Capturing the Perfect Shot: Understanding The Purpose of Those Extra Lenses on your Smartphone

Multiple camera lenses help you capture the best shots on the go. These multi-lens devices are becoming an industry standard.
Donovan Alexander

A decade ago would you believe us if we told you that you will have the power of a high-end camera at the tip of your fingertips on your mobile device? Probably not? We would probably be a little hesitant to believe that too. Yet, here we are in 2019. The original introduction of the camera on our mobile device was a momentous event but was more of a novelty than a useful tool. 

Capturing the Perfect Shot: Understanding The Purpose of Those Extra Lenses on your Smartphone
Source: Morio/Wikimedia Commons 

The first phone to rock a camera lens was the J-SH04 by SoftBank Mobile. Now, it was not anything special by today’s standards but was still impressive for its time. The phone featured a 110,000-pixel CMOS pixel camera and 256-color display. You were not really capturing anything too cinematic with this single-lens camera. 


Fast-forward to 2019,  smartphones packed with tremendously powerful cameras able to compete some DSLR cameras are everywhere, shooting 4K video without breaking a sweat. These phone features have become such a staple of the latest generation of phones that they have become a huge selling point. In short, most of you are just buying a camera that can text friends and browse Instagram. 

You have probably recently noticed a trend among these same smartphones. Due to the high interest and rising demand to have powerful cameras within your phones, flagship cameras have been appearing with more and more lenses. But, why? 

Whether you are looking for better ways to capture the perfect shot for Instagram or are simply curious why the next iPhone will have three lenses, today we are going to take a look at the lenses built-in and off your phone and understand the purpose they serve when you are trying to get that social media-friendly photo. 

Double Lenses? Double the Power? 

Turning over to the back of your phone you are going to find a tiny camera lens. The camera module itself can include multiple lens elements, an image sensor and sometimes even tiny motors for optical image stabilization. 

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Usually placed side by side, horizontally or vertically, a dual-camera system tends to have lenses that work independently of each other. Usually, one of the lenses is considered the primary lens, doing all the major lifting, while the secondary lens works on capturing additional light, increasing the field of view or helps with a nice background blur, what is known as the highly coveted bokeh effect. 

A dual-camera system can help you get sharper image detail, enable an ultra-wide-angle mode, and capture epic portraits with a shallow depth of field, as well as set up a better and sharper optical zoom. The iPhone XS Max dual-camera system comes with a wide-angle camera and a telephoto camera.

Nevertheless, just because you have a dual-camera system does not mean your photos will always better than some of the other mobile devices with single camera systems. Other factors like pixel size, aperture, and even post-processing play a big role in the result. 

Triple Lenses and Ultra Wide Angle Lenses

Capturing the Perfect Shot: Understanding The Purpose of Those Extra Lenses on your Smartphone
Telephoto Lens. Source: Samsung

Let's move on to something you are probably a little more familiar with. If you recently purchased the Samsung Galaxy S10 or iPhone XS Max, you know exactly what we are talking about. In fact, some of the more recent flagship phones feature a wide or ultra-wide lens. 

Capturing the Perfect Shot: Understanding The Purpose of Those Extra Lenses on your Smartphone
Wide Angle Lens. Source: Samsung

As the name implies you are able to fit much more in a picture creating a more “high-end” cinematographic look. Like all the other types of lenses on this list, these lenses merge built-in algorithmic software to help you capture that perfect city shot, alluring landscape, or perfect group shot. 

Capturing the Perfect Shot: Understanding The Purpose of Those Extra Lenses on your Smartphone
Ultra Wide Lens. Source: Samsung

The camera and lens specs play an important role in your understanding of what you can capture on your mobile device. Using the focal length and field of view measurements you can get the idea of how much is going to fit in a photo. Lower focal length with a higher field of view allows you to capture more of your scene. There are even phones now with wide-angle lenses on the front of the phone to capture group portraits.  

Looking at the S10’s triple camera system, the phone includes a 12MP regular/wide lens, a 16MP ultra-wide, and a 12MP telephoto lens (see below). In short, these three cameras work together to create great portraits, ultra-wide shots, and the needed, sharp zoom shot. Users can switch between these image modes easily without losing any quality. 

The Telephoto Lens 

Capturing the Perfect Shot: Understanding The Purpose of Those Extra Lenses on your Smartphone
Source: Apple

Just as common as your standard, wide-angle lenses, these lenses allow for the perfect optical zoom. Though the field of view is smaller on these types of lenses, using a telephoto lens allows you to get closer to your subject without any physical moving parts.

The telephoto lens also serves another purpose that you probably see across Instagram. By combining the data from multiple lenses, say on a dual or triple lens set up, you are able to create the bokeh effect. This brings your subject to the forefront of the picture, blurring the background. 

Capturing the Perfect Shot: Understanding The Purpose of Those Extra Lenses on your Smartphone
Source: Apple/YouTube

It is good to know that even single-lens devices like the Google Pixel are able to digitally recreate bokeh using built-in software. The Huawei P30 Pro is a great phone if you are looking for a device that offers you the highest level of true optical zoom. 

Boring? Or just what you need? The Single Lens.

Now there are some more obvious benefits of getting a single-lens camera smartphone, one of the more obvious being price. Yet, just because your camera only had one lens, do not feel like you are missing out. Some single-lens camera phones tend to do better in lower light than some of the more obvious multi-lens smartphones. Even more so, there are a lot of great attachments and accessories out there to help elevate your photo taking abilities. 

Companies like moment lenses or the Amir Camera Lens Kit not only offer you attachments for wide and ultra-wide shots, they also have simple attachments that can help you capture great macro shots and help you have a little fun with a few fisheye photos.

Regardless of what you decide there are plenty of great options out there if you are looking for the perfect shot for your portfolio, while on the go, or for social media. 

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