TECH BREAK: Of dual camera phones and avoiding the scam - Daily Nation

TECH BREAK: Of dual camera phones and avoiding the scam

Friday June 15 2018

The Huawei P20 lite. It comes with dual cameras at the back. PHOTO | AUGUSTINE SANG

The Huawei P20 lite. It comes with dual cameras at the back. PHOTO | AUGUSTINE SANG 

By AUGUSTINE SANG
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Shopping for a decent smartphone can be a tough job if you don’t understand them well.

It could be worse if you are looking to buy a ‘dual camera’ phone, something that has dominated the marketing blurbs and smartphone commercials since they gained popularity.

All the fuss about dual camera phones is mainly around the background blur effect that one would normally get from a professional DSLR camera, otherwise termed as bokeh effect or portrait shots.

The phone achieves this effect by using images from both lenses to determine foreground objects (what you want in focus) and the background, which is blurred off. This adds great aesthetic value to photos and hence the hype around it.

But dual camera phones are more than just bokeh images. They are designed to perform different tasks and device manufacturers often go with either of the following combo for their dual camera phones:

  1. Normal camera + another camera as depth sensor – performs the task I described above. Examples include Infinix Zero 5 and Huawei P20 lite.
  2. Normal camera + monochrome camera – the monochrome sensor will only shoot in black and white. Combining this image with the coloured one (RGB lens) from the main camera results in a better detailed image. An example is the Huawei P9, which can also shoot portrait.
  3. Normal camera + Wide angle camera – the extra lens takes wider shots. An example is the Oppo F3 plus.
  4. Normal camera + Telephoto lens – the extra camera is basically a zoom lens such as that on the new Galaxy S8+.

Most of these camera combos have capabilities to capture great bokeh images.

A good quality bokeh image taken on Infinix Zero 5Pro smartphone. PHOTO | AUGUSTINE SANG

A good quality bokeh image taken on Infinix Zero 5Pro smartphone. PHOTO | AUGUSTINE SANG

From my experience, however, not all devices with dual cameras are worth buying. Most are just marketing gimmicks with very little or nothing at all to show for the extra lens. This is normally the case for most budget smartphones.

Some of these ‘dual camera’ scammers use a ‘bokeh’ implementation that doesn’t seem to require the second ‘camera’.

They use what looks like a circular tilt-shift effect that keeps what is in the circle in focus and blurs everything when shooting in ‘dual camera’ mode, which is ‘okay’ if the only things we want to shoot in this mode are circular.

A poor bokeh image taken on the Maze Alpha 4G smartphone. PHOTO | AUGUSTINE SANG

A poor bokeh image taken on the Maze Alpha 4G smartphone. PHOTO | AUGUSTINE SANG

So the next time you buy a phone on the premise of a dual camera, follow the following tips:

  • Check out the camera performance in person, in a showroom.
  • Cover the lenses one at a time. If the supposed ‘bokeh’ mode still works with a covered lens, it’s probably a scam.
  • If you are buying online, read the reviews about the phone before buying it.
  • Buy from trusted manufacturers. They may be expensive but they are worth it.
  • Ask someone who ‘knows tech’ or someone who owns a device similar to the one you are looking to buy.
  • Wait for reviewers and other trusted sources to review the device, especially if the brand was previously unheard of.