Getting the most out of your smartphone's camera

We talk about some of the things you may have noticed, as well as a hack or two to really get the most out of your smartphone's camera.

By Abhilash Pavuluri

In the first article, we showed you some of the components of photography that you can try and control in your everyday smartphone. But there are some lesser known albeit important factors that we didn’t mention then. Here, we talk about some of the things you may have noticed, as well as a hack or two to really get the most out of your camera.


Ask any photographer what the most lacking feature is on a smartphone camera, and zoom is more often than not the obvious answer. It’s the biggest downside to having a fixed camera lens. Form factor and cost cutting mean that the manufacturers have little choice but to not provide optical zoom here. Wait, what’s optical zoom?


Traditionally, cameras use a method of zooming in called optical zoom. This is when the lens barrel itself extends to close in on an object. But, like we’ve mentioned, this is nearly impossible on a smartphone with its limited space and cost of manufacturing. So manufacturers resort to what most photographers passionately hate: digital zoom, where the image itself is cropped and magnified to give the effect of a zoomed in image. This often results in a closer image, but at the loss of image quality. Of course, manufacturers are combating this by the new invention of dual cameras: one camera that can *kind of* handle lossless zoom, the other to actually take a photo.

But if you can’t get your hands on a dual camera phone, worry not. When used correctly(and not all the way), the loss by digital zoom can be mitigated(but we still suggest avoiding it altogether).

You can use solutions like third party lenses that clip on to the phone directly, or to a phone case. Some third party companies even go to the length of adapting a DSLR lens to the phone, so you aren’t short of choices here.


Perhaps one of the most underrated feature nowadays is autofocus. When smartphones were just on the rise, autofocus was nonexistent. Thanks to upgrades in design standards and sensor tech, autofocus is now commonplace.


However, you can take it up a notch by doing the focus yourself. While some cameras have finicky AF systems, pretty much all smartphones include manual focus as a standard feature in their cameras these days. Some phones offer “lightning fast” PDAF(Phase Detection Autofocus) which divides the frame into “phases” and then merges them together until focused. But there’s no substitute for manual focus when you want the ultimate in image quality and precision. In the days of yore, especially with Nokia phones, you had a camera button that could be half-pressed to focus. Now, some cameras offer MF as a tap-to-focus feature;others let you use a slider or button.

Manual Focus is especially useful when you need to take close-ups or action shots, as these are moments where smartphone cameras usually struggle to focus on their own.

Panorama Mode

Panorama mode was all the rage when it first made an appearance in flagship smartphone cameras. You didn’t have to individually stitch images together anymore, the camera did it for you. Now, even panorama mode is a standard feature in almost all phones. While you certainly get the photo, some manufacturers reduce image quality for panorama images to compress filespace. So you might want to consider third party apps like Google Camera or Google Photosphere. The latter is particularly interesting in the fact that it allows you to take more than a horizontal or vertical camera and lets you literally make a “sphere” out of the images you take of a scene.

Some companies are upping their smartphone game like a company called Protuling, that developed a phone with a 360-degree camera. While the tech hasn’t made it there yet for the masses, apps like Photosphere do help a lot.

Some tips that make your smartphone photography easier:

1. When using earphones with inline controls, the volume buttons act as a shutter button. Use this to take shots away from you.

2. Almost all cameras can detect IR wavelengths. While not related to photography, you can check if your IR remote(TV, AC etc) works by pressing buttons facing the camera. If the IR LED glows a purple hue, they work!

3. Splash a drop of water on your camera lens so that the water sits on the groove. It makes for dreamy macro images(needs a bit of practice though).


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