Is Two Better Than One? Part 2

(c) 2016 –

Huawei’s P9 doesn’t have a camera bump at all, but it also has two cameras on the back. This is actually the more exciting device of the two because it’s targeted at improving image quality, the holy grail of all photography. A combination of one monochrome and one color sensor captures three times the light of an ordinary camera, resulting in much better sharpness and clarity. The prominence of these improvements will depend on the circumstances — they are most apparent when shooting closeups — but it’s already clear that Huawei has built its best camera yet and the secondary sensor is the critical part responsible for it.

To see the quality and value of Huawei’s dual-cam, you have to zoom in real close. In the above, poorly lit, sinfully yellow scene, the P9 exhibits amazing control over image noise. Pay particular attention to the iPhone’s volume buttons on the left — how they stand out from the speaker grille behind them — and the crisp definition of each icon label on the screen. This is the sort of performance that any mobile (or even dedicated) camera designer can be proud of.

Rumors about Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus have included the suggestion that it would include a dual-camera system much like Huawei’s. If that scenario comes to pass, Apple’s substantial influence will serve to accelerate the trend and stimulate others to try it, too. But even without the iPhone’s endorsement, the addition of extra cameras is already proving itself valuable to the user (and apparently economical to the producer). The more distant future might hold an even greater number of lenses and sensors — as proposed by the Light L16 camera — but for the near term, it’s looking increasingly likely that dual-camera systems will take over the task of pushing mobile photography forward. When technology reached the speed limits of single processor cores, they were made more efficient and eventually multiplied in number. The same strategy seems to be developing now with respect to smartphone cameras.