10 smartphone camera terms explained

What Mobile
July 13, 2020

Research has shown that 86% of people think camera quality is a very important feature when deciding which smartphone to buy, but with so many new developments, smartphone camera specifications can be confusing.

Experts at online smartphone retailer,, have delved into the most common camera jargon and here break down 10 terms users need to know:

Resolution and Megapixels

The resolution of a smartphone camera is measured in megapixels, with each megapixel equating to one million pixels. Camera resolution tells us the level of detail cameras can provide, however, megapixels are not a measure of camera quality. More megapixels offer a larger resolution, but the resolution isn’t the same as quality. Therefore, the software driving the camera is more important than the megapixel count to ensure the best images possible.


F-number stands for ‘focal ratio’ and measures the system’s focal length to the diameter of the entrance pupil. The camera’s aperture (how much light it allows into the shot) is measured in f-stops, which is a ratio of the focal length divided by the opening size. A smaller f-number allows more light to the sensor, which reduces shutter speed times to cut down on blur and reduce sensor noise.


A smartphone’s autofocus system intelligently adjusts the camera lens in order to capture a focused image. This feature can be found on most smartphones on the market right now, including the iPhone 11 and Samsung S20 range.


When you take a picture, the image is captured over a period of time. In an environment with lots of light, this time frame is very short (as fast as 1/3200 of a second), but in low light environments, this time frame is longer (as long as 30 seconds), which means even the smallest movement can cause the photo to blur.

Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) physically moves the camera lens to compensate for any camera movement, ensuring a sharp picture. Smartphones, such as the Huawei P40 Pro and Google Pixel 4, have OIS capabilities.


In photography, camera zoom refers to making a subject appear closer or further away in an image. There are three types of zoom that different smartphones use:

  • Optical zoom: Used in the iPhone 11 Pro and Huawei P40 Pro, optical zoom is achieved by using a series of lens elements. Smartphone lenses can’t move to achieve optical zoom, so instead, the phone seamlessly switches to the camera with the higher magnification factor.


  • Digital zoom: Featured in the Samsung S20 range, iPhone 11 and Huawei P40 Pro, digital zoom achieves a similar effect to optical zoom, but it cuts off areas around your scene to make it appear like you are closer to the subject.

  • Hybrid zoom: Featured in the Samsung S20 range and Huawei P40 Pro, hybrid zoom takes advantage of optical zoom, digital zoom, and software. Hybrid zoom uses software enhancements to take detail from multiple cameras simultaneously, creating a better image from multiple photos.


Frames per second (FPS) refers to the speed at which a camera can capture photos. On full-frame cameras, a ‘normal lens’ gives the same field of view as your eyes. A lens with focal lengths shorter than 35mm is considered to be a wide-angle, producing an image where walls of a building appear with straight lines as opposed to being curved.

3D Depth Sensing Camera

The DepthVision Camera can be used to measure distance and volume. Data from the sensor can also help with 3D imaging and improving augmented reality (AR) experiences. It is a relatively new technology that can be found in Samsung’s S20 range and the new Huawei P40 Pro.


High Dynamic Range (HDR) is used to create images with better contrast by combining multiple pictures taken at different exposures, and balancing the shadows and highlights into a single image. HDR mode is used in the iPhone 11 and Sony Xperia XA.

AI Mode

In photography, Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to a piece of software that can understand the environment it’s looking at and automatically adjust the settings to take the best quality picture. This feature can be found in the Huawei P40 Pro handset.

4K Video

4K describes the level of detail within the recorded video. For comparison, traditional Full HD screens have a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels while 4K screens have a resolution of 3840×2160 pixels – four times Full HD. However, 4K video footage takes up a large amount of storage space on your phone: just one minute of 4K footage can take up over 170MB. So if you are recording in 4K, make sure that it’s the kind of footage you’re likely to play on a big TV so you’re not wasting storage space.

Some of the best Smartphone cameras currently available:

Some of the most impressive smartphone cameras currently available can be found on such handsets as the iPhone 11 family, Samsung Galaxy S20 family, and Google Pixel 4. Features you can find across these devices include Night Mode, AI scene optimisation, and the ability to add artistic blurred backgrounds to portraits. You can learn more about the best smartphone cameras currently available right here:

Andy Cartledge, mobile expert at, says: “We know that camera capability is an important factor for people deciding on their new smartphones, but with all the jargon and new technologies being introduced, it can be challenging to keep up with what it all means.

“We hope by explaining some of the terms used by smartphone manufacturers and the phones with these features, users will be able to make a more informed decision about their next smartphone or even make better use of their current handset’s camera capabilities.”

To find out more about the best smartphone cameras available now, please visit:

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