What will the best camera phone of 2030 look like? | Panda Anku

Mobile photography has come a long way. Go back 10 years to 2012 when smartphones were the norm but many people relied on reliable compact cameras when on vacation. Sure, some great camera phones took above-average photos back then. But we couldn’t imagine the multi-camera monsters with protruding lenses and computed photography skills that make all of our top-of-the-line smartphones almost full-fledged DSLR replacements for many people.


But what will it be like in a decade or so? What will the best camera phone of 2030 look like and what will power it? While we can’t predict the future, we can make some educated guesses.

how did we get here

Cameras were often treated as an afterthought in the early days of smartphones. The first iPhone in 2007 featured a meager 2-megapixel rear camera, and even the first Android phone, the HTC Dream, didn’t have more than a single 3.5-megapixel rear camera. None of them offered selfie cameras. You could shoot them in broad daylight and they looked okay on the small screens of the devices. However, you might forget to share them on bigger screens or use them for any kind of remote professional work.

While there were some feature phones with unique and interesting photography shots before smartphones, the early smartphones had to allocate much more space for batteries, processors and displays.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 with its camera grip accessory

Things started to change about eight to ten years ago. In 2013, phones like the Nokia Lumia 1020 and its 41-megapixel camera showed the world what smartphone cameras can do with the right combination of hardware and software. The questionable fad of dual camera 3D phones was ditched and the phones soon showed what they could really do.

The Nexus 6P and its Proto-Pixel-like image processor launched in 2015, the LG G5 showed the world its dual-wide and ultra-wide camera setup in 2016, and Huawei unveiled the P9 with its monochrome Leica auxiliary camera. Apple also introduced its first dual-camera phone with telephoto zoom capabilities, the iPhone 7 Plus, in the same year. There was also the HTC M8, which was one of the first to use a secondary lens for additional depth information to expand the main camera’s image.

The Nexus 6P

The rest is history. Phones have received more and more cameras and more and more complex algorithms to make the most of the raw image, and that’s exactly where we are today.

What can the best camera phones do nowadays?

The best camera phones are all about multiple lenses and computational improvements that squeeze every last bit of information from physically restrained cameras limited by their small size.

The Honor Magic 4 Pro, for all its shortcomings, exemplifies this trend in computational photography to the extreme. The camera system constantly monitors the output of all of its lenses on its back. When you press the shutter button, a composite image is created from multiple cameras, based on which the best result is achieved. Honor calls this Ultra Fusion Photography. While the Magic 4 Pro falls behind in pure image quality, it gives a glimpse of the future of smartphone photography: In order to eliminate the physical weaknesses of the small sensors and cameras, you need the right combination of hardware and software that cannot be done on a physical level keep up with DSLRs.

The Honor Magic 4 Pro

The Pixel phones have arguably perfected this formula, which in particular proves the importance of repeating things other than the camera module. 2018’s Pixel 3 was the first in a long line of Pixel phones to use the Sony IMX363 sensor. It remained a staple of Pixel hardware through the Pixel 5 and Google Pixel 6a, with the company only moving to a new hardware base for the flagship Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. Despite the continued reliance on the same camera hardware, Google improved image quality every year. This doesn’t just happen in software, however, as the company keeps improving image processing hardware as well.

Google began outfitting its phones with a neural imaging processor, starting with the Pixel 2, and has since improved and iterated on that side of the hardware. Better imaging chips enable faster processing of photos and, thanks to continuously improving bandwidth, deliver better results. The Pixel 5 was the only oddball here, as Google didn’t include its custom neural imaging chip. However, advances in the image processing of the regular Qualcomm processors were able to compensate for this loss.

Given the right conditions, some of the resulting images can be compared to semi-professional DSLR photography, something we never dreamed of 10 years ago.

What will the best camera phone of 2030 look like?

With that in mind, we can make an educated guess as to how this synergy of software and hardware will play out. Now we can’t see into the future, but it’s clear that manufacturers will continue to refine existing camera hardware, made up of stacked lenses, until they squeeze every last bit of performance out of them.

From today’s perspective, the best camera phone of 2030 could surprise us due to a smaller camera bump. Smartphone camera arrays are getting bigger to accommodate more intricately stacked lenses that enable optical zoom capabilities and more. According to Wired, however, this trend could reverse in the near future. A new lens technology based on a single flat lens with a glass pane is about to come to market. The company behind it, Metalenz, uses so-called optical meta-surfaces. These are glass wafers made up of thousands of nanostructures designed to bend light and fix the common shortcomings of single-lens cameras.

This technology could also make its way to the face of the 2030 phone. Metalenz promises its technology can act as a 3D scanner for biometric face recognition, which would eliminate the need for huge cutouts on the top of your smartphone for this purpose (think iPhone X and later).

The best camera phone in 2030 may not have a camera cutout on the screen. We’re seeing mainstream devices like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 opting for an under-display camera. While the quality of these cameras is good enough for video conferencing, manufacturers pour tons of money into research and development in this area. The Galaxy Z Fold 4 is better at hiding this camera. In the near future, we expect more breakthroughs to make displays transparent enough and software intelligent enough to provide excellent under-display cameras.

A Metalenz wafer

The under-display camera trend also means that smartphone manufacturers have no space restrictions when it comes to the front camera. Selfie cameras are becoming increasingly important. Generation Z smartphone owners use the front-facing camera more often than the rear-facing ones. This suggests that the best camera phone of 2030 will likely feature multiple front cameras – at least two. History is also an indicator. For example, the Pixel 3 came with two lenses, allowing you to take both regular close-up shots and wide-angle group selfies.

Even if the best camera smartphone of 2030 doesn’t opt ​​for sophisticated under-display technology, it could help people take selfies with the best cameras. A foldable form factor could be the norm for high-end phones in 2030, and we’ll likely see more form factors than the clamshell Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 and book-style Z Fold 4. We might be looking at rollable phones or multi-folding phones. These new form factors, combined with some extra screens, could make it possible to fit a cheap under-display selfie camera for video calls and face recognition, and then use the main camera array for all those important selfies.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3’s under-display camera up close

Another thing that’s part of many social media apps could be a more prominent part of the camera experience in 2030. Although they are not explicitly named as such, the filters in Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok are based on AR technology. With the computational advances we can look forward to over the next decade, filters could be a natural part of the images we capture and it could be difficult to distinguish a filter from what’s real. Some smartphone manufacturers offer exactly that. Chinese phone makers, in particular, love to set facelift filters as the default option for selfies. It may look a bit unnatural, but the results are good enough for people who like to take selfies like this on a daily basis.

Nevertheless, in the end everything could be different than we imagine today. CNN reporting from about 10 years ago, while written with a healthy dose of sarcasm, envisioned us using triangular smartphones and smart glasses rather than the flat rectangular form factor of 2012 that got bigger and bigger to the present day Size.

Lytro light field camera

Similarly, another promising startup called Lytro, which made an innovative new camera that allowed you to focus the image after it was taken, went bankrupt in 2018. Previously, it had moved away from its so-called light field cameras and invested more in VR than photography. Some other experiments, like 2014’s Sony QX1 and its modular DSLR-like lens mounting system, never really got beyond experimentation and niche interest.

So our idea of ​​the best camera phone of 2030 might seem boring, but that’s the way the smartphone market is these days. Big breakthroughs are few and far between, and manufacturers are more focused on replicating what works than trying to disrupt the market with something completely different. The Nothing Phone 1 is an example of this. Aside from the flashy lights on the back, it doesn’t change the idea of ​​what a smartphone is, even if the company positions the phone as drastically different from the competition.


Sony’s QX 10 lens – The successor to the QX 1

And really, once we break down the notion of what a smartphone is (a tool that allows us to communicate with the outside world that we carry with us all the time), we can also make the leap to another emerging form factor: Smart Glasses. With the option to show others the world as we see it, there could be a future where we’ll be able to instantly share what we’re seeing with friends and family, without the barriers of apps and such tiresome searches for the perfect frame. The picture will be exactly what we see. Throw in some Metaverse ideas and maybe we’ll join our friends in VR while they’re out.

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