Sony Xperia vs DSLR camera

Sony predicts that phones will soon switch to DSLR cameras – is that really likely?

Sony Xperia vs DSLR camera

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Sony is always at the forefront of mobile camera technology, and a new report in Nikkei Japanese indicates that the company believes that its breakthrough will see smartphones match and even surpass the capacity of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras as soon as 2024.

At a recent business briefing, Terushi Shimizu, President and CEO of Sony Semiconductor Solutions (SSS), noted that “still images [from smartphones] will surpass the image quality of single-lens reflex cameras in the next few years. ” A slide from the same review points to 2024 as the timeline where Sony sees that smartphones’ still images are expected to exceed the ILC [interchangeable lens camera] image quality. “

There are a few different ways to say the same thing: phones will surpass DSLR and mirrorless camera image quality over the next two to three years. Of course, there is a wide range of mirrorless cameras with capabilities and prices to suit a range of budgets. Beating the cheaper models is not as difficult as driving the premium class. So is this just Sony marketing fluff or is it true in this statement?

Also read: The best camera phones you can buy

Mobile cameras continue to improve

Sony Xperia Pro I camera profile from the right

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

There are several key components that Sony cited to give credence to its claim. First, mobile image sensors are expected to reach and potentially exceed one inch in size over the next two years. It is worth noting that Sony Xperia Pro I already has a 1-inch 20 MP primary image sensor. However, due to the distance limitations between the lens and the sensor, Sony’s ultra-premium camera uses only 12 MP of the sensor’s surface, equivalent to an approximately 1 / 1.3 inch sensor that is quite common in other flagship smartphones. This is a problem that Sony does not directly address, and the limitations of the smartphone form factor will probably keep a lid on how big mobile sensors can become.

Sony sees new sensors, AI and high-speed readings as the keys to overriding DSLR cameras.

With that said, Sony has strongly highlighted the potential for its new dual-layer CMOS sensor breakthrough. This new set separates the manufacturing process for the photodiode and transistor layers, optimizing each one more efficiently. Previous designs have both elements on the same wafer. Sony states that the new structure saturates each pixel with twice as much light, which greatly increases the dynamic range and reduces noise in low light compared to conventional backlit image sensors.

Although smartphone sensors may not be large enough to compete with APS-C cameras, smaller sensors will be able to capture much more light in the near future, reducing the gap. It is not yet known when this technology will make its way to smartphones, but it has appeared in Sony’s state-of-the-art mirrorless cameras.

Sony Mobile Imaging Roadmap 2024

Third, Sony notes the growth in AI processing capabilities that, when paired with enhanced hardware, continue to push the boundaries of multi-frame HDR, longer-range zoom, and higher-quality video recording. It is undeniable that computer photography is already helping smartphone cameras to go far beyond their station. Just look at Google’s $ 599 Pixel 6, for example, as well as the broader trend of combining traditional image signal processing with machine learning of silicon, both on-chip and in-device. Smartphones’ processing power already exceeds DSLR cameras and is likely to accelerate.

More: Why custom image chips are the next battlefield for mobile photography

In addition to the presentation, Sony also debuts the mobile industry’s first camera with variable focal length in Xperia 1 IV. From 85-125 mm with a single lens, the periscope camera offers a DSLR zoom lens-like experience in a mobile form factor. If it is possible to expand the range of focal lengths, this technology can negate some of the problems that arise from the use of multiple image sensors, from cost and space, to inconsistencies in image and lens quality. Maybe one day, phones will get rid of multiple cameras altogether.

Smartphones’ processing power already exceeds DSLR cameras and is likely to accelerate.

Combined with 8K high-speed readings, enhanced depth information and software blur and post-processed light adjustments, Sony is betting that it will be even harder to see the difference between professional and smartphone images in just two short years.

Smartphones that surpass DSLR cameras, really?

Sony Xperia phone standing upright next to a Nikon DSLR camera

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

There is no doubt that smartphones still have a long way to go before they reach the limits of the form factor, but how much further they can go and how fast is less clear. Annual improvements have slowed down in many respects, with incremental improvements in image quality that are more difficult to achieve for each generation. But it is more a proof of how good smartphone photography has come in recent years. In good lighting and increasingly in low light, it is often difficult to blame advanced smartphone cameras.

But as we mentioned, it is difficult to mount larger image sensors in phones without significantly increasing the size of camera bumps and / or phone thickness. This is one of the reasons why there are periscope cameras that increase the distance between the lens and the sensor for a longer focal length without a bulky phone. The balance is the space required, plus the sensor must be small to fit in the body at 90 degrees and therefore captures less light. Even when better sensors come, how much space can phones sacrifice for the camera set-up rather than battery, haptics, speakers and other components?

See also: Why are the camera lumps in smartphones so big?

Although we may be approaching the 1-inch primary sensor, ultra-wide and telephoto sensors are still small in comparison (usually still 1 / 2.5-inch or lower). It is doubtful that we will see a camera set with three large, high-quality sensors soon, but we have seen models working with two larger sensors. Phones may be stuck with varying levels of image quality from their primary, ultra-wide and zoom lenses, especially in low light and HDR environments. Something that DSLR and mirrorless cameras do not have to worry about (lens quality is the factor there).

Physics sets a limit for the size and quality of mobile image sensors and lenses.

The other half of the “quality” problem with the smartphone camera is the lenses and apertures. With the exception of a few switchable aperture phones, telephone cameras are stuck with fixed apertures and are therefore limited by ISO noise and shutter speed to balance their exposure. While this is fine in some cases, it is a problem for advanced photographers who require total control. Especially for portraits and macro images that require a wide aperture too soft bokeh.

High-quality but still small lens elements that are free from distortion while providing a wide aperture are very tricky and expensive to build. Although smartphones have seemingly wide apertures and focal lengths Equivalent to popular full-frame camera lenses, they are far from the real deal when it comes to producing the distortion-free edges and creamy bokeh that every photographer wants. Check out the examples below taken with the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra’s 22 mm primary and 70 mm telephoto compared to a roughly equivalent mirrorless with 25 mm and 80 mm lenses.

Although the images on the 22mm lens are close, it’s worth noting that the mirrorless works with a small f / 3.5 aperture compared to the S22 Ultra’s f / 1.9, but still achieves less noise and richer bokeh. Why? Because the Ultra’s sensor is close to the lens and relies on a crop to create the corresponding focal length at the expense of the depth of field. In other words, the S22 Ultra, and other phones, rely on related motifs to produce bokeh rather than aperture and focal length. The telecommunications comparison sheds light on this more clearly. The mirrorless achieves a much shallower depth of field even though it matches Ultra’s f / 2.4 aperture and focal length.

See also: These photo tips will help you take your photos to the next level

Despite claims of similar apertures and focal lengths, smartphones rely on crops to tinker with the numbers, which means you can not get the same depth of field as an ASP-C or full-frame camera. You will achieve a similar bokeh with a DSLR lens aperture closer to f / 5 for 2 mm primary and f / 12 for 70 mm telephoto. Not what you want for portrait photography, hence the phones’ dependence on software portrait modes and artificial blur.

There are still images that you simply can not capture with the best smartphone.

But even the best software sharpness in portrait mode can not compensate for the look of this natural bokeh. Of course, this gap may close in the next two years, but many basics of smartphone photography would need to be improved, along with the algorithms.

Closing thoughts

Samsung Expert RAW manual controls for photographing flowers

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

The best smartphones have already decimated the point-and-shoot camera and are really approaching the lower levels in the markets for DSLR / mirrorless cameras. Advances in sensor hardware and variable zoom lenses reduce the hardware gap, while AI processing power, portrait photography enhancements and automatic HDR technologies already often exceed what you find in many DSLRs.

Sony’s expectations that smartphones will surpass the image quality of cameras with interchangeable lenses in 2024 will probably be correct, albeit with many warnings. It is certainly possible in the technical sense of noise and light capture, but less clear in terms of flexibility and artistic quality. Nevertheless, we have already seen the direction of the industry, with larger sensors, better lenses and ideas such as software bokeh and portrait lighting that allow users to quickly share competitive photographs in a variety of scenarios. More so with more and more common RAW editing tool for. And the only way is upwards, especially when it comes to AI and video.

Phones reduce the gap with improved light capture, HDR and AI processing, but DSLRs are likely to remain more artistically versatile.

That said, ultra-wide and zoom camera features are less consistent today, and these extremes are harder to compensate for with good software. It can take longer than a couple of years for smartphones to be as versatile as a mirrorless quality camera. Not to mention overcoming the limitations of the form factor with fixed apertures, limited depth of field and multiple image sensors.

Just: How Vivo and Zeiss build smartphone cameras for the TikTok generation

Adventurous and professional photographers will definitely not give up their professional equipment for a telephone camera for the next few years. There will still be images that you simply can not capture with smartphone hardware, even if that gap narrows with each passing year.

Will smartphones surpass mirrorless cameras by 2024?

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