This is How Smartphone Cameras Have Improved in the Past 5 Years

DxOMark has published an interesting look at how smartphone cameras have evolved and improved over the past half decade, starting from when the camera testing lab began reviewing smartphones in 2012. Needless to say, we’ve come a long way in just a few short years.

Here’s a graph showing how the overall Photo and Video scores have trended upward since the “game-changing” 41-megapixel Nokia 808 PureView:

“It’s not too much of a surprise that every generation from Apple, Samsung, and Google does better than the previous one, but with image quality reaching higher levels than ever, it has become increasingly difficult to make any noticeable improvements using “conventional” means,” DxOMark writes.

As phone makers begin to hit physical limitations on image quality due to how small the sensors and lenses need to be, they’re beginning to turn to other means of improving photos. DxOMark decided to dig into those emerging strategies — things like dual-cameras, multi-frame-stacking, and innovative autofocus — to see how performance has been impacted.

DxOMark points to the iPhone 5S and 6 as an example of how improved image processing can noticeably improve quality of photos being shot on the same hardware (the iPhone 5S and 6 have the same camera module specs). Here’s a look at how iPhone photo quality has changed from the iPhone 5S to the current iPhone X:

A number of different software and hardware strategies have been introduced for improvements in areas such as exposure (scene analysis), stabilization (optical stabilization and software buffering), autofocus (more AF sensors), zoom (dual cameras), bokeh (“fake” bokeh modes), and more.

Here’s DxOMark‘s summary of the current state of the camera industry:

Looking at the past 5 years of smartphone camera development, we can see that camera hardware and image processing are evolving alongside each other and at a much faster pace than in the “traditional” camera sector. DSLRs and mirrorless system cameras are still clearly ahead in some areas — for example, auto exposure, but in terms of image processing, Canon, Nikon, Pentax and the other players in the DSC market are behind what Apple, Samsung, Google, and Huawei can do. Thanks to their hardware advantages, the larger cameras don’t actually need the same level of pixel processing as smartphones to produce great images, but there is no denying that the performance gap between smartphones and DSLRs is narrowing.

Head on over to DxOMark if you’d like to read the full in-depth 4,800-word report.