Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Picture perfect: Camera phone quality improving

The Dallas Morning News reports that "camera phones will soon offer the type of picture quality now provided by today's entry-level digital cameras, a development that could make camera phones the primary snapshot-taker for many casual photographers."

Ken Hyers at ABI Research said, "What we will see is that the camera phone is going to be the Instamatic, the Brownie of cameras,. It's revolutionizing how people take pictures, in the same way that the Brownie did."

According to Gartner, it is estimated that "nearly 300 million camera phones were sold last year, or about 38 percent of all phones sold worldwide." Gartner analyst Hugues de la Vergne predicted that in 2006, "more than 60 percent of the phones sold in North America probably will have cameras, and with better image quality than in the past." de la Vergne said, "In 2006 we'll start to see 1.3-megapixel cameras become standard."

Hyers at ABI noted that "for camera phones to become the primary snapshot taker the resolution has to improve." He said, "It's got to be able to create an image that looks good in your typical 4x6 format when you print it out. People want to be able to take these images and, if they print it, have it actually look like something rather than this pixilated off-color mess that is the case now more often than not."

Hyers thought 1.3 megapixels, while an improvement, still isn't good enough. He added, "I look at some of the photos I took of my daughter when she was born six years ago that I took with a 1.3-megapixel camera, and I really wish I'd brought my film SLR [single-lens reflex camera] with me. These are images that are memories I'll never see again, and I wish they were better quality."

Mr. de la Vergne added, "VGA is not going away. VGA is still going to be a significant majority of sales this year. We're just seeing megapixels make some real gains."

Another area for improvement in camera phones are the optics themselves. Hyers said, "The optics you get on a stand-alone camera are almost always better than you'll get even on some of the higher-end digital camera phones. Yes, I can go buy a Nokia N-series with a Carl Zeiss lens, but that's not what I'm getting with a [Motorola] RAZR, which is the best-selling phone in the world right now."