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Is the trend of two rear cameras here to stay?

The iPhone 7 Plus has two rear cameras, perhaps paving the way for DSLR-quality images on a phone. But is it a fad or the future?

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Jan 13, 2017 17:19 IST
Sanshey Biswas
HT48Hours

The HTC Evo 3D is equipped with a dual camera.

To a large extent, smartphones have already replaced digicams for capturing video and photos. You can edit and broadcast what you’ve shot in seconds from the same device, something a stand-alone camera never managed. But with the point-and-shoot nearly extinct, can DSLRs be next? That’s next big ambition of smartphone manufacturers. And they want to do it with two rear lenses instead of one.

Meet the players

The latest iPhone 7 Plus (launched in India in October 2016) has two lenses at the back. The phone combines the images captured by the two for a bokeh effect (blurred backgrounds). The result mimics images that a DSLR would produce.

This isn’t the first time a company has tried to put a DSLR in your pocket. The HTC One M8 Eye (launched in September 2014) had two cameras that takes photos with the focus on different parts of the frame. Which means that you can shift the focus later, something even a DSLR cannot manage. So, what’s the problem? The technology was glitchy. But it inspired others to follow the same path.

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LG went with a simpler approach for the G5. Pair a normal camera and a wide-angle lens. So you can shoot crisp photographs and videos at parties, but switch to a lens twice as wide when capturing a group photo. The wide angle on the G5 is so wide that straight lines near the edges curve like videos shot on a GoPro camera. Add optical image stabilisation to the wide-angle lens, and you’re ready to shoot even a fast-paced sports video.

Budget manufacturer Xiaomi (Mi 5s, and 5s Plus) and Honor (6X) have joined the dual camera race, and other popular brands are sure to follow suit.

The flipside

So, is the dual camera a passing trend or here to stay? CES 2017 (Consumer Electronics Show in January, in Las Vegas) suggests that dual cameras haven’t caught on. Perhaps that’s because not many phones were launched, and companies are waiting for mobile-focused events such as MWC (Mobile World Congress, to take place in February) and IFA (Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin, to take place in September).

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Redmi Pro.

If all phones eventually do come with three lenses (add one to the current back and front lenses), it’s won’t just be the portability and versatility that would threaten DSLRs. It would also be the price. An entry-level DSLR costs you at least Rs 30,000. Add Rs 10,000 or more for lenses. A smartphone with two cameras can now start at Rs 10,000.

5 phones with dual cameras:

1) iPhone 7 Plus: Packs a telephoto camera for sharper lines, and a wide-angle for landscapes.

2) LG G5: One 16 MP lens and a wide 8 MP lens. It also has a camera module that gives you professional camera-like controls.

3) Huawei Mate 9: They worked with Leica to develop this one. But besides the dual-camera setup, it doesn’t offer much more.

4) Vivo XPlay 6: An Android smartphone trapped in an iPhone’s body. Dual cameras and a screen curved on both sides. Not known to explode either.

5) Honor 6X: Rumoured to launch under Rs 10,000, it could lower the price for the dual-lens tech.

The dual rear camera on the iPhone 7 Plus.