It keeps getting higher and higher, the number of megapixels in smartphone cameras. We were wondering how much the biggest amount is? And whether or not you should buy one for your smartphone photography.
The smartphone with the highest amount of pixels in a commercial phone is 108 megapixels. The Mi Note 10 from Xiaomi was the first one to launch. The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra was the next mobile with the same megapixels.
That almost sounds like something from outer space. We were very curious about phone performance. So we did a little research and came up with some interesting thoughts.
The gear I used for writing this blog can be found on my favorite gear page.
How many megapixels can they make?
Numerous smartphone manufacturers produced phones with 48 and 64-megapixel cameras. That sounded amazing at that time, but they did not seem to come close to the performance of the 12-megapixel cameras of Google, Samsung, and Apple. So we are very curious to see what this 108-megapixel camera phone of Xiaomi and Samsung can do. Let’s dive in.
What does 108-megapixels mean?
Do that many pixels truly make a difference in the performance of a camera phone? That is one of the first questions we asked ourselves. It almost sounds too good to be true and asks for a thorough investigation.
Xiaomi claims the smartphone will take photos with a 12032 x 9024-pixel resolution, which is about 108 MP. Such a big sensor needs a processor that’s capable of handling this amount of pixels. Although more megapixels not necessarily mean better pictures, it might be something you expect. The result will come out at about 11-16 MB images.
What is a megapixel?
Megapixel refers to the resolution or size of an image. One million pixels together make up for a megapixel. Actually, it is a bit more; 1,048,576 pixels. A 20 MP camera can produce images with 20 million pixels in total.
Pixel comes from the words picture and element. Each tiny pixel captures light and turns it into readable data. Combined, this forms an image. A higher number of pixels matters most when you want to zoom in or crop your photos.
Good and bad information in a pixel
The data collected in a pixel contains good and bad information, also called noise. To make a high amount of pixels work better than a smaller, you need a better sensor. When you use the same size sensor for higher megapixels, the pixels need to be smaller to fit. Smaller pixels are more affected by noise. Larger pixels collect more ‘good’ data that is required to create a beautiful picture.
So it is not just megapixels that make for a good photograph.
Performance of the Xiaomi Mi Note 10
So how does this world’s number one super megapixel phone does the job?
Full frame images look in perfect conditions. There is plenty of detail with this enormous resolution of 12,032 x 9,024. The color balance seems stable, and exposure is good.
Users report issues with 100% cropping. A heavy denoise with smushed textures and colors results in a lack of detail in highly detailed objects.
It seems like the 27-megapixel default settings shoot similar results as the 108MP even when you crop 60 or 70% into the image. In low light conditions, the 108-megapixel mode has a difficult time. You won’t get close to 108MP results in low light or not ideal lighting situations.
If we do not consider the other cameras on the Xiaomi Mi Note 10, it seems the 108MP camera is not better than 20-megapixel cameras we have seen in the past few years. But the additional four lenses (2 x zoom, macro, and bokeh) make up for some inconsistencies from the primary camera.
The Mi Note 10 Pro has five cameras on the back of the phone:
- The 5MP telephoto camera
- The 12MP portrait camera
- The 108MP ultra-high-resolution camera
- The 20MP ultra wide-angle camera
- And the 2MP macro camera
How does the Samsung Galaxy S20 perform?
Samsung states that the new Galaxy S20 (the successor to the S10) is a major leap forward in resolution for mobile photography. The Ultra version of the S20 comes with five cameras:
- The 108MP Wide-angle Camera
- The 12MP Ultra Wide Camera
- The 48MP Telephoto Camera
- A DepthVision Camera
- And the 40MP Front Camera
Sounds impressive, right?
But when we look at more than just the megapixels, we see that the Galaxy S20 Ultra is in proportion a small-sensor camera with a high megapixel count. The sensors used in the Mi Note 10 and S20 Ultra are pretty similar, although there are a couple of essential differences. Samsung puts a lot of time and effort into developing sensors. They know that for future developments, they must spend a decent amount of time on differentiating from the market.
Still, the 1/1.3-inch sensor, in combination with the 0.8 microns pixels, has some noise concerns. Samsung is launching an update, probably at the end of March, to make more improvements to the camera.
Some users report the low-light performance of the S20 Ultra is better than the Mi Note 10 from Xiaomi. But as we expected, the 12MP default settings made better pictures most of the time. It is nice to have a creative option, though, to zoom and crop an image.
If you want to buy the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, you have to bring a big budget. It is a costly phone with many amazing features. You can pick the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra up for a decent price here.
But if you are looking for an excellent payable camera phone, there are much cheaper and great options. We have found some great alternatives for smartphone photographers on a budget. And if you can and want to spend a bit more, there are excellent phones that vary from $400 to a $1000 price range.
Should I buy a 108-megapixel phone?
At this point, a 108-megapixel phone is something for the enthusiast. If you have a smaller budget and still want to shoot amazing images, there are other options. In our opinion, a 108MP phone is not something you have to buy. You should consider the fact that 108MP phones need more storage for the large images you will be taking. And battery life is put to the test with slower processing time due to the size of the photos. And you would also want to think about the size of the phone. Smaller phones can be handy!
The Samsung Galaxy S20 is an impressive smartphone with excellent camera lenses. You can read more about the S20 in this article. We have put together a list of pros and cons and reasons why you should or should not buy this new Samsung phone.