Galaxy Nexus camera

See what we did there? Look, we're not saying anything new here, but we have a feeling we're going to have to keep saying it over and over. Megapixels -- i.e. resolution -- aren't everything when it comes to camera quality. Image size, yes. Image quality, no. There are other factors at play.

Hopefully you saw the demo during the Galaxy Nexus launch. Shot by Google's Romain Guy -- whos's certainly no slouch with a full SLR, if you've ever seen his other work -- it's an incredible example shot a new smartphone. You can see an extended version at the source link below.

No, megapixels aren't everything. When you see that one phone (whether it's the Galaxy Nexus or something else) has fewer megapixels than another, it doesn't necessarily mean that the camera will be "worse." It just means that it doesn't shoot in as high a resolution, and you might not be able to make a 4-foot poster out of the thing. Get a real camera for that.

Source: +Romain Guy; More: Galaxy Nexus forums

 

Reader comments

Poll: Do you still incorrectly believe that megapixels are everything?

94 Comments

I don't believe that big megapixel numbers are everything. Looking forward to finding out for myself though :)

Canon just reinforced your comments, and i believe it is something that most pro photog's (myself included) also agree with. Canon's new pro-line 1D X camera is "Only" 18mp, but they bumped up resolution and ISO sensitivity. Can't wait for the new Nexus!!! Sorry about the camera rant.

Thank you AC for finally writing something about this. It still amazes me when you get the "I can't believe the (insert new phone name here) only has 5 megapixels! Why such a bad camera?! I'm going to wait for something better!" Really, I never understood why people wanted such huge megapixel counts on a phone camera. Simple, clear stills, and decent video should suffice most people for quick little capture moments. If you want to be a serious photographer, do like Phil says and "get a real camera" with a professional lens and all the bells and whistles features. People who are looking to make 4 foot posters of pics don't shop phones for that. They go to the camera aisle.

It all depends on sensor size. With the tiny size of phone cameras, 5-6mp would be the most a phone would need. With the Galaxy nexus, the quality is there and more MP wouldn't do it any justice. Also the quality of the camera shows in the videos.

Ive tried to spread the word wherever this discussion comes up. There are three things that truly affect how a photo comes out. The first hot button household name being mexapixels in which the resolution a photo is natively taken (which allows you to print LARGER photos with no clarity loss) Adequate pixel density of an 8x10 is achieved easily by a 5mp camera. Second, is the sensor of the camera itself, this truly is the brain of the camera. it takes the subject you wish to capture and creates the digital image. This above all obviously is the most important. The third and final component to a beautiful picture is optics (lens) the lens needs to allow enough light into the sensor to capture said photo. Increased optics that allow more light into the sensor faster allowing for faster shutter speeds.Shutter speed would easily be described to the layman as the time it takes from you hitting the button to take the picture, until the physical hardware opens the shutter to allow light in, then close it when enough light has been captured. These three are considered the holy trinity of picture taking. You need all three for great photos. All things considered, you also need someone above "derp" status to be able to use the camera. Sometimes even point and shoot isnt just "point and shoot"

"Adequate pixel density of an 8x10 is achieved easily by a 5mp camera"

Adequate, yes. But if you want 300 DPI or more for the best quality at 8x10 you will need at least 7 megapixels. Not that there are many people who are going to take pictures with their phone and have them printed at that high quality. BUT, who knows? Maybe someone finds that perfect shot and doesn't have their DSLR with them. Yes, probably wouldn't happen, but still.

It's true that megapixels aren't everything as far as image quality, but if you have a few more megapixels, it would give a bit more flexibility. Although, if I had to choose between quality sensor, quality software, quality optics, and high megapixels, I would definitely sacrifice the megapixels.

The problem here is that most customers who want a quality camera when buying a phone will see 5MP on the Nexus and 8MP on the iPhone 4s and they will choose the iPhone.

Actually this whole 8x10 size the so many hold up as the gold standard is simply an intellectually dishonest argument.

Nobody goes out to shoot studio quality facials with a phone. Even those that take Romain Guy'seq movies do so as a gimmick, a stunt or a challenge. (With all due props for their work).

Certainly, choosing megapixels over image quality is the wrong approach for "good pictures".

But lets not forget the reason higher megapixel cameras are welcome in phones with fixed focal length wide angle aspect of these cameras, is that produce images that invariably need to be cropped by huge amounts, often leaving you with less than an 8th of the original pixels.

After cropping, your 5megapixel picture now has all the resolution you had on your first feature phone.

I think it all falls back to the "bigger is better" saying. Some people think that just because a camera has more megapixels, that means it must be better. I had to educate a friend yesterday when he asked about the 5 megapixel camera on the HTC Design when he said that was a downside.

Yup, and there are a lot of places that 'Bigger is better' doesn't really hold value, and MegaPixels is one of those places.

A big complaint with compact (and not-so-compact) cameras is indeed the megapixel race. Sensor noise increases due to the smaller area for photons to be captured, and requires all sorts of fancy engineering to get around - backside illumination, microlenses, etc.

There are many more important details than megapixels - lens, autofocus speed, low-light sensitivity, image stabilization (because just about no one uses a tripod with a smartphone), rolling shutter artifacts with video, fps/buffer size. I hope to see SLR-type features trickle down to my smartphone as the years go by.

Besides, if megapixels were all that mattered, we would have all run out and bought the Nokia N8 (12mp, Zeiss lens) last fall :\

When I went from a Nokia N97 to a HTC Desire (both 5MP), I definitely found out that megapixels are not everything... quality of pics was way worse.

Thank you for posting this. I knew you guys would do something to silence the folks complaining about the 5mp on the Galaxy Nexus.

I hate to say it but the 5mp iphone 4 takes way better pictures than my 8mp evo. If the gn shoots anything like it im gonna be a happy camper.

Agreed! Although in my case it's the 8mp HTC Incredible camera. It was one of those "foot in mouth" moments back when the phone came out.

"Hah!" I said, "My Android phone has more pixels."

And then we compared the actual quality... and that I shut up.

I find it incredibly ironic that the Apple fanbois on other sites and forums (that have never even used the 8MP 4s camera) are now saying the EXACT SAME FREAKING THING that the idiot Android fanbois have been saying for a couple of years now.

A side by side comparison of the GN and the 4s is the only way we will know for sure. My guess is that the quality difference will be negligible (unlike the previous generation devices).

Great post!
I agree with the MP count. I have a 4 MP camera that I will use any day over the 12 MP camera I purchased. The 4 MP camera has a better lens than the 12 MP I have. Guess the 12 MP camera put in a cheaper lens, and boosted the MP count to give the notion that more MP results in better picture quality.
I also prefer the smaller MP count. Especially when using a mobile device. It results in smaller file sizes, does not eat up as much data on your SDcard or internal memory, and can upload images faster due to the smaller file size.

I sell phones and have to remind people al. l the time that 5 is plenty. Pictures you migjt take on you phone need to be reduced in size for most mobile uses. I think a phones frame rate and low light capabilities weigh more.

I don't think highly of megapixels. I used to have a Droid x. That proves your point immediately when in not bright light. Droid x 8mp vs iPhone 4 5mp, iPhone won by a lot :(

I'd like to see someone besides Nokia put a 1/1. 8" (or larger) sensor in a phone.

(unless someone already did and I missed it.)

Wasn't there a 8mp Samsung phone with a sensor that looked like an actual camera sensor on the back? it was around the time of the G1

EDIT: Yes, Samsung did it, it was the T929 Memior.

I sell phones and have to remind people al. l the time that 5 is plenty. Pictures you migjt take on you phone need to be reduced in size for most mobile uses. I think a phones frame rate and low light capabilities weigh more.

I sell phones and have to remind people al. l the time that 5 is plenty. Pictures you migjt take on you phone need to be reduced in size for most mobile uses. I think a phones frame rate and low light capabilities weigh more.

Hey, do you know anyone who sells phones and can remind people that 5 is plenty?

If so, remind them that one post is plenty.

I agree with this article 100%, but there is something you only barely touched on. Sensor and lens quality are more important then megapixels of course, but being its stuck on the back of a smartphone means you're almost always too far away from the action. Digital zooms are a joke and your better off not using them. I would rather be able to take a decent shot from a little farther away then cropping on my computer for printing later than using the digital zoom and ruining what could be a good picture.

So the thing being is that there will be a trade off in the lower res camera and simply stating you wont be able to make a 4ft poster doesn't accurately represent the issue.

and sensor size, but I agree with the sentiment. In 2000, I got a Canon D30 with a 3.25 megapixel sensor (APS-C) and a Canon L lens. I have a photo of my son blown up to 20x30 that looks indistinguishable from a film shot, something that people said, at the time, you should "never" do.

I am looking forward to testing the camera of the GN.

I know, right?

I think I should just copy/paste any and all post & forums discussions when the the first iphone4 was announced.

Funny how the shoe is on the other foot now.

That being said, buying the GN day one.

There's also a side benefit of having pictures take up less space because of the lower resolution. When you don't have an SD card slot for expansion, this will help mitigate internal storage from filling as quickly.

True.

And when you consider that most camera's store in jpeg anyway, no one gets the full resolution capability of the sensors anyway.

All the talk of sensor quality is dead on, but in addition the raw-to-jpeg algorithm makes a huge difference.

I wish phone cams had the ability to select compression ratios like most regular cameras have.

So what other factors should we be looking for on the camera since megapixels are not the factor here, when phones are announced the only thing people see are the megapixel count so it is only natural people are going to think megapixels are a factor in determining better quality is there a Wikipedia link we can look at. Manufacturers hardly ever talk about who the creator of the lens of the camera is so how do we know the quality of the camera.

Finally! I was getting tired of trying to point this out to everyone. I just hope that people actually read this post.

Edit: And reading through the comments there are still some folks just not getting on board. Oh well at least you tried.

The megapixel race is solely for marketing. Sadly, that is something that apple will market against the galaxy nexus to sway the general, uninformed population about camera quality.

Considering Apple is captain of the "It's More Than Megapixels" ship, you're looking for a fight where there is none.

Up until recently they were the only ones ON the ship, too.

Sensor size has more to do with the quality as well as good lenses. If you know anything about the Kepler Space Telescope, it gets those pictures of stars millions of light years away because the sensor size in it's camera's are huge! It's generally why DSLRs take better pictures (beside the fact they have better lenses usually). Unfortunately sensor size is never listed usually. The shots looked good in the demo, but real world hands-on will tell.

I would take a ONE megapixel camera on my phone if it were able to resist dust. If I found ANY smartphone from ANY company that had a camera that was actually DUSTPROOF it would be a MIRACLE. Sorry for the caps abuse but it's really pissing me off that every single camera phone I have used for more than 9 months has a permanent soft-filter installed as dust from many miles of travel in my pocket accumulate on the INSIDE of the lens. What gives? I don't care how fabulous the lens or pixels or anything are on the phone, if it gets dusty its worthless!

Are you sure it is on the inside of the lens? Before using my OG Droid camera, I always wipe it on my shirt, and I never notice dust. Admittedly, I don't use the camera much because it sucks, but...

A really high megapixel image, taken with a low quality lens or sensor (or worse, both), will get you a really high resolution blurry image.

Even in the camera world, Olympus has a 12mp point and shoot, that takes worse pictures than my first digital, a 2.2mp Toshiba. The Olympus images look terrible due to the algorithm that "fixes" the sensor noise. Does it by blurring the whole image!

I used a 4mp Canon S400, and always got great images off of it. My 10mp Nikon DSLR takes incredible images compared to my wife's 12mp Canon point and shoot pocket camera (which takes incredible pictures). A good friend of mine has a 7.1mp Canon G6, which still outperforms most.

Unfortunately, the manufacturers don't say who made the lens (or even what it's made of), what the size of the image sensor are. This is why we see the camera comparison shots for each new phone that comes out. We just can't tell by the "specs", if the image will look good, we just have to "see" for ourselves.

For comparison, the 5mp camera in my Epic 4g, takes much better pictures than that poor Olympus 12mp CAMERA.

One of the best cameras ever made, and even to this day, for amateur photographers was the Nikon D40. That thing had 6 mp. But it takes consistently awesome pictures. I suggested it to a friend last year as they were going on clearance. He was going to buy a much more expensive camera. He's thanked me more than once for that suggestion.

I agree with the comment about the D40. As a photographer myself, the worst thing that happened to the advancement of digital photography was the megapixel race. Increase the number of pixels, and you increase the noise in lower light. Software must do more noise reduction to compensate, decreasing the overall quality of the image.

One of the first DSLRs, the Canon D30 (my first), took spectacular pictures that could be easily blown to poster size, and it was only 3MP.

It's not the number of pixels, it's the quality... and even more important is the quality of the lens. On these tiny sensors in phones, I'm judging 5mp is the sweet-spot.

However, all this being said, I have my doubts that this 5mp camera truly made the sacrifice for the sake of quality. It might be just a cheaper camera. We didn't hear anything at all about the technical reasons for going with the smaller image size, and that has me wondering. We'll see.

I dislike the camera manufacturers push to have the public believe that more megapixels = better. I will say though, that more megapixels are needed if you do a lot of cropping. More data is captured to work with. But I will take a smaller megapixel phone camera anytime if the pictures are good.

Is this for real? I was very stunned when I learned the Droid Razr has an 8MP but the Galaxy Nexus only a 5MP. I thought to myself, "sheesh my OG Droid has a 5MP and it's nearly 2 years old!"

I'm trying to decide on the RAZR or Galaxy Nexus. I really like the design and thinness of the Razr AND the 8MP camera. But I would like to have ICS too. It's tough. So now are you saying I shouldn't be comparing cameras on these 2 phones when making a decision?

No you SHOULD compare cameras, just not based on megapixel count, compare them on image quality.

You definitely should compare cameras. The point of this article is just that people tend to correlate megapixels with image quality, and while resolution (i.e., megapixels) is something to consider, there are other, more important considerations as well. And phone companies don't really talk about those other things (sensor size, lens quality, etc) because they sound a lot more technical and hard to grasp.

I shoot with a Pentax Kr DSLR with a few different lenses, primes and zooms. I HATE it when someone comes up to me and says... wow that's a nice camera, how many megapixels? Even when it comes to DSLRs your better of spending your dime on nice glass (lenses) rather than the camera itself.

While I agree that more MP for its own sake is pointless, I did find it strange that so little was said about the camera. Samsung/Google should have explained why this camera was a good choice; sensor size, optics, speed, module size or augmented reality performace.

Digital zoom and cropping are the main things that are reduced with the lower resolution.

The Nokia N8 is a good camera phone because of the sensor size and optics, not because of the 12MP.

0 shutter lag, and they demo'd the camera on the live announcement. However, I agree they need to explain why they chose the camera they did.

The major failing of the camera sensors on phones is still shutter speed. They're absolutely hideous for anything moving, action shots. Once they can get that faster, and maybe some manual contrast/aperture controls then they'll be great.

I still disagree. There you have the HTC amaze. The best camera phone out now. How hard is it have an 8mp camera and 1080p video for all smartphones in the future

But it isn't the 8mp that makes the Amaze have the best camera! It's the fact that it has 0 shutter lag, and great camera software. This probably would be the same camera if it was brought down to 5mp.

Note: The GN still has 1080p video.

Thank you Phil, I'll be honest, even though I knew it shouldn't matter with a phones camera, I was still a bit hesitant.

If all i ever wanted to do was look at my pictures in a little 4 inch cube, you're right, megapixels wouldn't matter until I wanted to zoom into detail....whuch I do a lot. But when you say, if you want to do that then get a real camera ? Then you just blew away your whole premise.

When I started my photography business I was using an Olympus C5050 with a "miniscule" 5 meg capability and read that I "might" be able to get a good 8x10 print. Well, I managed to get a beautiful 20x24 print of a parrot that the ladies who printed it, just loved. This was not the only example. I am now using a wonderful Canon 40D, and its 10 meg system works great and I have no reason to upgrade.

Art Roberts
My Best Friend Pet Photography

Lens, sensor, and software are all more important that megapixels. Increasing the number of pixels while keeping the sensor size the same will actually degrade picture quality.

That is way to general of a statement. There are a number or sensor techs that allow increasing of the MP count AND increasing photo quality. It happens all the time. If you take the same exact sensor without modifying it then yes, increasing pixel count could decrease the photo quality (all depends on the sensor, it's size etc).

My point was made assuming the same exact sensor, lens, and software. Increasing pixels while holding everything else constant will increase noise and result in reduced picture quality.

A lot of camera manufacturers are backing off the megapixel arms race for that very reason.

EVO 4G is a prime example this this... 8MP but in anything but perfect lighting conditions the pictures were garbage and video was worse. My SGS2 has also has an 8MP and the pictures and video are leaps and bound better. Simply no comparison between the 2. I have had words with a few Besy Buy salesmen regarding this cause they can be about as stupid as they come. I can see a average consumer not knowing this but when consumers go to store to buy a phone the salesmen should at least have a clue and properly advise the consumer!

I am the kind of person who doesn't give a damn about a camera on my phone. I would prefer they take the camera out and make the phone thinner or cheaper.

Seriously... I think I get the point of the article, but the picture included isn't really saying the right thing. Blurry picture == bad :(

Megapixel count doesn't mean doodley-poop. Megapixels ONLY matter when you're enlarging an image and printing well beyond page-size. Image quality is a combination of sensor quality, lens quality, and image processing engine and firmware features and quality, along with some skill behind the camera.

An older camera with a good 3MP sensor, good lens and good image processor can easily outperform a modern 8MP or even 12MP camera. Hell, I have an old 1.3 MP camera that has produced exceptional images that I challenge any phone-based camera to out-do.

These cameras don't have an optical zoom. So more pixels do allow for more digital zoom that doesn't trash the picture too badly.
But, it is still just a phone camera, exposed opticals and all. I never expect a lot from them.

EXCEPT that usually when a phone gets an 8mp sensor instead of 5mp, the sensor has the same physical dimensions. This means the pixels have to be smaller to fit them in the same space. Problem is, no lens (even a perfect one) can resolve the tiny sub 2 micron pixels on any of the current crop of cell phone sensors due to the diffraction limit of light. You might as well just resize the 5MP image to 8mp.

I think Central should do a full test on all the major players in the smart phone world (yes including the Iphone); to see which one really has the best quality camera. I have a Droid X and the camera on it is great, but my friend bought the Bionic and it didn't seem as good and as we all know both are 8mp shooters.

Megapixels aint everything but I am disappointed with this camera. It's just not that much of a jump. Compare the photos of the iPhone 4S with this over at gsmarena.

The colours on the Galaxy Nexus seem oversaturated and there is noticeable difference in detail.

I don't care about MPX but I do think they slacked off on the optics and maybe the processing.

They could have done better. As it stands, this camera is a 'good enough' effort. It might not stop me from buying the phone. But it's nothing to get me excited either.

When digital cameras first came out, I thought pixels were everything, Several years ago, I was told different. It's the sensor that matters, not the megapixels. The megapixels matter partially as to how big you want the photo, but if we're talking quality, sensor is king.

It's just the first spec listed, what's the big deal, like a '2011' car vs '2010'..
buyer beware which is better,
or are you saying they should be advertised like DSLR's...
"..SP AF 17-50mm F/2.8 XR Di-II LD SP Aspherical (IF) Zoom Lens with Built In Motor.."

well megapixels is half of everything the other half is image quality. For me if image quality is out weighed by pixels then i go for quality.

Software, optics,apature,size of lenses just about everything else then megapixels but I do want at lest 5 but perfure 8 megapixels because I want to print If I have a good picture.

It's pretty simple, megapixels are not everything.., my wifes 4.0mp canon take much much much better pictures than my brothers 10.0mp Sony, better color, and overall picture quality.. But that's up to say 7/10 picture size.. Once you go anything above that then yes megapixels will make a huge difference.. The Sony takes much faster pictures where the cannon is slower

I have a lot of pictures from my 1 megapixel Kodak point-and-shoot that I bought for 500 bucks in 1999 (plus a big 128MB Compactflash card for another 200) that are a lot better looking than my Samsung Epic's 5-megapixel camera, whether taken outdoors or in. To me, "cell phone camera" is a statement of quality along the lines of "webcam", regardless of the number of pixels it has. Maybe someday that'll change, but that day is not yet here. The phone is my go-to snapshot camera, like disposable cameras once were, but if I'm trying to capture something for posterity I dig out the dedicated still camera.

I'm pretty excited to see the Galaxy Nexus' 1080p output, though, because I've never owned an HD camcorder. Of course, blurry is still blurry at 1080p, and as an earlier comment notes, there aren't a lot of phones out there with tripod mounts.

(Edit: No, I don't still use the old Kodak, but I still kind of like its color fidelity better than the Canon we have now.)

Megapixels aren't everything, that's true. However, I love how this article comes out right as the iPhone finally achieves more megapixels than androids top of the line. Not including megapixel count, the iPhones camera is just simply better. Hell even the iPhone 4a camera was better than most brand new android phones....and that's coming from a long time user of android. I've compared many phones, the iPhones camera almost always wins.

In photography, some users want megapixals but professionals all want great glassware - mainly because of "digital rot". Most of the value in camera bodies rots out of them in 3 years, but good lenses hold 60% of their value.

The reason for camera-phones is convenience, but tiny sensors and limited quality lenses holds them back. Nokia have produced superb camera phones and the iPhone4s lens might even beat them. I use a Galaxy S2 which produces fair results, but no camera-phone can beat a decent DSLR, even at 5meg.

It's a pissing contest and we're losing to Apple. The camera on the new Nexus is worse than the iphone 4. The 4s is leaps and bounds better. It shouldn't be.

I already knew this was true. I was at a restaurant with a friend of mine a while back and we both took pictures in the same scenarios. I have a G2 (5 megapixels) and he has an EVO 4G (8 megapixels) and my pictures were clearly better. He hated me for it. I still find it hilarious and my G2's camera is still great.

Higher megapixle cameras is big like multicore processors. When most people take a high resolution picture whet do they do? They usually shrink it down because a lot of sites only allow upto a certain file size and the higher the resolution of a picture the bigger the file size is. The only time you need high resolution photos is when your going to make a hard copy on good quality paper or if you're going to put it on a site like Smug Mug allows high resolution files or view them on a nice big screen that . So 5MP is fine, and on some sites its to big and they either ask you to shrink the photo lower than 500kb or they have built in cropping software.

While I don't believe that big megapixel numbers are everything, after seeing the sample photos posted on engadget, I have to say this phone has a crap camera/lense/sensor. I was not impressed at all with the sample photos taken!

I can live with a 5MP camera if it took NICE photos, the ones I seen have been nasty!

Most phone cameras aren't the best quality, Nokia is known for making phones with good quality cameras. My HTC Arrive doesn't have the best camera but for what I use it for its good enough. When I post photos on Facebook and Google+ they look fine. When I want better quality pictures I bring my Canon Sure Shot.

comparing megapixels is like comparing the size of your penis with others, its kinda important but not important matter...its not the bigger the better. Its not the size but what you can do with it, like people has been saying all the time. BUT, when you take a shower and comparing 'it' with others all of sudden it matters..you need the number to boast your ego. You want to have the biggest of all penis

just like what i said. its an important but not so important matter

and im still getting my RAZR :D