Smartphone cameras explained part 1

Today we’re going to look at the topic of Smartphone cameras explained in part 1. It is a whole series of camera talks specifically designed to help you understand how cameras work.

Let’s begin

How was your day? I hope everyone is okay. I want to talk about cameras. This is a topic that we’ve talked about in 2020 and 2021 for the record. However, at the beginning of every year, I like to go over the topic for revision’s sake. For starters, I understand that everyone doesn’t like cameras, but I think everyone needs to have a working knowledge of how they function.

How smartphone cameras work

The parts of a phone concerned with photography are

  1. The camera (lenses and sensor)
  2. The SoC (ISP or image signal processor)
  3. Software (device drivers, image algorithms, camera app).

This is a drum I think I have beaten to the death. To take a picture of something, there has to be light on it. For the best results, the object or person in question should be facing a light source.

This is very important information yet it looks trivial but it can be the difference between a good and bad photo.

Most people are starting to realize it now. A good example is the sun-kissed photography style where people take pictures with the sunlight on their skin.

Facing a light source allows rays of light to bounce from the object into the camera lens. The camera lens will gather the light rays and focus them on the image sensor. The image sensor will then store the light and convert it from light rays to digital form.

From there it’ll send the image to the ISP. It is in the ISP that the digital form is processed in two stages

  1. The digital form is combined into a picture in RAW form. This is the true image captured by the photo.
  2. The second stage then kicks in. The RAW image is compressed and edited by the camera software into a JPG file which appears on the screen.

This entire process happens in seconds or if you use GCam almost a minute.

This is a very simplistic explanation that I believe everyone should understand. But feel free to call my attention if you don’t understand some things.

The smartphone camera

So let’s look at a typical camera.

This is what a camera should look like. I have also made a YouTube video about it. I’ll try to link it in at the end of my talk.

Camera glass

At the front of the camera, you have the camera glass. Most people incorrectly think that their camera glass is their lens. 😂😂😂😂

You’ll sometimes hear a person advise someone else to clean their “lens” or hear another complaint about how they scratched their “lens”.

The camera glass is just a transparent glass used for the protection of your camera. This is because the actual camera itself is very delicate and is easily damaged.


After the camera glass, next up is the aperture. It is simply a hole through which light enters the camera.

The size of a camera hole is measured in numbers known as F-stop numbers. Big apertures (big camera holes) have smaller f-stop numbers and small apertures have bigger f-stop numbers.

For example, if you have two cameras: Camera A has F/2.2 and Camera B has F/1.8. What this means is that camera B has the bigger aperture. So the smaller the number, the bigger the hole. The bigger the number, the smaller the hole.

Depth of field

Depth of field is a photographic What is important to note is that the bigger the aperture, the more light can enter the picture.

But big apertures do not have enough depth of field. Small apertures on the other hand do not allow a lot of light to enter the picture but they have a greater depth-of-field effect.

The depth of field effect is very important for portrait photography. Because it keeps the image sharp and blurs out the background.

In this photo (above), there’s no depth of field effect. All parts of the picture are looking sharp (in focus)

In this one (above), only my image is sharp while the rest of the picture is blurred out. Thus this photo has depth of field. Some people call the depth of field effect, the portrait effect, or bokeh effect.


The next thing I’d like to look at is lenses. Lenses help to collect light from the object you’re photographing and send it to the image sensor. The lens is usually what determines the name of the camera.

There are different types of lenses in use today. The main ones are:

  • Standard wide
  • Ultrawide
  • Periscope/telephoto
  • Macro/telemacro etc.

These different types of lenses help one to achieve different types of photography.

On some cameras, you’ll see options like .6x, 1x, and 2x. What this means is that:

  • .6x or .5x is the Ultrawide camera and will allow you to capture a very wide area
  • 1x is the standard wide camera which we use all the time
  • 2x refers to the telephoto or macro camera. Depends on your phone. It zooms in closer.

While lots of companies make their lenses or use generic lenses, some companies produce lenses for others to use.

Two very good names are Leica and Carl Zeiss. Their lenses are usually of very high quality. Hasselblad is used mostly by DJI drones and their FPV cameras are also a good product. It was earlier mentioned in articles about the new One Plus 10 Pro camera.

I guess that’s that. I’ll be available to answer questions if there are any. If you have enjoyed any of these posts then do me a great favor by subscribing to my YouTube channel. It would mean the world to me.

For further reading…

Read all about cameras here

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