I'm a beginner in learning photography(as a hobby). Since I'm not ready to buy a camera at the moment, what specs/features should I ensure to be present on my phone camera to help me pursue photography as a hobby?
It's a sad fact of life that just about any phone camera these days can take 'better' pictures in the hands of an amateur than most dedicated cameras.
By 'better' I mean that their light metering & tonal balance are more likely to be computed by the phone's software to look 'nice', no matter how badly your shot is set up. Sometimes a phone will take multiple shots in rapid succession & combine them to give a higher dynamic range than a single shot on a regular camera.
The upshot is that a phone camera really won't teach you anything about photography, other than to point it in vaguely the right direction.
At some point you have to decide for yourself what is dissatisfying about them - for me it was always the poor lenses*, too wide (though multi-lens phones are now getting around that to some extent) - & then make the jump to a real camera... one that will let you make all the mistakes until you learn how to do it properly.
*I also hate having the flash right next to the lens, but that's probably a bridge too far at the start.
Some time ago a new kind of camera appeared. It was much smaller than most existing cameras, and used a tiny sensor which was manifestly not capable of such good results as current cameras. It also was missing many of the technical facilities which photographers relied on with previous cameras. Many photographers were extremely rude about these new, cheap, small, limited cameras, saying they could never produce good results and were unsuitable for serious photography. No-one carrying such a camera could be taken seriously as a photographer.
That camera was the Leica.
The answer to this question depends on what you want to be able to do and what you mean by 'learning photography'.
If what you mean is that you want to learn to take pictures which have some artistic merit, and perhaps to eventually develop some kind of style of your own, then it really doesn't matter what you get: any reasonably recent phone camera is more than adequate.
Using a phone will limit what you can do and you will need to adapt to it: you won't be able to do astrophotography, or anything that needs a long telephoto, or a very wide-angle lens, or pictures in the dark, or lots of things. You won't be able to make huge prints from your photographs. But it will take reliably good pictures in reasonable light conditions of very many subjects. And no-one will notice you using it: you can be at some event making photographs and no-one will even notice you doing it. The mobile phone is the Leica of the early 21st century (unlike, for instance, Leicas): small, discrete, quick, with image quality coming behind all those features in importance.
(The only problem with mobile phones from this perspective is that if you are long-sighted they are a serious pain to use as you have to hold them at arms length. I find that annoying as I am now effectively long-sighted.)
If, on the other hand, what you mean is that you want to become very expert in the technical details of photography and / or make pictures which you can only make with very long or very wide lenses, then a phone is hopeless, and any phone is equally hopeless. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to want to do, but a phone won't help you.
- I am not trying to sneer at people interested in the technical details of photography. Indeed I am very interested in the technical details: I own more cameras than I can easily count.
- I am not trying to sneer at Leica owners: I have been a Leica owner, and still am if you count the IIIc. But of the cameras I have used, I get more comments about Leicas (and the ZM rangefinder I still use) than anything that doesn't involve a darkcloth to use. Leicas are not discrete cameras today: rather the opposite.
If you genuinely want to learn, I'd suggest ditching phone cameras and using the cheapest DSLR you can find as a learning tool. Do consider used DSLRs as well, no need to purchase a new camera. Get a "nifty fifty" 50mm f/1.8 lens for $100-$200 too in addition to the kit zoom to learn about shallow depth of field and low-light photography. Purchase additional lenses only when you have a specific need. Far less than $1000 will get you started, in fact $500 is enough if you purchase used gear.
I'd recommend getting an external flash as well at some point of time. I'd also suggest considering only cameras that come with an image-stabilized lens (or IS in the body).
Mirrorless is an option too, but the cost level is somewhat higher than it is with DSLR.
The reason I'm suggesting this is that to learn photography, you need:
- Good ergonomics, a phone is terrible to handhold. This will make a world of a difference. I never found compact point&shoots to have good ergonomics, and phones are even worse.
- Optical zoom for learning about the effects of varying focal length without any compromises (digital zoom is a compromise)
- Good viewfinder that can be easily used in sunlight. Many phones have lacking LCD brightness, although that fortunately seems to be changing.
- Possibility to use manual focus, should you need it
- Possibility of using manual settings for everything or for only some things (shutter, aperture, ISO), with enough range for all settings. Ok, a crop camera doesn't have good high-ISO performance meaning you can find apertures somewhat limiting, but not terribly so.
- Possibility to realistically control light (direction, intensity, etc) -- remember, photography is all about light. For using flash in sunlight wide open, you may need a ND filter too; almost all interchangeable lenses have filter threads.
- Possibility to achieve shallow depth of field and good background blur
- Possibility to purchase new lenses for different situations; for example, if you are interested in wildlife photography, do get a telezoom; if in landscape photography, do get a wide angle lens
- Actually possible to capture the decisive moment with low shutter lag, good burst rate and fast autofocus
- Ability to mount the camera on a tripod easily. With phones, it may be not so easy, although I'm sure somebody has come up with a solution for this. With DSLR, you will have standard threads in the camera.
As a very good bonus, you get FAR bigger sensor size. While sensor size is not strictly speaking necessary for learning (apart from learning about depth of field effects), you'll find you'll be far happier in low-light situations with a bigger sensor. That may be a factor that determines whether you get genuinely interested in photography or just leave your camera unused.
For me, I have found point&shoot cameras and phone cameras have so small sensors that the images are noisy, meaning I never got really interested in photography because of owning P&S or phone camera; I got interested in photography because of owning a DSLR and now a mirrorless.
Of course, I have nothing in special against phones. Do purchase a smartphone if you don't already have one! I'm just saying that smartphone is for the situations, where "the best camera is the one you have with you". So select the phone on overall criteria, not on only camera based criteria.