited by mpantone - 3/20/14 at 7:43am
post #19 of 152

Apple is doing the right thing here.  Nobody really pays attention to the megapixels anymore - all people want is a good picture.  Apple should have no trouble convincing the average consumer that less megapixels means better pictures.

post #20 of 152

Higher res photos and videos will require a lot more storage space. Hopefully that fact alone will push Apple towards the 32/64/128GB options.  I don't think most people shop for a smartphone based on 8MP vs. 15MP and let that be the deciding factor. Tech people know the MP count doesn't necessarily mean a better photo. I do think Apple at least has to reach 10MP though as there is a psychological threshold of going to a 2 digit MP count vs. a single digit. Although it is very true that the MP war with DSLR cameras ended years ago that is because the vast majority of those customers are very tech savvy. Smartphone consumers aren't this savvy so Apple are smart to focus on image quality but at the same time do need to at least marginally bump it up so these people can grasp there is an improvement. Either that or launch a advertising campaign explaining the difference. 

 

The front facing camera has become just about as important as the rear facing one so Apple do need to step up their game a bit in that one as well which has not tended to keep pace with the rear camera in improvements. Selfies are here to stay. 


Edited by gwmac - 3/20/14 at 7:49am

 

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post #21 of 152

How about never increasing the megapixels ever again. All you get with more megapixels is a bigger possible picture with no pixelation. At the moment it could be blown unto the size of a wall. And you spend more space. Even stored as Jpegs or Mp4 the camera and pictures waste space.

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post #22 of 152
Good for Apple. I expect the trolls to get giddy as **** over this news, as it allow them to highlight the superiority of their X android phone over the meaningless bullet point.(as they've done thousands of times on this forum)
post #23 of 152
Quote:
Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post

The megapixel race ended in high end DSLR cameras years ago.

 

What did this megapixel race end up at (on average)?  Was it around 8 MP?

post #24 of 152
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

Megapixels matter, but only to a point. I'm sure if they are not adding pixels this year they have their reasons. Phones are very thin, anyway. Perhaps phone manufactures including Apple should consider stacking the cameras vertically inside their phones so they can put in better cameras than the physical thickness will allow.

The problem is the number of photosites in the sensor.   When they are densely packed, which they are in all small sensor phones (and point-and-shoots), they generate heat.   Heat makes for noise.    All other things being equal, a 16MP sensor will have far better high-ISO (low light) performance than a 32MB sensor.    

 

So if you increase the MP count without increasing the size of the sensor, you decrease quality.     A Nikon D1 camera from 1999 with 2.74 effective MP will still provide far better images than those from any of today's cellphone cameras and in some cases better quality than much larger cameras with higher MP counts. 

 

Unfortunately, most consumers are idiots and buy into the myth that more megapixels = better quality.   Even those who buy full-frame DSLRs fall into this trap.    It's because it's a simple concept to understand ("oh..a higher number...that must be better").

 

Although it's very cramped inside the phone, I would definitely like to see Apple provide a larger sensor and a larger lens in future generations of the iPhone, especially if they increase the screen size in future models.   In fact, what would be great is if Apple made it so the lens was removable and one could screw in different lenses (instead of putting an accessory lens on top of the built-in lens).    But Apple will never do that because they don't like "seams" in the surface of their products.   

 

Of late, Apple seems to be making incremental improvements to their products.   I'd like to see them once again be far more aggressive coming up with new concepts and ideas.    

post #25 of 152

Consumers are idiot face it, higher numbers are always better don't people know that already....

 

Apple has never played the specmanship game, yeah it cost them in the 90's since consumers mostly did check list buying, they would buy the product which had the most amount of features in the check list at the lowest cost. Apple change the game in the 2000's to it all about the experience not about the bits and bytes, MHz and GHz and the list goes on. 

 

Only Geeks worry about this since and as we know Apple is not worry about what the geeks thinks since they only represent a small portion of the buying public.

post #26 of 152
Quote:
Originally Posted by enzos View Post

Better 8MP of goodness than 30MP of crap. Indeed if it improved low light perf and S/N I'd be happy if there were a 5MP setting, which is more than enough for on-screen viewing.

 

They can perform what is called "binning" the sensor perfectly at 25% the number of pixels. That does make it pretty low resolution at 2MP though. They can do binning at other resolutions in between, but you have to do lots of processing to map the uneven pixels and that impacts the purity of the image. Doing the 2MP allows four sensor pixels to provide data for a single image pixel. So you get light from a much larger surface area of the sensor and this makes a dramatic quality difference in low-light. I am surprised Apple has not enabled a mode for this. It could be one more swipe in the camera app and would allow for better low-noise photos in low-light. Maybe even a long exposure mode at 2MP for some awesome iPhone night photography. :)

 

Tim,

 

Can you please make this happen?

 

Thanks

post #27 of 152
Quote:
Originally Posted by SudoNym View Post
 

Apple is doing the right thing here.  Nobody really pays attention to the megapixels anymore - all people want is a good picture.  Apple should have no trouble convincing the average consumer that less megapixels means better pictures.

 

Exactly right.  Except that educating the consoomer is not a trivial thing.

 

Three days ago I tried out a Nikon Coolpix S02 (13 megapixels) and took identical shots with it and with my 8 MP iPhone 5, and it's clear that the iPhone pictures were far superior.  The 13 MP Nikon photos were fuzzy to the point that they had an effective clarity HALF that of the iPhone.  For a device weighing the same and having no other functions than taking snapshots, I can't recommend it.  At all.

 

You'd be better off buying a broken iPhone 5 (provided it still takes photos and can offload them somehow) without a cellular carrier, and just use it as a camera.  Far superior.  And probably cheaper.

post #28 of 152
Quote:
Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post

What is "conservative" about improving the image quality and functional capabilities of the camera? The megapixel race ended in high end DSLR cameras years ago.

 

You're right.  A $6,500 Nikon D4s is 16.2 Mp.  A $8,000 D3x is 24.5 MP.  Wouldn't surprise me to see the next Samsung Galaxy "whatever" advertise itself as the best camera on the market at 28 MP.  Sad thing is people (the press) will fall for it hook, line, and sinker.

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post #29 of 152

Isn't this what HTC has been doing recently?

post #30 of 152

You people and you fruit fans don't have a clue.

 

My next Android phone will have a 65 megapixel camera! Try and beat that suckers!

 

As I sit here in my parent's basement, I can't wait to be able to capture the lovely view of my four grimy walls utilizing all 65 heavenly megapixels.

 

The image quality is not that important to me. I'm partially color blind and I'm not exactly that artistically inclined (I am an Android user after all), but what is important is that I will be able to boast that I have a 65 megapixel camera on my phone when I go and troll forums, because we all know that higher numbers are always better. Don't listen to any Apple fans when they bring up actual real world performance, they are so clueless and brainwashed. It's all about the specs, and I buy whatever has the highest spec numbers for the lowest price of course.

 

I consider myself to be an expert on judging camera phones, because I can count to at least one hundred, and all I need to do is see which phone has more megapixels. I even buy my t-shirts three sizes too large, because yep, you guessed it, it's all about the specs, and larger is better. And besides, those shirts were on sale, and that's mighty important also, for a savvy shopper like myself.

 

My new phone will also have an amazing 1,600 x 2,560 display. I don't have any access to any high quality video content, because no way in hell will I ever pay to watch any movie, but when I stream 480p movies from a pirate site, it looks great on my pentile display. 

post #31 of 152
Quote:
Originally Posted by macxpress View Post

But but...its all about the megapixels! More megapixels, means better photos!!!

/s

 

Remember the Megahertz Myth? Apple tried for years to convince the buying public that the speed of the processor was only one factor in system performance. Remember the PPC and its RISC instruction set that was more efficient than the Intel X86? But the buying public fell for the “faster is better” argument anyway. Remember when Apple (Jobs) finally succumbed to the myth? I certainly do since I purchased the water cooled G5 tower that leaked and fried the power supply about four years later.

 

This is the same thing happening again. It doesn’t matter that experts like Andy Ihnatko have declared the iPhone camera the best in the business because of the superior software the runs it. Joe and Judy walk into Best Buy and the sales drone quickly points out that the Samsung product has a 12 megapixel camera while the iPhone “only” has 8 megapixels. 

post #32 of 152
Quote:
Originally Posted by razorpit View Post
 

 

You're right.  A $6,500 Nikon D4s is 16.2 Mp.  A $8,000 D3x is 24.5 MP.  Wouldn't surprise me to see the next Samsung Galaxy "whatever" advertise itself as the best camera on the market at 28 MP.  Sad thing is people (the press) will fall for it hook, line, and sinker.

There are less expensive Nikon's that are 24 MP as well (http://www.dpreview.com/news/2012/04/19/Nikon-D3200-with-WiFi-Option)

 

It has more to do with the sensor, which Apple DID update on the 5S - and would be a much less disingenuous way of upgrading the camera.  The sensor on phones is already terrible compared to high-end camera - so bumping the pixelage would create a tonne of noise

post #33 of 152
Thank you for putting a stop to the megapixel war! Nobody needs 41 megapixels in a phone camera we need a bigger sensor.
post #34 of 152
I think you're absolutely correct.

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post #35 of 152

The more megapixels, the bigger the file size (unless you use a lower quality compression scheme). Apple should continue to focus (no pun intended) on improving image quality within the number of pixels they've got, reducing future pressure to increase the storage capacity of the phone or add a memory card slot.   Let the other companies go with their 64MP cameras, and let their customers struggle with memory cards, or limit themselves to a few dozen photos in their phone.  After all, old-fashioned 35mm film typically had a limit of 36 exposures.

post #36 of 152
Quote:
Originally Posted by herbapou View Post

Megapixel count still helps for digital zoom. Since most phones dont have optical zoom, you cant just discard that spec...

You have a point of sorts though I consider digital zoom to be a bit of a joke. More pixels do lead to better cropping and other pic manipulation , but it generally is better to have good quality pictures to begin with.

In any event I wouldn't be surprised to see Apple add optical zoom or something in the way of interchangeable lenses. Either has far more potential than blowing out the size of the CCD. Further I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Apples sapphire production is destined for camera lenses. I can very much see Apple adding a cell phone to its lineup focused on photography. It could be Tim's secret project.
post #37 of 152
Quote:
Originally Posted by DroidFTW View Post
 

 

What did this megapixel race end up at (on average)?  Was it around 8 MP?

Somewhere around 24MP I believe.

post #38 of 152
Quote:
Originally Posted by rob53 View Post
 

I found a website site, cameraimagesensor.com, ...

Too bad they don't have Canon 6D on the list :no:

post #39 of 152
Quote:
Originally Posted by TeaEarleGreyHot View Post

The more megapixels, the bigger the file size (unless you use a lower quality compression scheme).
I have no problem with file size. In fact more pixels can be a good thing if the quality is there. Beyond that once we have 4K displays 8 megapixels will start to be seen as low resolution. Given that I'd only expect more pixels from Apple if they can enhance quality.
Quote:
Apple should continue to focus (no pun intended) on improving image quality within the number of pixels they've got, reducing future pressure to increase the storage capacity of the phone or add a memory card slot.  
I'd rather have both really. 10-12 MegaPixels would be nice.
Quote:
Let the other companies go with their 64MP cameras, and let their customers struggle with memory cards, or limit themselves to a few dozen photos in their phone.  After all, old-fashioned 35mm film typically had a limit of 36 exposures.

Honestly Apple needs to address the lack of flash in its iOS devices sooner or later. It gets to the point that the pricing for more storage becomes a ripoff.
post #40 of 152
With a fixed focal length camera, small lense, it is not realistic to expect or demand a camera quality to compete with DSLR cameras. I would like much higher quality, but physics simply won't allow it. If I need the quality and control, I simply must bow to buying and using prosumer level cameras.
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