Smartphone Camera Specs Explained

PHONE CAMERA SPECS: A Fully Detailed Guide

UPDATED: May 2020

The camera has become the biggest selling point of today’s smartphones. As a result, a lot of people want to know what type of camera a phone is packing before they even consider buying it.

Sites like GSM Arena provide the full lowdown on smartphone camera specs, yet very few people actually understand what any of it means.

Terms like megapixels, OIS, HDR, and others are often thrown around when referring to mobile cameras. It can get really confusing, especially when all you want to know is which camera phone will satisfy your needs.

This article will help you make sense of it all, and make it easier for you to decide what’s good enough for you.

Please not that this article only explains smartphone camera specs. For explanations of other smartphone specs such as processors, displays, and connectivity, check out Simple Explanations of Smartphone Specifications.


xiaomi mi 10 pro
xiaomi mi 10 pro camera specs

Camera specs of the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro 5G (released February 2020). Check the price of the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro 5G at:

Megapixels refers to the number of small picture elements in a photo called pixels. These are usually really tiny dots or squares that make up a complete digital image. A million pixels are known as a megapixel.

Megapixels are essentially the building blocks of a digital image. These blocks are arranged in rows and columns similar to a chessboard but on a much, much smaller scale. (Refer to ‘Pixel size’ below)

portion of picture magnified to show pixels

Portion of a picture magnified to show the pixels that make up an image.

Megapixels may also refer to the number of photosites found on an image sensor, that capture light information to produce the image. If an image has 12MP, it is very likely that it was captured on a sensor with twelve million or more photosites. More on this later.

Remember, there are a million pixels in one megapixel. Therefore, a 12MP photo is made up of twelve million pixels. This is known as the ‘resolution’. The more megapixels a smartphone camera has, the higher the resolution of the photos it produces.

A high resolution camera (such as that of the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro) can give you an image with more clear detail than a low resolution camera.

This means that if you were to print your smartphone photos, you’d be able to print large high-quality photos that aren’t pixelated. Basically, you could print artistic prints for your wall from your mobile pictures.


If you have photos, drawings, or images that you want to turn into works of art for your home or to give as a gift, I recommend you check out Pictorem. They can print your photos on canvas, metal, wood, acrylic, and more.

They’ve been around for years and offer top-quality products at unbeatable prices. Their service is amazing and I honestly couldn’t be happier with their prints. They look great on any wall.

Today, there are some smartphone cameras with high megapixel counts, some as high as 108MP. But do not be misled by super-high megapixel counts.

Megapixels alone DO NOT guarantee better camera performance. There are many other factors that affect picture quality.

To learn the real truth about megapixels, click here.

Sensor size

samsung galaxy s20 ultra
samsung galaxy s20 ultra camera specs (sensor)

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra (released March 2020) camera specs. Check the price of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra at:


A mobile camera’s image sensor is a device that takes the light that enters the camera and produces a digital image from it. It’s pretty much the replacement for photographic film.

The size of the sensor is important because the bigger the sensor, the more light it can potentially receive. The more light it can receive, the better the picture quality. This is especially important in smartphone cameras because of their size limitations.

camera sensor sizes compared

Smartphone sensors are much smaller than those found on standard, full-frame cameras. Source:

The size of the sensor refers to its physical size, but when it comes to the actual numbers of it all, things can get a little bit confusing. Different manufacturers tend to use or state different methods of measurement.

The size of a smartphone sensor is commonly expressed using inches (“) or fractions of an inch. To date, no smartphone camera has had a sensor bigger than 1”. At 1/1.33”, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra’s primary camera sensor is one of the biggest smartphone camera sensors on the market today.

Without getting too technical, what you need to understand with smartphone camera sensors is that the closer to a full inch (1”) you get, the bigger the sensor is. Why this is important is because the size of the sensor has an impact on the size of the pixels.

As mentioned previously, the surface of a sensor contains millions of photosites also known as pixels which are responsible for capturing the light. Part of the reason why a camera with a big sensor takes better pictures is that it can pack more pixels that are bigger in size than those found on a smaller sensor.

To learn more about smartphone camera sensors, the way they work, and how they impact your mobile photos, click here.


Pixel size

huawei p40 pro
huawei p40 pro camera specs (pixel size)

Huawei P40 Pro 5G (released April 2020) camera specifications. Check the price of the Huawei P40 Pro 5G at:

We’ve already spoken about pixels and megapixels a few times in this article. What this particular spec refers to is the size of each pixel found on the sensor.

These are measured in micrometers, often referred to as microns. The symbol for microns is ‘µm’ or just ‘µ’. One millimeter (1mm) is equal to 1 000 micrometers (1 000µm).

The pixel size is one of the important things you need to look out for when buying a phone for its camera. A camera with a sensor that has large pixels is more desirable because the bigger the pixels are, the more likely you are to get great picture quality from the camera.

A mobile camera sensor with a pixel size of 2.4µm (such as the one in Huawei’s P40 Pro) is far superior to one with a tiny pixel size of only 0.8µm. That’s because large pixels on the sensor gather more light and are less likely to produce digital noise.

This is ideal for taking photos in low lighting. A mobile camera with larger pixels is more likely to take brighter and sharper photos at night than one with small pixels.

But because the size of the sensor is fixed, the more pixels you try to fit onto it for more image resolution, the smaller they get. That’s not really a good thing because smaller pixels are more susceptible to noise, especially in low light.

Bigger pixels, on the other hand, can receive more valuable light information and therefore can ultimately perform better in low light.

In other words, a 1/2.5-inch smartphone camera sensor with 12 million pixels (12MP) has bigger pixels than the same sensor with 20 million pixels (20 MP) crammed into it. In this case, the 12 MP sensor could potentially outperform the 20 MP one in low light. However, the 20MP camera will have more resolution.


samsung galaxy s10
samsung galaxy s10 camera specs (aperture)

Specifications of the Samsung Galaxy S10 (released March 2019) mobile camera. Check the price of the Samsung Galaxy S10 at:


Typically, aperture is the adjustable opening between the lens and the sensor that controls how much light reaches the sensor. How wide or narrow the aperture is is expressed in f-numbers. A low f-stop (e.g. f/2) means a wider aperture than that of a higher f-number (e.g. f/16).

The wider the opening, the more light will come through. The smaller the opening, the less light will come through. In smartphone cameras where getting as much light as possible is paramount, having the widest aperture possible is very ideal.

The lower the f-stop, the more light your smartphone camera can capture. And, obviously, more light means better pictures.

Notice in the beginning I said ‘typically, aperture is adjustable’. That’s because it’s how aperture works on traditional cameras. On smartphone cameras, the aperture is fixed, and the f-number varies from phone to phone. Some phones have a fixed aperture of f/2.0, others f/1.7 or even as low as f/1.4.

Why do smartphones have fixed aperture? Click here to find out.

galaxy s9 with variable aperture

Samsung Galaxy S9 Edge with variable aperture.

Interestingly, as shown in the example above, some smartphones in the Galaxy S-series from Samsung starting with the S9 have variable aperture.

The Galaxy S10 can switch between an aperture of f/1.5 and f/2.4. Samsung dropped this feature in the Galaxy S20 series.

Lenses and Focal Length

realme x2 pro camera specs (lens focal length)

The Realme X2 Pro (released October 2019) mobile camera specs. Check the price of the Realme X2 Pro at:

Measured in millimetres (mm), the term ‘focal length’ refers to the distance between the camera’s image sensor and where light converges and focuses the image inside the lens.

However, the measurement given in most smartphone camera specifications such as the one above show the 35mm full-frame equivalent and not the actual focal length of the smartphone’s camera, which is much smaller.

A lens’s focal length gives you an idea of its angle-of-view, as shown in brackets in the example above. A short focal length is great for shooting landscapes with your phone because it gives you a wide angle-of-view that captures more of the scene.

The longer the focal length of a lens is, the more magnified your subject will appear, and the less of the scene you’ll see in the frame. This is perfect for portrait photography, where the attention is on the person, not the scenery.

In a lot of cases, the rear cameras on smartphones with multiple cameras have lenses with different focal lengths. The focal length of the primary rear camera in the Realme X2 Pro example above is 26mm, which is typical of a wide-angle lens.

Larger focal lengths mean a reduced angle of view and more magnification, as is the case with the telephoto lens. In our X2 Pro example, the focal length of the telephoto is double that of the wide-angle lens at 52mm. This essentially means the Realme X2 Pro is capable of 2x OPTICAL zoom.

Ultrawide-angle lenses have an even wider angle of view than wide-angle lenses because they have a smaller focal length such as the 16mm ultrawide lens found on the X2 Pro.

In single-camera smartphones, the camera has a wide-angle lens. Dual-camera smartphones usually have a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens but other combinations exist. The focal length and angle-of-view of these lenses differs from phone to phone according to the manufacturer.

The subject of focal length can be a bit tricky for some people to understand, so it’s difficult to explain it fully in just a few paragraphs. To understand focal length better and how it impacts your images, read this article.

Lens elements

xiaomi mi note 10 plus camera specs

Xiaomi Mi Note 10 (released November 2019) camera specs with a 7P primary camera lens. Available from Banggood.

Some lens specifications like the one for the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 include a number like the “7P lens” spec above. This is an indication of how many lens elements are in that particular mobile camera’s lens array.

It is believed that more lens elements mean better picture quality. More on that here.

Image Stabilisation

OnePlus 8 camera specs (image stabiliser)

OnePlus 8 (released April 2020) camera specifications with OIS and gyro-EIS. Check the price of the OnePlus 8 at:

Image stabilization refers to the way a mobile camera reduces camera shake in order to avoid motion blur that is associated with camera movement while a photo is being taken. This contributes to the overall picture quality.

Image stabilization can be achieved mechanically (OIS), digitally (EIS), or through a combination of both (AIS).

Optical image stabilisation (OIS) counters slight movement and shake of the camera by moving the image sensor or the lenses using a gyroscope. This counter-movement helps reduce the amount of blur in your pictures introduced by unsteady handling.

Electronic image stabilisation (EIS) is more of a software-reliant post-processing effect rather than a mechanical function. And because of the way it works digitally, it is best suited for capturing stable video with a smartphone.

AIS is a stabilization system currently found on Huawei devices. AIS stands for Artificial Intelligence Stabilization and is mostly not any different from EIS.

To learn more about how image stabilisation works, particularly optical image stabilisation, click here.


Although image stabilisation works well to keep your shots steady and sharp, there is only so much it can do. If your hands are very shaky or you’re shooting with slow shutter speeds, it’s best to use a camera support system such as a tripod.

The AmazonBasics tripod from the world’s leading online retailer, Amazon, is a great budget tripod for beginner and hobbyist mobile photographers. It is cheap, lightweight, and small enough to carry around. Of course, there are other budget tripod options that you can explore.


Honor 30S
honor 30s camera specs (zoom)

Camera specs for the Honor 30S 5G (released April 2020) with 3x optical zoom. Check the price of the Honor 30S 5G at:


For the longest time, smartphone cameras were only able to zoom in digitally. The problem is that digital zoom degrades the picture quality more and more the further you zoomed in.

Pixelation becomes an issue because, with digital zoom, the camera basically crops the image and then digitally expands it to fit the frame.

In an effort to improve picture quality when zooming in with a mobile camera, smartphone companies added optical zoom to their cameras when they introduced phones with multiple cameras.

Optical zoom is far better than digital zoom because it uses the lens to zoom, thus preserving picture quality. Unfortunately, phones with only one camera cannot zoom in optically.

example of difference in picture quality between optical and digital zoom

Illustration of the difference in picture quality between digital zoom and optical zoom.

How far you can zoom in on your smartphone camera is determined by the focal length of the telephoto lens. As previously mentioned, on a multi-camera smartphone, you may find cameras with lenses that have different focal lengths that give your different angles-of-view.

If you take the focal length of the telephoto lens and divide it by the focal length of the wide-angle lens, it will give you the mobile camera’s advertised zoom range.

A lot of smartphone cameras with optical zoom commonly have 2x optical zoom because, typically, smartphone telephoto lenses have a focal length of around 50mm or so, and wide-angle lenses are generally around half of that.

Some phones, like the Honor 30S, have 3x optical zoom. That’s because the focal length of the telephoto lens is triple that of the wide-angle primary camera.

Digital zoom is actually one of the reasons why some smartphone manufacturers pack their cameras with a lot of megapixels. The more megapixels a camera has, the more the picture can be expanded and blown out digitally without worrying about pixelation. However, the picture quality will still deteriorate.


Huawei-Nova 7 Pro 5G
huawei nova 7 pro camera specs

Camera specs of the Huawei Nova 7 Pro (released April 2020) with 5x optical zoom. Check the Price of the Huawei Nova 7 Pro at:

Learn More

While on the topic of zoom, more and more high-end phone manufacturers are starting to include what’s known as a periscope camera in their smartphones, just like in the Huawei Nova 7 Pro example above.

A periscope camera is basically a camera system that is positioned sideways inside the body of the phone. So, instead of having the zoom lens array and the sensor lie parallel to the back of the phone, they’re perpendicular.

A prism or mirror system installed in the camera module reflects the light that enters the camera at an angle that passes the light through a group of lenses until it finally reaches the sensor.


How a periscope camera looks inside. Light is reflected by the prism and redirected to strike the sensor at an angle.

The periscope camera system is what allows the Nova 7 Pro to achieve 5x optical zoom without adding a big bulge to the back of the phone. Smartphone telephoto cameras without periscope zoom lenses generally only reach 2x or 3x optical zoom.

To zoom in further than this, smartphones rely on digital zoom, which, as I already mentioned several times, increasingly degrades the image as you zoom in. A smartphone periscope camera can zoom in further than a standard telephoto mobile camera lens can without heavily compromising the quality of the photo.

To learn more about periscope cameras, check out the article ‘What is A Smartphone Periscope Camera? And How Does It Work?

Related articles


asus zenfone max pro m1
Asus zenfone max pro (m1) camera specs (hdr)

Camera specifications for the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 (released May 2018). Check the price of the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 at:

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. It allows you to capture images that have a great balance between the dark areas of the photo (known as shadows) and the lighter ones (highlights). This way, the resulting picture will neither be overexposed nor underexposed.

example of HDR

An underexposed image is combined with an overexposed one in order to create a high dynamic range (HDR) image. Source:

When HDR is enabled, the camera takes multiple pictures at different exposure levels. Then, with software technology, the photos are combined into the final composite photo with balanced highlights and shadows.

Auto-HDR means that the camera can analyse the scene on its own and determine whether it has very dark and very bright areas in the same shot. If it does, HDR will automatically be enabled when the photo is taken.

If a mobile camera’s specs show that it only has HDR and not auto-HDR, it basically means you will have to manually activate and deactivate HDR yourself whenever you want to use it for a shot.

Although using HDR can improve your mobile images, it does have its drawbacks. To learn how to use HDR on your smartphone camera, click here.


iphone 11
iphone 11 camera specs (flash)

iPhone 11 (released September 2019) camera specs. Check the price of the iPhone 11 at:

Learn More

There are different types of flash found on smartphone cameras, the most popular being LED. This type of flash uses small light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that give off light when a current is supplied to them. These LEDs are energy efficient and can provide continuous lighting.

Smartphone camera specs often specify how many LEDs a flash has. This can be a single LED, dual-LED, or even quad-LED, as is the case with the Apple iPhone 11 above.

Added to LED flash which has only one colour temperature, you get dual-tone LED flash which works by using LEDs of two different colour temperatures-- warm and cool.

With dual-tone LED flash, the phone’s software figures out a balance between the “warm” LED and “cool” LED to give off a flash that better suits the ambient lighting of the environment.

Another type of flash that has made its rounds in the smartphone camera arena is the Xenon flash. Not many phones use this type of flash these days because, even though it’s a superior form of flash, it is rather expensive, power-consuming, and it doesn’t offer continuous lighting.

Using flash may seem like a good solution when shooting in low light but smartphone flash is nothing like professional flash photography. It can ruin a potentially good mobile photo and should be avoided as much as possible.


If you’re interested in doing some form of flash photography with your smartphone, I recommend you use an external flash unit instead of the one on your mobile camera. A good example of this is the Profoto C1, a wireless smartphone camera flash from a well-known brand in flash photography, Profoto.

For other flash and lighting solutions for mobile photography, click here.

Depth sensor

Meizu 17
meizu 17 camera specs (depth sensor)

Camera specifications for the Meizu 17 (released May 2020) with a 0.3MP ToF depth sensor. Check the price of the Meizu 17 at:

Learn More

A depth sensor is a camera that is solely responsible for analyzing the scene and creating a three-dimensional depth map from the data it has collected.

Depth maps are useful for things such as virtual reality and augmented reality applications. In mobile photography, depth maps are used to separate the foreground from the background in order to create the popular shallow depth-of-field bokeh effect, especially in portrait photos.

In most cases, depth cameras do not capture and save photos, they just provide depth data. As a result, these type of cameras usually don’t have a lot of megapixels. The Meizu 17 has a 0.3MP depth camera, which is very common.

There are different ways of creating a depth map and also different types of depth sensors. One type of depth sensor that is becoming increasingly popular is the ToF (Time-of-Flight) camera.

Almost like with Laser autofocus, the ToF camera uses infrared light to collect depth data. The time it takes for the light emitted from the camera to bounce back is measured and used to create a depth map.


motorola g7
Motorola g7 camera specs (pan)

Camera specs for the Motorola Moto G7 (released March 2019). Check the price of the Motorola Moto G7 at:

Learn More

This basically refers to the camera’s ability to take multiple shots and stitch them together to create one blended super-wide shot.

The panorama mode can be accessed from within the camera app. To take the panorama, you’d need to frame up your first shot and then capture your panorama as you pan the smartphone from left to right or the other way around.

You can also take vertical panorama shots with your phone by tilting your camera up or down as you capture the shot.

panorama shot

Example of a panorama shot. Photo by Everaldo Coelho on Unsplash.

Although you can get decent hand-held panorama shots, to get the best result, you’d need to use a tripod or a monopod.


A monopod is a camera support system that only has one leg instead of three. It takes far less time to set up than a tripod and is perfect for people on the move.

Some tripods such as the Neewer 77” 2-in-1 Tripod Monopod can also be used as a monopod, as the name suggests. This tripod monopod is actually perfect for panoramic shots because it has a 3-way swivel pan head that allows 360° panning.

Video resolution and frame rate

vivo nex 3
vivo nex 3 camera specs (video)

Video specs of the Vivo NEX 3S 5G (released March 2020) camera. Check the price of the Vivo NEX 3S 5G at:

Video resolution refers to the number of pixels that a video has in each dimension, similar to image resolution.

2160p= 4K

1080p= Full HD

720p= HD


The ‘@ xx fps’ refers to the frame rate of the video measured in ‘frames per second’ (fps). A typical movie has 24fps which essentially means in each second, there are 24 moving images displayed in succession.

The higher the frame rate, the smoother the video appears. 60fps is commonly used in smartphone cameras. Videos with low frame rates appear to lag and suffer from motion blur.

High frame rates such as 960fps are perfect for slow-mo video. With 960 images taken in one second, you can slow down the video quite a lot and still have crisp, fluid slow-motion action with little motion blur.

Dual video recording and dual video call

This means you can use both the front and rear cameras at the same time when recording video or when on a video call.


These are the commonly mentioned specs on smartphone camera spec sheets. It’s quite interesting that things like min/max shutter speed and ISO stops are not mentioned much anywhere because they play a big part in mobile photography.

Nonetheless, understanding all the specs discussed in this article will help you make a more informed decision when it comes to choosing the right phone with the right camera for you.

However, if you want to take good pictures with your phone, it takes a lot more than just knowing and understanding the camera specs. You need to understand how a mobile camera works and how to get the most out of it despite its limitations.

Why does it matter how your photos look? Because good photos are great for sharing online and in the real world with friends and family. Plus, if your mobile photos are really good, you can make some extra money by selling them online.

If you want to learn about how to improve your smartphone photography, download the 5 Ways To Improve Your Smartphone Photography ebook by clicking on the banner below. There’s a lot to learn in its 22 pages of content and it’s ABSOLUTELY FREE!!!

link to free ebook download

Comments 12

    1. Post
  1. Thank you for taking the time to explain these specifications. It was well written and detailed. Well worth the read. Aiming too be better with my IG videos and pictures.

    1. Post

      Hi Kevin. Glad you found the information useful. Keep an eye out for more content to come to help you with your IG photos and videos 🙂

  2. Why the Motorola g9. Even though having its primary camera with 1.6 microns ,f/1.7 aperture and 48 megapixel is considered as normal camera by some youtubers

  3. Thank for this complete article. Too bad I didn’t see this first. Instead the top google search results are just shallow botched up articles with little and inconmplete info

  4. I am stunned! Most of this I never heard of! Most of this isn’t shown when reading/comparing/deciding which phone to buy! And while I know a lot more than I did before this article, I understand even less. 🙂

    I wish you could take the main info as columns, then provide various phones as rows and do a chart comparing all this data. Now THAT would be something I could use, even if I didn’t understand it all, to compare the various phones on the market today.

    Does a chart like this exist?

    1. Post

      Hi Norm! I understand what you mean. I also was overwhelmed when I first learned about everything in this article. It got easier as time went by and I learned some more. Unfortunately, I don’t have a chart to compare different phones on the market today. But if you check in again soon, I might have something for you 🙂

  5. Hi, I appreciate these information are very useful and well defined. I found it very useful.


  6. Hii, Very good explanation ………. With Nice information . It’s just explained point-to-point what a person need to know before buying a smartphone.
    Keep going on👍👍


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