After years of camera iteration on smartphones, we have finally come to the stage where not one, not two, but three lens are placed at the back of a smartphone. The world’s first smartphone to have integrated the triple lens system on its camera is the Huawei P20 Pro, and ever since its launch, the camera section in smartphones has been taken to a whole new level. But, we have also witnessed what the previously crowned Pixel 2 camera can do with its single lens, eliminating the dual lens camera setup on the iPhone X and the Samsung Galaxy S9+. The situation here leaves us wondering if we will continue to see a triple lens or a single lens camera setup on future devices. Let’s find out.
Image source: AndroidPit
World’s first triple lens setup
The first smartphone to house a third lens, Huawei P20 Pro has proven its essential use that makes it the best camera in a smartphone, a score of 109 on DXO Mark. The third lens which Huawei included is a monochrome sensor in addition to the main RGB sensor and the telephoto lens, and the monochrome sensor serves as an important tool for better bokeh effect and low light photography. How this lens does the work is that it uses the sensor for better depth estimation to create a smooth blur in the background that is subtle and pleasant despite several inconsistencies in detail and white balance in some shots. Also, the monochrome sensor does a really good job in creating fantastic low light photographs as the noise level is superbly low with finer details. In other words, the monochrome sensor is a big part of why the Huawei P20 Pro is the king of smartphone camera today.
Image source: Android Authority
Cameras today can ‘learn’ how to take a decent photo
However, on the other hand, scores do not mean everything. The Pixel 2 has one of the best cameras out in the market and all it provides is only a single lens camera. We can simply opt out the Samsung Galaxy S9+ or the iPhone X for what the Pixel 2 is already capable of with just one lens. Machine learning is what Google uses to make the Pixel 2 able to do portrait mode without the dual or triple lens setup. The AI tool in the Pixel 2 learns the scene and detect whichever is in the foreground and those in background to create a sharp bokeh effect, though several shots are claimed too artificial. But with only a single lens, the Pixel 2 delivers a wonderful job in smartphone photography, putting the point-and-shoot cameras into the dark.
Image source: Android Police
More AI in future cameras
Truly the AI tool which powers the single lens setup is far more capable than what we might expect and we are definitely going to see more integration of AI in future devices specifically in the camera as we have already witnessed its ability on the Pixel 2. What it needs is refinement and more learning to make AI in camera knows better than we do when taking a shot. Of course, we will not be needing an extra lens for portrait mode or bokeh effect in the future if the AI tool in the camera is smart and good enough to put the third sensor to shame. More so, the aesthetics of including only one single lens just makes the device appear “smarter” and simply outweighs the need for an extra lens. We cannot imagine what future smartphones will look like if they are going to have a ton of lens on the back. AI for camera will be, and is going to be the game changer for smartphone cameras in the near future.
Triple lens first, AI later
However, the triple lens system on the Huawei P20 Pro has made it clear that the third lens being the monochrome sensor does a better job at depth estimation and image segmentation than what the AI tool in Pixel 2 can do, if not only slightly better. Until AI can perform a better job at learning the scenes around us and accustom itself to however the users want the photos to look like, a third sensor will always supersede the use of AI in a single lens. What more if a third lens is equipped with AI that further enhances image quality in all aspects, which the P20 Pro has already achieved. In fact, the next iPhone X Plus and the Samsung Galaxy S10 (and a few more devices in line, I believe) are rumored to include a triple lens camera setup, something users can’t escape from nowadays. But do take note of this, AI in the future will be smart enough to eliminate the other two lens in your smartphone cameras and until then, we will have to embrace and enjoy what the triple lens can do for us for the time being.