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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Phone megapixel war rages on

LOVE them for the convenience or loathe them for the voyeurism, camera-equipped mobile phones are growing both in size and megapixel count.

The K850i
The K850i

The eight-megapixel Pixon
The eight-megapixel Pixon

The N73
The N73

The N95
The N95

The K750i
The K750i

From slightly more than a quarter of a megapixel, the sensor grew to now eight megapixels.

And from a fixed-finite focus to auto-focus lenses, LED to xenon flash. Even big names in the lens business such as Carl Zeiss did not bat a lid at taking a swipe at it. It wasn’t until the introduction of the first megapixel phone that people started taking the phone seriously.

Nokia showcased the 7610 with its radical swooping keypad in Hong Kong in 2003. The model featured Kodak Photo Sharing and Lifeblog, which allowed users to snap, share and even print 4R pictures from a Kodak photo kiosk.

Even when camera phones were in their infancy, Samsung already showcased an experimental 3.2-megapixel model done simply by plastering the front of a phone to the back of a digital compact camera. It was crude but rather effective because most camera phones relied on smaller lenses and sensor units as opposed to the same used in compact cameras.

Sony Ericsson kicked off the Cyber-shot branding with the T630 and marketed it along the lines of a “phone in front, camera at the back”. The model only had a 0.3-megapixel sensor.

The megapixel war among camera phone manufacturers raged on with the introduction of the two-megapixel Sony Ericssons with the auto-focus lens of the K750i and Walkman-branded W800i.

Nokia responded with three new Nseries models with two-megapixel cameras, but only the N90 featured optics from

Carl Zeiss.

The 3.2-megapixel camera phones followed and both Sony Ericsson and Nokia were the only companies offering proper options with the K800i and N73 respectively.

Nokia then introduced its first five-megapixel in a do-it-all package with the N95. It wasn’t until the introduction of the N82 that the company incorporated xenon flash in the phone’s design.

Ironically, Siemens pionereed the use of the xenon flash in its first 256-colour display phone with the S55 attached camera.

Sony Ericsson responded with the K850i with a five-megapixel camera, built-in xenon flash and PictBridge support. And Motorola teamed up with Kodak to produce the five-megapixel ZN5, launched late last year.

As of last year, Sony Ericsson announced an 8.1-megapixel C905 equipped with additional features such as face recognition, image stabilisation, xenon flash and even built-in GPS to geotag your photos – features that most compact cameras could only dream of having.

Other players, notably Samsung and LG as well as Taiwanese outfits, started adopting 3.2- and five-megapixel cameras in droves with Samsung continuing the megapixel race with eight- and 10-megapixel sensors presumably taken from its compact camera offerings.

And rumour has it that Nokia is coming up with an eight-megapixel answer to Sony Ericsson’s C905, hopefully before the holiday season.

It must be noted that not all camera phones are created equal. Take the first-generation Nokia N70, launched four years ago, versus last year’s Motorola Rokr E8 with equivalent two-megapixel camera. The N70 wins hands down because it has a physically bigger lens.


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