Back when the HTC One (M8) added a second camera on its back – used to calculate distances using the parallax effect, better known today as a depth camera – it was an innovative new feature. But things quickly turned cynical.
We’ve always known that tech companies love to advertise large numbers. Sometimes (quite often, in fact), those large numbers don’t make a lot of sense, but it has been decades and engineers still haven’t been able to get the marketing department under control.
This is how we got to today where depth cameras are added as a +1. If a phone has only two cameras, wide and ultrawide, it won’t stack up well against a three-camera phone. Solution? Slap a low-res sensor on it for bokeh effects, 3=3, problem solved.
Okay, we’re maybe coming off as too cynical. Depth sensors aren’t necessarily a bad thing – in fact, they can be quite good. But back in 2014 when the One (M8) came out, a second camera was the only commercially-viable solution. The industry has come up with better ways to do it since – a 3D sensor gets actual distance measurements and it can do it in complete darkness. If it’s not pitch black, there is a way to get depth data with a Dual Pixel sensor.
So, are depth cameras bad? Keep in mind that while they are not the most technologically advanced solution, they are fairly cheap to implement – a 3D ToF sensor is typically found only on flagships, while a 2MP or even 5MP sensor costs pennies.
And they do enable some important effects, typically labeled “bokeh” or “portrait mode” that blurs the background to make the subject stand out. Some phones can do it for videos too, not just photos. Sure, the quality isn’t great, but it’s good enough for a quick post on social networks.
While we’re at it, another common +1 camera is the macro cam. Those have a rather limited use case – macro photography – but we did have an unexpected amount of fun with a particular telemacro camera. We spent a lot of time pointing it at various things to see what kind of weird shot we can get.
Some phones use their ultrawide cameras for macro shots. However, this is again a question of budget. These cameras have autofocus and not all ultrawides do (it costs more). And they can’t do telemacro (the extra distance helps with not casting a shadow on your subject and has other advantages).
So, this shouldn’t be a simple “yes or no” question, but rather one of quality. Do 2MP depth and macro cameras have a place on modern phones? Or should they be 5MP at least? Maybe such things only worth it when done “right”, that is with a 3D sensor and an ultra-wide camera with autofocus (even though they cost more)?
Let’s start with the depth camera first. If the widget below doesn’t work for you, try voting using this link.
Okay, same question but for the macro camera this time. Cast your vote here if the embedded poll doesn’t work.