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Shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic began, I had the opportunity to attend a few art gallery openings that featured photography.

What surprised me was that some of the photographs were taken using cell phones (aka mobile phones, smartphones, and cameraphones). What surprised me even more was that some of these photos were enlarged to over 2m wide, and still looked good.

My first quality camera was medium format (followed by large format), so this was a real eye-opening experience for me.

As all photographers know, the foremost challenge to taking a good photograph is actually having a camera with you when you see an opportunity.

Cell phones have given us an easy-to-carry and portable solution to almost always have a camera (and even a short-range flash!) with us. But finding a cell phone with quality camera hardware and software can be challenging. Four issues make this especially challenging:

  1. Cell phone models are constantly being introduced, making previous comparative reviews less valuable.
  2. Cell phone brands and model availability are not consistent around the world. This is partly because different technologies and frequencies are used in different regions.
  3. Cell phone prices vary considerably, and different people have different budgets. Phone XYZ might technically offer the best combination of hardware and software, but it might be twice the price of a device that is 99% as good.
  4. The cameras of many cell phones get great reviews because they generate reasonable quality images if you never enlarge your photographs. But once you enlarge them to sizes appropriate for hanging in a gallery, quality often (but definitely not always) degrades to unacceptable levels.

Taking the above into consideration, how does a photographer select a cell phone that will have the best camera hardware and software that will meet their desires (those desires, of course, tempered by an understanding of the current limits of technology, manufacturing, and form factor)?

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    "...how does a photographer select..." – The same way anyone selects anything else... read reviews, talk to sales people and other users, try it out, flip a coin.
    – xiota
    Nov 17 '20 at 1:44
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    This question misses the point in many ways. Yes, cell phone cameras are getting far better because that is one of the things that makes people choose one phone over another. The question assumes photographers are an amorphous class. Different photographers want to take different pictures. Some of those pictures can be taken by a cell phone. You need to want a lens in the effective focal length range that is available and good light because of the small sensor. There are great photos available in that space. There are great photos outside that space. Nov 17 '20 at 3:25
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    Voting on close, as this is very open and opinion based. Nov 17 '20 at 9:42
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    @TimCampbell You might be surprised with relatively recent developments. Check out the Godox A1 introduced in 2017. Combined with the app (there are both Android and iPhone versions) it allows many smartphones to control and trigger the entire range of the Godox 2.4Ghz line using a smartphone as the camera.
    – Michael C
    Nov 18 '20 at 3:44
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    @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket That would help, but what I think this needs is for you to say what your needs are. Do you care about portrait, landscape, low light, something else? We can probably if we know what goal you're personally trying to achieve, rather than what "photographers" (a very broad category) try to do.
    – Philip Kendall
    Nov 18 '20 at 13:41
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This is probably not an answer, but a long comment.

How to select a cell phone (mobile phone) that will have the best camera hardware

Read reviews, technical sheets, and choose one based on your needs and budget.

and software

Read reviews, if it is not installed on the phone I bet you can buy it and install it.

Cell phone models are constantly being introduced, making previous comparative reviews less valuable.

So, look for some other reviews. Some companies live for this. Some websites review things even before you can get them on a store. Some come to my mind:

www.dxomark.com

www.dpreview.com


This is a strong opinion based.

Cell phone models are constantly being introduced, making previous comparative reviews less valuable.

Thinking like that will paralyze you.

Yes, there will be for sure a better camera or phone somewhere, more modern, and probably will be a time where the phone does not even need you.

Get what you can and enjoy taking photos.

Cell phone brands and model availability are not consistent around the world.

So? The same, work with what you can have, instead of thinking about you can not.


Here is a bit more specific point but also subjective.

The cameras of many cell phones get great reviews because they generate reasonable quality images

Depends on the reviews. Some of them are very technical for example about sharpness and noise.

if you never enlarge your photographs.

I really doubt that is a reason for a good or bad review. The review could simply include information about Mpx, and give you a hint on print size.

But once you enlarge them to sizes appropriate for hanging in a gallery, quality often (but definitely not always) degrades to unacceptable levels.

What is that acceptable size? What is quality? Quality "does not degrade" quality is a process. Yes, you can put some limits on the technical side, for example, you can simply "exclude" a print of less than 100ppi... does this mean that a photo of 99ppi does not have any artistic merit?


Just as an example of printing sizes.

A 12Mpx image, common on some phones and old dslr has 4000 on the long side.

You can safely print it as 100ppi or with a simple 2x resampling to blur a bit the pixels and print it at 200ppi. This will give you a print of 40inches or 1m.

Is it good for a gallery? I'm pretty sure it is.

Some phones even have more than 48Mpx on the sensor. 80 inches or 2m.

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  • On that last point, I think I would say, if you're looking to enlarge an image for the purpose of hanging it in a gallery, you're probably not going to be looking at a cell phone as the imaging device. At least, I wouldn't be. I would be looking at something with far more flexibility - DSLR or mirrorless, or even medium/large format. And shooting RAW - not trying to extremely upscale a JPEG...
    – twalberg
    Nov 22 '20 at 20:47
  • Again one needs to see reviews. A 12Mpx file could be great, iPhone cameras can take nice images, and Huawei ones have even 50Mpx sensors. That is not to be viewed on the phone.
    – Rafael
    Nov 22 '20 at 21:33

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