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, will be closer in quality to images captured by digital single-lens reflex cameras, or 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 far-fetched.
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 wrapped up in Spain 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.
Samsung, Sony and LG are 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 at low-light settings and moving.
One trend in smartphone cameras will be phase detection autofocus, said Chris Chute of research company IDC.
Samsung showcased the feature in the Galaxy S5, the latest version of the company's flagship smartphone. It reduces the time it takes to focus on a subject, so even when the subject is moving, the image can be captured with a sharp edge, according to Samsung.
"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.
LG showed off how its high-end G Pro 2 smartphone can selectively blur and sharpen a picture by tapping the area that a user wants to adjust. While DSLR cameras did this trick in the image's raw data by changing the lens aperture, the G Pro 2 does it through software after the photo is taken.
Nokia is also betting big on powerful camera features to lure buyers from Samsung and Apple. Among Nokia's major products is the Lumia 1020 smartphone, which can take 38 megapixel images.
Sony's Xperia Z2 smartphone has a rear camera with 20.7 megapixels, with upgraded video-recording power.
But will these moves push smartphone cameras to reach the market reserved for premium cameras over $1,000?
"You're getting to the stage where cameras in high-end models are good enough for the majority of consumers," said a senior analyst. But there will be a quality gap between DSLR pictures and smartphones for the foreseeable future.