Camera phone

A camera phone is a mobile phone which is able to capture photographs and often record video using one or more built-in digital cameras. It can also send the resulting image over the telephone function. The first commercial camera phone was the Kyocera Visual Phone VP-210, released in Japan in May 1999. It was a cordless phone as distinct from a cellular mobile phone.

Most camera phones are simpler than separate digital cameras. Their usual fixed-focus lenses and smaller sensors limit their performance in poor lighting. Lacking a physical shutter, some have a long shutter lag. Photoflash is typically provided by an LED source which illuminates less intensely over a much longer exposure time than a bright and near-instantaneous flash strobe. Optical zoom[1] and tripod screws are rare and none has a hot shoe for attaching an external flash. Some also lack a USB connection or a removable memory card. Most have Bluetooth and WiFi, and can make geotagged photographs. Some of the more expensive camera phones have only a few of these technical disadvantages, but with bigger image sensors (a few are up to 1"), their capabilities approach those of low-end point-and-shoot cameras. In the smartphone era, the steady sales increase of camera phones caused point-and-shoot camera sales to peak about 2010 and decline thereafter. Most model lines improve their cameras every year or two.

Most modern smartphones only have a menu choice to start a camera application program and an on-screen button to activate the shutter.[2] Some also have a separate camera button, for quickness and convenience. A few camera phones are designed to resemble separate low-end digital compact cameras in appearance and to some degree in features and picture quality, and are branded as both mobile phones and cameras.

The principal advantages of camera phones are cost and compactness; indeed for a user who carries a mobile phone anyway, the addition is negligible. Smartphones that are camera phones may run mobile applications to add capabilities such as geotagging and image stitching. Also, smartphones can use their touch screens to direct their camera to focus on a particular object in the field of view, giving even an inexperienced user a degree of focus control exceeded only by seasoned photographers using manual focus. However, the touch screen, being a general purpose control, lacks the agility of a separate camera's dedicated buttons and dial(s).

In 2019, some advanced camera phones have optical image stabilisation (OIS), larger sensors, bright lenses, and even optical zoom plus RAW images. HDR, "Bokeh mode" with multi lenses and multi-shot night modes are also familiar nowadays.[3] All high-end smartphones have multi lenses which have many functions. There are at least 2 smartphones with 4 lenses at the back camera which have relatively same lenses, Realme 5 Pro and Oppo A9 2020 with 48 MP primary lens, secondly have an 8 MP ultra-wide (119 degree) lens, third have 2 MP depth sensor lens for bokeh, and fourth a 2 MP macro lens with 4cm microscopic focal length.[4][5] Both smartphones can also take 4K resolution video.[6][7] Alternatively, still uses 4 lenses, the macro lens is replaced with telephoto lens. Huawei P30 Pro has 50x optical zoom and it is called as a periscope lens.[8]



Nearly all camera phones use CMOS active-pixel image sensors (CMOS sensors), due to largely reduced power consumption compared to charge-coupled device (CCD) type cameras, which are also used, but in few camera phones. Some of camera phones even use more expensive CMOS back-illuminated sensors, which uses less energy than CMOS, although more expensive than CMOS and CCD.

As camera phone technology has progressed over the years, the lens design has evolved from a simple double Gauss or Cooke triplet to many molded plastic aspheric lens elements made with varying dispersion and refractive indexes. The latest generation of phone cameras also apply distortion (optics), vignetting, and various optical aberration corrections to the image before it is compressed into a .jpeg format.'

Most camera phones have a digital zoom feature. A few have optical zoom. An external camera can be added, coupled wirelessly to the phone by Wi-Fi. They are compatible with most smartphones.

The advance latest camera phone can also produce advance video with capability up to 4K 60fps.[9]


Images are usually saved in the JPEG file format, except for some high-end camera phones which have also RAW feature and the Android 5.0 Lollipop has facility of it.[10][11] Windows Phones can be configured to operate as a camera even if the phone is asleep. An external flash can be employed, to improve performance.

Phones usually store pictures and video in a directory called /DCIM in the internal memory. Some can store this media in external memory (Secure digital card or USB on the go pen drive).

Multimedia Messaging Service

Camera phones can share pictures almost instantly and automatically via a sharing infrastructure integrated with the carrier network. Early developers including Philippe Kahn envisioned a technology that would enable service providers to "collect a fee every time anyone snaps a photo".[12] The resulting technologies, Multimedia Messaging Service and Sha-Mail, were developed parallel to and in competition to open Internet-based mobile communication provided by GPRS and later 3G networks.

The first commercial camera phone complete with infrastructure was the J-SH04, made by Sharp Corporation; it had an integrated CCD sensor, with the Sha-Mail (Picture-Mail in Japanese) infrastructure developed in collaboration with Kahn's LightSurf venture, and marketed from 2001 by J-Phone in Japan today owned by Softbank.It was also the world's first cellular mobile camera phone. The first commercial deployment in North America of camera phones was in 2004. The Sprint wireless carriers deployed over one million camera phones manufactured by Sanyo and launched by the PictureMail infrastructure (Sha-Mail in English) developed and managed by LightSurf.

While early phones had Internet connectivity, working web browsers and email-programs, the phone menu offered no way of including a photo in an email or uploading it to a web site. Connecting cables or removable media that would enable the local transfer of pictures were also usually missing. Modern smartphones have almost unlimited connectivity and transfer options with photograph attachment features.

External camera

During 2003 (as camera phones were gaining popularity), in Europe some phones without cameras had support for MMS and external cameras that could be connected with a small cable or directly to the data port at the base of the phone. The external cameras were comparable in quality to those fitted on regular camera phones at the time, typically offering VGA resolution.

One of these examples was the Nokia Fun Camera (model number PT-3) announced together with the Nokia 3100 in June 2003.[13] The idea was for it to be used on devices without a built-in camera (connected via the Pop-Port interface) and be able to transfer images taken on the camera (VGA resolution and a flash) directly to the phone to be stored or sent via MMS.[14]

In 2013-2014 Sony and other manufacturers announced add-on camera modules for smartphones called lens-style cameras. They have larger sensors and lenses than those in a camera phone but lack a viewfinder, display and most controls. They can be mounted to an Android or iOS phone or tablet and use its display and controls. Lens-style cameras include:

  • Sony SmartShot QX series, announced and released in mid 2013. They include the DSC-QX100/B,[15] the large Sony ILCE-QX1, and the small Sony DSC-QX30.
  • Kodak PixPro smart lens camera series, announced in 2014.[16]
  • Vivicam smart lens camera series from Vivitar/Sakar, announced in 2014.[17]
  • HTC RE HTC also announced an external camera module for smartphones, which can capture 16 MP still shots and Full HD videos. The RE Module is also waterproof and dustproof, so it can be used in a variety of conditions.[18]

External cameras for thermal imaging also became available in late 2014.[19]


The camera phone, like many complex systems, is the result of converging and enabling technologies. Compared to digital cameras, a consumer-viable camera in a mobile phone would require far less power and a higher level of camera electronics integration to permit the miniaturization.

The metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) active pixel sensor (APS) was developed by Tsutomu Nakamura at Olympus in 1985.[20] The complementary MOS (CMOS) active pixel sensor (CMOS sensor) "camera-on-a-chip" was later developed by Eric Fossum and his team in the early 1990s. This was an important step towards realizing the modern camera phone as described in a March 1995 Business Week article. While the first camera phones (e.g. J-SH04) successfully marketed by J-Phone in Japan used charge-coupled device (CCD) sensors rather than CMOS sensors, more than 90% of camera phones sold today use CMOS image sensor technology.

Another important enabling factor was advances in data compression, due to the impractically high memory and bandwidth requirements of uncompressed media.[21] The most important compression algorithm is the discrete cosine transform (DCT),[21][22] a lossy compression technique that was first proposed by Nasir Ahmed while he was working at the University of Texas in 1972.[23] Camera phones were enabled by DCT-based compression standards, including the H.26x and MPEG video coding standards introduced from 1988 onwards,[22] and the JPEG image compression standard introduced in 1992.[24][25]


There were several early videophones and cameras that included communication capability. Some devices experimented with integration of the device to communicate wirelessly with the Internet, which would allow instant media sharing with anyone anywhere. The DELTIS VC-1100 by Japanese company Olympus was the world's first digital camera with cellular phone transmission capability, revealed in the early 1990s and released in 1994.[26] In 1995, Apple experimented with the Apple Videophone/PDA.[27] There was also a digital camera with cellular phone designed by Shosaku Kawashima of Canon in Japan in May 1997.[28] In Japan, two competing projects were run by Sharp and Kyocera in 1997. Both had cell phones with integrated cameras. However, the Kyocera system was designed as a peer-to-peer video-phone as opposed to the Sharp project which was initially focused on sharing instant pictures. That was made possible when the Sharp devices was coupled to the Sha-mail infrastructure designed in collaboration with American technologist Kahn. The Kyocera team was led by Kazumi Saburi.[29] In 1995, work by James Greenwold of Bureau Of Technical Services, in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, was developing a pocket video camera for surveillance purposes. By 1999, the Tardis[30] recorder was in prototype and being used by the government. Bureau Of Technical Services advanced further by the patent No. 6,845,215,B1 on "Body-Carryable, digital Storage medium, Audio/Video recording Assembly".[31]

A camera phone was patented by Kenneth Parulski and James Schueckler, two engineers at Kodak, in 1995. Their patent application was filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on April 24, 1995. The patent application specifically described the combination as either a separate digital camera connected to a cell phone or as an integrated system with both sub-systems combined together in a single unit. Their patent application design included all of the basic functions camera phones implemented for many years: the capture, storage, selection, and display of digital images and the means to transmit the images over the cellular telephone network to any number of receivers via stored numbers or keyboard input. Upon receipt of the patent application the USPTO published the complete application in both a monthly printed volume of new patent applications and on the USPTO web site as they do for all patent applications. Publishing the full disclosure of the diagrams and text of the patent application allowed any other party to file a claim of pre-existence. Publishing of all the details also enabled the concept and technology to spread; any other person or company could understand the technology so they could either license the patent from Kodak or extend the concept (e.g. rear-facing camera). On September 9, 1997, the USPTO granted US Patent 5,666,159 to Parulski and Schueckler. This patent is cited by 207 later patents as the invention of the camera phone.[32]

On June 11, 1997, Philippe Kahn instantly shared the first pictures from the maternity ward where his daughter Sophie was born. He wirelessly transmitted his cell phone pictures to more than 2,000 family, friends and associates around the world. Kahn's wireless sharing software and camera integrated into his cell phone augured the birth of instant visual communications.[12][33][34] Kahn's cell phone transmission is the first known publicly shared picture via a cell phone.[35]


The first commercial camera phone was the Kyocera Visual Phone VP-210, released in Japan in May 1999.[36] It was called a "mobile videophone" at the time,[37] and had a 110,000-pixel front-facing camera.[36] It stored up to 20 JPEG digital images, which could be sent over e-mail, or the phone could send up to two images per second over Japan's Personal Handy-phone System (PHS) cellular network.[36] The Samsung SCH-V200, released in South Korea in June 2000, was also one of the first phones with a built-in camera. It had a TFT liquid-crystal display (LCD) and stored up to 20 digital photos at 350,000-pixel resolution. However, it could not send the resulting image over the telephone function, but required a computer connection to access photos.[38] The first mass-market camera phone was the J-SH04, a Sharp J-Phone model sold in Japan in November 2000.[39][38] It could instantly transmit pictures via cell phone telecommunication.[40]

Cameras on cell phones proved popular right from the start, as indicated by the J-Phone in Japan having had more than half of its subscribers using cell phone cameras in two years. The world soon followed. In 2003, more camera phones were sold worldwide than stand-alone digital cameras largely due to growth in Japan and Korea.[41] In 2005, Nokia became the world's most sold digital camera brand. In 2006, half of the world's mobile phones had a built-in camera. In 2006, Thuraya released the first satellite phone with an integrated camera. The Thuraya SG-2520 was manufactured by Korean company APSI and ran Windows CE. In 2008, Nokia sold more camera phones than Kodak sold film-based simple cameras, thus becoming the biggest manufacturer of any kind of camera. In 2010, the worldwide number of camera phones totaled more than a billion.[42] Since 2010, most mobile phones, even cheapest ones, are being sold with a camera. High-end camera phones usually had a relatively good lens and high resolution.

Higher resolution camera phones started to appear in the 2010s. 12-megapixel camera phones have been produced by at least two companies.[43][44] To highlight the capabilities of the Nokia N8 (Big CMOS Sensor) camera, Nokia created a short film, The Commuter,[45] in October 2010. The seven-minute film was shot entirely on the phone's 720p camera. A 14-megapixel smartphone with 3× optical zoom was announced in late 2010.[46] In 2012, Nokia announced Nokia 808 PureView. It features a 41-megapixel 1/1.2-inch sensor and a high-resolution f/2.4 Zeiss all-aspherical one-group lens. It also features Nokia's PureView Pro technology, a pixel oversampling technique that reduces an image taken at full resolution into a lower resolution picture, thus achieving higher definition and light sensitivity, and enables lossless zoom. In mid-2013, Nokia announced the Nokia Lumia 1020. In late 2017, Apple introduced the iPhone 7 Plus, one of the phones to popularize a dual camera setup. The iPhone 7 Plus included a main 12 MP camera along with a 12 MP telephoto camera which allowed for 2x optical zoom and Portrait Mode for the first time in a smartphone. In early 2018 Huawei released a new flagship phone, the Huawei P20 Pro, with one of the first triple camera lens setup. Making up its three sensors (co-engineered with Leica) are a 40 megapixel RGB lens, a 20 megapixel monochrome lens, and an 8 megapixel telephoto lens. Some features on the Huawei P20 Pro include 3x optical zoom, and 960 fps slow motion. In late 2018, Samsung released a new mid-range smartphone, the Galaxy A9 (2018) with the world's first quad camera setup. The quadruple camera setup features a primary 24MP f/1.7 sensor for normal photography, an ultra-wide 8MP f/2.4 sensor with a 120 degrees viewing angle, a telephoto 10MP f/2.4 with 2x optical zoom and a 5MP depth sensor for effects such as Bokeh. Nokia 9 PureView was released in 2019 featuring penta-lens camera system.[47]

In 2019, Samsung announced the Galaxy A80, which has only rear cameras. When the user wants to take a selfie, the cameras automatically slide out of the back and rotate towards the user.[48] Also in 2019, Samsung developed and began commercialization of 64 and 108-megapixel cameras for phones. The 108 MP sensor was developed in cooperation with Chinese electronics company Xiaomi and both sensors are capable of pixel binning, which combines the signals of 4 pixels, and makes the 4 pixels act as a single, larger pixel. A larger pixel can capture more light (resulting in a higher ISO rating and lower image noise). [49][50][51]


Major manufacturers of cameras for phones include Toshiba, ST Micro, Sharp, Omnivision, and Aptina (Now part of ON Semiconductor).

Social impact

Personal photography allows people to capture and construct personal and group memory, maintain social relationships as well as expressing their identity.[52] The hundreds of millions[53] of camera phones sold every year provide the same opportunities, yet these functions are altered and allow for a different user experience. As mobile phones are constantly carried, camera phones allow for capturing moments at any time. Mobile communication also allows for immediate transmission of content (for example via Multimedia Messaging Services), which cannot be reversed or regulated. Brooke Knight observes that "the carrying of an external, non-integrated camera (like a DSLR) always changes the role of the wearer at an event, from participant to photographer".[54] The camera phone user, on the other hand, can remain a participant in whatever moment they photograph. Photos taken on a camera phone serve to prove the physical presence of the photographer. The immediacy of sharing and the liveness that comes with it allows the photographs shared through camera phones to emphasize their indexing of the photographer.

While phones have been found useful by tourists and for other common civilian purposes, as they are cheap, convenient, and portable; they have also posed controversy, as they enable secret photography. A user may pretend to be simply talking on the phone or browsing the internet, drawing no suspicion while photographing a person or place in non-public areas where photography is restricted, or perform photography against that person's wishes. At the same time, camera phones have enabled every citizen to exercise her or his freedom of speech by being able to quickly communicate to others what she or he has seen with their own eyes. In most democratic free countries, there are no restrictions against photography in public and thus camera phones enable new forms of citizen journalism, fine art photography, and recording one's life experiences for facebooking or blogging.

Camera phones have also been very useful to street photographers and social documentary photographers as they enable them to take pictures of strangers in the street without them noticing, thus allowing the artist/photographer to get close to her or his subjects and take more lively photos.[55] While most people are suspect of secret photography, artists who do street photography (like Henri Cartier-Bresson did), photojournalists and photographers documenting people in public (like the photographers who documented the Great Depression in 1930s America) must often work unnoticed as their subjects are often unwilling to be photographed or are not aware of legitimate uses of secret photography like those photos that end up in fine art galleries and journalism.

As a network-connected device, megapixel camera phones are playing significant roles in crime prevention, journalism and business applications as well as individual uses. They can also be used for activities such as voyeurism, invasion of privacy, and copyright infringement. Because they can be used to share media almost immediately, they are a potent personal content creation tool. Camera phone is limiting "Right to be let alone", since recording tool is always with us. Security bug can allow attackers to spy on users through phone camera.[56] In January 2007, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a plan to encourage people to use their camera-phones to capture crimes happening in progress or dangerous situations and send them to emergency responders. Through the program, people will be able to send their images or video directly to 911.[57] Camera phones have also been used to discreetly take photographs in museums, performance halls, and other places where photography is prohibited. However, as sharing can be instantaneous, even if the action is discovered, it is too late, as the image is already out of reach, unlike a photo taken by a digital camera that only stores images locally for later transfer (however, as the newer digital cameras support Wi-Fi, a photographer can perform photography with a DSLR and instantly post the photo on the internet through the mobile phone's Wi-Fi and 3G capabilities).

Apart from street photographers and social documentary photographers or cinematographers, camera phones have also been used successfully by war photographers.[58] The small size of the camera phone allows a war photographer to secretly film the men and women who fight in a war, without them realizing that they have been photographed, thus the camera phone allows the war photographer to document wars while maintaining her or his safety.

In 2010, in Ireland the annual "RTÉ 60 second short award" was won by 15-year-old Laura Gaynor, who made her winning cartoon,"Piece of Cake" on her Sony Ericsson C510 camera phone.[59][60][61] In 2012, Director/writer Eddie Brown Jr,[62] made the reality thriller Camera Phone[63] which is one of the first commercial produced movies using camera phones as the story's prospective. The film is a reenactment of an actual case and they changed the names to protect those involved. Some modern camera phones (in 2013-2014) have big sensors, thus allowing a street photographer or any other kind of photographer to take photos of similar quality to a semi-pro camera. .

Camera as an interaction device

The cameras of smartphones are used as input devices in numerous research projects and commercial applications. A commercially successful example is the use of QR Codes attached to physical objects. QR Codes can be sensed by the phone using its camera and provide an according link to related digital content, usually a URL. Another approach is using camera images to recognize objects. Content-based image analysis is used to recognize physical objects such as advertisement posters[64] to provide information about the object. Hybrid approaches use a combination of un-obtrusive visual markers and image analysis. An example is to estimate the pose of the camera phone to create a real-time overlay for a 3D paper globe.[65]

Some smartphones can provide an augmented reality overlay for 2D objects[66] and to recognize multiple objects on the phone using a stripped down object recognition algorithm[67] as well as using GPS and compass. A few can translate text from a foreign language. [68] Auto-geotagging can show where a picture is taken, promoting interactions and allowing a photo to be mapped with others for comparison.

Smartphones can use their front camera (of lesser performance as compared to rear camera) facing the user for purposes like self-portraiture (selfie) and videoconferencing.[69]

Smartphones can usually not fixed on a tripod, which can make problems at filming or at taking pictures with long exposure times.


Camera phones, or more specifically, widespread use of such phones as cameras by the general public, has increased exposure to laws relating to public and private photography. The laws that relate to other types of cameras also apply to camera phones. There are no special laws for camera phones. Enforcing bans on camera phones has proven nearly impossible. They are small and numerous and their use is easy to hide or disguise, making it hard for law enforcement and security personnel to detect or stop use. Total bans on camera phones would also raise questions about freedom of speech and the freedom of the press, since camera phone ban would prevent a citizen or a journalist (or a citizen journalist) from communicating to others a newsworthy event that could be captured with a camera phone.

From time to time, organizations and places have prohibited or restricted the use of camera phones and other cameras because of the privacy, security, and copyright issues they pose. Such places include the Pentagon, federal and state courts,[70] museums, schools, theaters, and local fitness clubs. Saudi Arabia, in April 2004, banned the sale of camera phones nationwide for a time before reallowing their sale in December 2004 (although pilgrims on the Hajj were allowed to bring in camera phones). There is the occasional anecdote of camera phones linked to industrial espionage and the activities of paparazzi (which are legal but often controversial), as well as some hacking into wireless operators' network.

Notable events involving camera phones

  • The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake was the first global news event where the majority of the first day news footage was no longer provided by professional news crews, but rather by citizen journalists, using primarily camera phones.
  • On November 17, 2006, during a performance at the Laugh Factory comedy club, comedian Michael Richards was recorded responding to hecklers with racial slurs by a member of the audience using a camera phone. The video was widely circulated in television and internet news broadcasts.
  • On December 30, 2006, the execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was recorded by a video camera phone, and made widely available on the Internet. A guard was arrested a few days later.[71]
  • Camera phone video and photographs taken in the immediate aftermath of the 7 July 2005 London bombings were featured worldwide. CNN executive Jonathan Klein predicts camera phone footage will be increasingly used by news organizations.
  • Camera phone digital images helped to spread the 2009 Iranian election protests.
  • Camera phones recorded the BART Police shooting of Oscar Grant.

Camera phone photography

Photography produced specifically with phone cameras has become an art form in its own right.[72][73][74][75][76][77] Work in this genre is sometimes referred to as iPhoneography (whether for photographs taken with an iPhone,[78][79][80] or any brand of smart phone).[81][82][83] The movement, though already a few years old, became mainstream with the advent of the iPhone and its App Store which provided better, easier, and more creative tools for people to shoot, process, and share their work.[84]

Reportedly, the first gallery exhibition to feature iPhoneography exclusively opened on June 30, 2010: "Pixels at an Exhibition" was held in Berkeley, California, organized and curated by Knox Bronson and Rae Douglass.[85] Around the same time, the photographer Damon Winter used Hipstamatic to make photos of the war in Afghanistan.[86][86][87] A collection of these was published November 21, 2010 in the New York Times in a series titled "A Grunt's Life",[88] earning an international award (3rd) sponsored by RJI, Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute.[89] Also in Afghanistan, in 2011, photojournalist David Guttenfelder used an iPhone and the Polarize application.[90] In 2013, National Geographic published a photo feature in which phoneographer Jim Richardson used his iPhone 5s to photograph the Scottish Highlands.[91]

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