Cell phones and cell phone cameras have advanced in ways that few could have anticipated. In the past, a cell phone camera was good for no better than a grainy, poor quality picture. Nowadays, however, the quality of cell phone photos has improved to where more and more people have concluded that they have no need for a separate digital camera.
That’s not to say that you should be thrilled to see the wedding photographer you hired for a king’s ransom show up with nothing more than his phone, but for most non-professional purposes, a good camera phone can now take high enough quality pictures to satisfy most people.
All indications are that camera phone technology will only get better. As recently as September 2009, Samsung announced the first 12 Megapixel camera phone with Optical Zoom, and it took only until 2010 for Texas Instruments to announce a 20 Megapixel camera phone.
Not that there aren’t important challenges to overcome to continue to improve the quality of the pictures you can take with a camera phone. There’s a limit to how fancy a lens manufacturers can incorporate in a camera phone and still keep the phone as small as people want. Also the silicon chip light sensors have to be so tiny to fit into such a small device that that was once believed to put a ceiling on how good camera phones could get.
Yet innovation continues, and these obstacles become less formidable. One thing to look for in the future of camera phones is increased use of Panoptes technology. Named for the hundred-eyed watchman of Greek mythology, this technology makes use of multiple low resolution sensors that can then be combined so that the sum is of greater quality than the parts and you end up with a high resolution image. Furthermore, it is a “smart” technology that recognizes the likely area of interest of a photograph-such as a person’s face-and makes sure the focus is best in that area.
Especially intriguing is an emerging technology called QuantumFilm, which has been developed by California tech company InVisage.
An improvement over the conventional silicon chip, which registers less than half of the photons that contact it, QuantumFilm is a layer of tiny crystals that more efficiently absorb light and emit either photons or electrons. This thin layer of quantum dots is a liquid combination of lead and sulfide that rests under a color filter and over the camera’s electronics and silicon. Light going through the color filter creates negatively charged electrons in the QuantumFilm layer, and an electric field organizes these electrons into an electrical signal that can be read by the circuitry below.
Truly it appears we haven’t reached, and may not even be close to, the limit of how far camera phones can advance.
Kate Greene, “Quantum Dot Camera Phones.” Technology Review.
Sandeep, “20MP Camera-Phones in the Near Future!” FoneArena.
“8 Future Cell Phone Innovations.” Cellphones.org.