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Digital cameras and mobile phones
Two years ago digital cameras seemed to be expensive and useless toys, as quality of usual cameras was much better. But all technologies are quickly developed and today yesterday's toys are comparable in photos quality and technological features with film cameras and sometimes they even offer more possibilities to a user. The main advantages of digital cameras are that you can immediately view an image, zoom some parts of the picture and apply special effects. Till recently it was difficult to print such images but now this problem is also solved. First photographic laboratories, which render this service, have appeared. Price of such photos is not greatly differed from the price of usual photos taken by film cameras. A dgital camera of a middle class enables to make photos in A4 format and even more. So, this kind of cameras is becoming more popular. And cellular phones manufacturers decided to combine a digital camera and mobile phone.
Mainly, MMS-technology, although at that time it wasn’t developed, stimulated creaton of a hybrid device. The pioneer of a new field was Ericsson, which produced a camera ÌÑÀ-10 compatible with Ericsson R320/T28. This camera was switched to a system connector, energy was received from the phone battery. Cameras capabilities as well as photos, taken by it, were rather simple. It was so disappointing to view such images on PC. But developers didn’t anxious how the picture looked like on PC screen, their aim was to receive an acceptable quality on the screen of the phone. This camera was created, firstly, to take portrait pictures and assign them to the phone numbers in the phonebook and, secondly, to send them as MMS messages (it became actual only in the end of 2002 and not in all countries of the world). In all cases images are viewed on the phone display, so quality of images depends on features of the display. It’s almost impossible to show a picture of the resolution 640õ480 pixels on the screen, which has a resolution only of 120õ120 pixels.
Low -resolution images, which allow just to recognize an object on the phone display, are more demanded now. Technological solution is very simple. Such cameras has cheap CCD matrix, which allows to take pictures of size 640õ480 pixels. Origingally, this size is larger than a usual phone display can support. The second important element is lens, which can be plastic or glass. A fixed focus distance is typical to the most of the products, which are launched on the market. The best photos are taken, when a focus distance is 30-35 cm. If you decide to make shots of sceneries or text pages, it’s not a good idea, because today cameras don’t enable to do it with acceptable quality.
It’s obvious that digital photos, taken by the camera integrated in a mobile phone, should be used on the phone and it widens capabilities of the phone. Right after Ericsson, other manufacturers also understood this idea and made own cameras. Today such kind of cameras we can see on the phones from Siemens, Nokia, Motorola. It is expected that other manufacturers also will develop own cameras. We don’t recommend you to purchase a phone, only if it has a camera, as it is only an additional accessory.
Today there are several cameras of different manufacturers on the market, and each one has its own peculiarities. The most advanced camera is ÌÑÀ-25 from Sony Ericsson. It has good lens, not plastic ones, and a good color rendering, images are vivid. Moreover, there are up to 10 effects in this camera, which can be added to the image while shooting, for example, different frames or just a layer with flying hearts. The main notable feature of the camera is that it supports 2x digital zoom. This function is not comparable with Ò68, but works correctly in SonyEricsson T300. It depends on the software of the phone. Other capabilities of ÌÑÀ-25 are typical to the cameras of this manufacturer – several types of resolution, compression (quality) of files, stored in JPEG format and a phone display viewfinder. All cameras from SonyEricsson have their own memory to store images. You can copy them to the phone memory if you like. Pay attention that before sending a picture to the other device via IR-port you should copy it to an internal memory of the phone, otherwise, you can’t transmit it. Predecessors of this camera are well-known on the market, they are ÌÑÀ-10 and ÌÑÀ-20. Such camera as õ68 is a cheaper version of ÌÑÀ-25, which has a cheaper plastic lens. This model is aimed only to Asian market.
An external camera from Siemens is called QuickPic, it was produced together with Siemens S55. Developers reached vivid and bright colors, which are comparable with ÌÑÀ-25. The main peculiarity of this device is a flash option. Like cameras from Sony Ericson this camera receives energy from the battery of the phone. Flash using increases power consumption, don’t forget about it. A user can choose two resolution photos - 160õ120 and 640õ480 pixels. It’s interesting that you can select only a low resolution or both ones simultaneously to save photos as wallpaper or thumbnails in the phonebook. All images are stored in JPEG format, which is typical to all digital cameras now. A camera has only an optical viewfinder. The camera doesn’t have own memory; all images are immediately transmitted to the phone memory. Each high-resolution photo occupies about 36 Kb memory, so, you can make only 30 shots to fill the memory. As the phone has a dynamical memory, you need space for standard applications, such as organizer, ringing tones, games and others. So, in reality you can take less than 30 images of high resolution.
Camera from Nokia hasn’t gone on sale yet. The main peculiarity is a portable handsfree connector placed on the camera. The camera connected to Pop-port of the phone and there is no place to connect a portable handsfree, so elaborators move it to camera itself. According to preliminary information there is no memory on the camera and all images are stored in the phone memory. This device is compatible with each phone from Nokia, which has Pop-port.
Camera from Motorola is compatible only with Motorola T720i. It doesn’t have any peculiarities, so, let’s leave it without description.
After first part of this article you could think that first digital cameras in mobile phones appeared in the laboratories of Ericsson, but it was not so. This company has a priority in producing external cameras. However, internal cameras have been already well-known for a long time. They firstly appeared in the phones aimed to Japanese and Asian markets. Two main reasons of this fact was a popularity of usual digital cameras and developers inclination to make hybrid devices. Phones with digital cameras also became popular. If first samples seemed to be just toys, then, after developing of special services, they became a necessity. We should understand that usual PCs are not much used in Japan, most of residents have a phone, which substitutes all other devices.
Today’s phones have CMOS or CCD cameras, with matrix 310000 pixels, what allows to take pictures of the resolution 640õ480 pixels. There are neither leaders nor outsiders in the field of mobile cameras manufactures because there are many limitations caused by hybrid devices features. Small phone dimensions allow to use only small lens, as a rule 1/4 inch. It is an estimated characteristic, not measured one; it is received on the base of different tables. A real diameter of a lens is 5 mm or even more. But lens consists of several elements, electronics, IR-filter and so on. All these components give a high depth of module, which could be 10 mm for the best models that don’t have extra features. Compare this distance with the depth of the phones and you will understand the problem.
Of course, there are elaborations, which can increase a quality of the picture and add extra effects, but depth of lens and electronics don’t allow to do it. It’s obvious that functionally rich cameras will be available only in smartphones, which have suitable dimensions to place good lens. Only these devices would give an opportunity to take pictures of high quality. We think that only in spring 2004 1.3 megapixel cameras could be integrated in small phones and quality of pictures would be increased.
On the other hand, an ideology of mobile phones prescribes to use cheap plastic lens and other elements because an average age of a mobile phone is 1.5 year. A full life cycle doesn’t exceed 3.5 years, during this period the model becomes out of date. So, there is a paradox: manufactures are interested in integrated cameras but they don’t want to pay much for the high quality of their realization. The main aim of every manufacturer is to add a new function to the phone, not increasing prime and warranty costs. It means that quality of integrated cameras wouldn’t be changed greatly in the near future, only special effects would be varied, for example, flashes of different colors, overlaid effects, optical and digital zooms and others.
Now we can observe that all today’s models differ only in some nuances. For example, shooting in bad lighting conditions is almost not available, quality of high resolution images is not acceptable and so on. These solutions are cheap, lens of integrated cameras are not covered; in some cases it is deepened into the phone. In Nokia 7250 a camera is integrated into the phone and main lens is covered by a plastic transparent lens. But it was done more for a psychological effect. An external lens is scratched and got dirty, but these drawbacks don’t influence quality of small pictures.
Today phones with integrated cameras don’t have any advantages over phones with external cameras. In the future this situation would change. It is much easier to install good lens in the external device, not increasing its size. Of course, these cameras would lose to conventional digital cameras in quality. But they would be universal. It's easier to take a small camera with a phone than a big device in a trip. Users would have one more reasons to buy products of one manufacturer. If they buy one camera, compatible with a current phone, they could use it with a new one too. Also there are many other accessories. May be manufacturers of conventional digital cameras would try to add a feature, which allows to transmit taken images to mobile phones. But we doubt that they would be successful. The problem is that cameras are comparable to mobile phones in dimensions or even exceed them; it would be a niche solution. In the conclusion we’d like to add that cameras would become popular only when there would be boom of MMS messages. At that time it would become a necessity.
Published 12 February 2003
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