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Do we really need 200MP smartphones?

Digital Camera World logo Digital Camera World 2/8/2023 Beth Nicholls
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With the announcement of the new and exciting Samsung Galaxy S23 range of smartphones, came the news that the flagship S23 Ultra model would be equipped with a 200-megapixel main camera! This is certainly impressive, but is it necessary?

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra isn't actually the first flagship smartphone to feature a 200MP camera sensor, as other brands and companies got there first. But what does this really mean in terms of image quality and resolution, is it worth an upgrade?

• These are the best camera phones in 2023

The latest trends in smartphone photography all seem reliant on which sensors is fitted into the device, and their megapixel capabilities. There are plenty of questions surrounding this new pocket-sized technology and what it really means for those who prioritize the camera module on a smartphone above all else (guilty). 

As photographers, it's safe to assume that we all strive for the best possible image quality in our photos - whether that's through sharpness, resolution, megapixels, or shooting Raw. Samsung announced during its Galaxy Unpacked event that it would be using an Adaptive Pixel sensor in the Ultra model which uses pixel binning to allow high-resolution processing, especially in low-light situations.

If you're not familiar with 'pixel binning', it essentially means taking a group of four pixels (arranged in a 2 x 2 quad square) on a camera's image sensor and considering them as one big 'superpixel' as opposed to four individual ones, allowing for an improved signal-to-noise ratio per image. In simple terms, larger pixels typically mean better image quality, with a larger surface area to collect any incoming light. 

But, there's a catch. There's a reason that these high-megapixel sensors are fitted into compact smartphones without costing as much as one of the best professional cameras with similar flashy specs.

When pixels are combined on these smaller smartphone sensors, an average of values is created which can allow for high-megapixel sensors (200MP for example), to output a lower resolution to reduce noise and improve the frame rate. As Shotkit reports, in the case of smartphone photography 200 megapixels really means 200 million pixels which are a fraction of the size of pixels in full-frame cameras. 

We all know that a higher resolution signifies that the image contains a higher quantity of pixels, able to display more visual information, but things change when these pixels are binned, in turn producing much lower-resolution images than the sensor would otherwise allow pre-binning.

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera will use quad-pixel autofocus, using every pixel for focus, which Samsung claims are it's fastest and most accurate focusing system yet, but this actually outputs at a resolution of  50MP. 

So when it really boils down to it - are 200MP smartphone cameras necessary? We know that they aren't really what they say they are, and that it's mostly the manufacturer's attempt to cram as many megapixels as possible into the specification list to drum up the retail price as a result, without really offering a drastic resolution increase. 

A lot of us nowadays also rely on our smartphones to view images, especially on social media, and on such a tiny screen it's hard to notice the difference between a phone camera equipped with a 12MP camera from one with over 100 megapixels. 

Photographers: don't be fooled into upgrading your device if an increased megapixel count is all you're basing it on, take a good look at other features of the smartphone to determine if a whole new phone is worth the upgrade purchase. 

You may also be interested in the best lenses for iPhone and Android camera phones, as well as the best phones for video recording and vlogging, plus the best smartphone gimbals for keeping a steady hand. 

Upgrading to the S23 range? You might want to take a look at the best Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra cases, as well as the best Samsung Galaxy S23 Plus cases, and take a look at our hands-on review of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.


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