Mobitography – Have you heard of this? (Part 1)

Interesting term, eh! Doesn’t roll off the tongue quite easily – but if you say it a few times, it sort of sets in. Mobitography, mobitography, mobitography, mobitography……………… – see, it’s easy. Well, so what does Mobitography mean?

It’s nothing but the art of (drum roll please) – Mobile Phone Photography! This term is not in Webster’s yet. It’s a new field, but at some point I know it’ll make it to Webster’s.

Since we are exploring this new term, I thought it’d be apt to talk about cell phone cameras – the essential tool that allows for “Mobitography”. In fact, the cell phone camera is now an essential feature of every smartphone and many a feature phone too. Furthermore, the war of the pixels that many witnessed in the digital camera world has taken root in the mobile phone world too.

For example, the Apple iPhone4 sports a camera that features a 5MP back-illuminated sensor, while HTC’s EVO-4G has an 8MP camera with dual-LED flashes. All this in addition to front-facing camera’s that operate in 720p VGA (Video Graphics Array) mode designed to capture frames for video-calls. And this is just the beginning. In addition to the pixels, expect to see richer camera features with each passing generation of mobile devices.

According to IDC, 3MP was the sweet spot worldwide for cell phone cameras with 284M camera shipments in 2010. This segment is expected to grow at a CAGR of 12.5% by 2014. As we move up the value chain to 5MP and greater, the 2014 growth rates increase dramatically – 38% for 5MP, 68% for 6-8MP and 97% for 9MP+ segments. But the battle ground segments remain the 3MP and 5MP segments. Meaning, that going forward, one can expect features phones to have at least a 3MP camera and of course smartphones will be at the bleeding edge with higher megapixel cameras. Bear in mind that this is only the mobile phone market. Obviously, this is where the largest volume/growth is for camera OEM’s. In case you haven’t noticed, these cameras have become a staple in pretty much all consumer grade laptops and will soon find their way into netbooks too (if not already). The tablet market, a new category created by Apple with the launch of the iPad saw these cameras debut with front and rear facing cameras. So the total available market is quite large – much to the glee of the camera OEM’s.

So, who are these guys who are rubbing their hands in glee? Well, there are many of them. Before I delve into that (next part), I want to point out that there is a key difference between the mobile phone camera and the digital camera. Among many noticeable (and many unsung) differences, the one I’d like to highlight is the difference in the camera sensor – Digital cameras almost exclusively use a CCD (Charge Coupled Device) sensor while most cell phone cameras use a CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) sensor. The CMOS sensor allows for very compact form factors, lower power consumption, lower BOM among other attributes and the CMOS sensor  is digital in nature. CCD’s are a mature technology and are analog in nature. It must be noted not one sensor technology is superior – it’s essentially the usage model that determines the which technology is used.

An upcoming sensor technology that could be a game changer is one that uses Quantum dots instead of silicon. A Quantum dot is a nanocrystal that allows much superior control over light conductive properties in comparison to silicon providing more saturation and much higher pixellation. So keep a look out for this technology in next-gen cell phones.

The CCD camera’s which are typically found in consumer point and shoot digital cameras, offer a variety of feature sets and enhanced resolution levels in addition to varying degrees of product and image capture quality. All digital cameras have removable hi-cap memory and have very powerful optical and digital zoom capabilities in comparison to a cell phone camera. Price range of CCD camera’s are typically between $90 to $600.

Then there is the ILS (Interchangeable Lens Camera) category that takes this to another level. These cameras feature interchangeable lenses and high-end professional controls and may include HD video capture capabilities. This category is further divided into 2 segments – (i) DSLR – Digital Single Lens Reflex and (ii) MIL – Mirrorless Interchangable Lens. Think Canon’s Digital Rebel for DSLR and Olympus EP1 for MIL! Prices typically start at $499 for this category.

In the next part, we’ll explore the basic elements of the cell phone camera, key players and if space permits some usage models of Mobitography. So stay tuned!

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6 Responses to Mobitography – Have you heard of this? (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Mobitography – Have you hear of this? (Part 2) | Pixel Ballads

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