A camera phone is a mobile phone which is able to capture and often record video using one or more built-in . It can also send the resulting image wirelessly and conveniently. The first color commercial camera phone was the Kyocera Visual Phone VP-210, released in Japan in May 1999.
Most camera phones are smaller and simpler than the separate digital cameras. In the smartphone era, the steady sales increase of camera phones caused point-and-shoot camera sales to peak about 2010 and decline thereafter. The concurrent improvement of smartphone camera technology, and its other multifunctional benefits, have led to it gradually replacing compact point-and-shoot cameras.
Most modern smartphones only have a menu choice to start a camera application program and an on-screen button to activate the shutter. Some also have a separate camera button, for quickness and convenience. Few mobile phones such as the 2009 Samsung i8000 Omnia II have a two-level shutter button to resemble the point-and-shoot intuition from dedicated . A few camera phones are designed to resemble separate low-end digital compact cameras in appearance and to some degree in features and picture quality, and are branded as both mobile phones and cameras - an example being Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom.
The principal advantages of camera phones are cost and compactness; indeed for a user who carries a mobile phone anyway, the addition is negligible. Smartphones that are camera phones may run mobile applications to add capabilities such as geotagging and image stitching. Also, modern smartphones can use their to direct their camera to focus on a particular object in the field of view, giving even an inexperienced user a degree of focus control exceeded only by seasoned photographers using manual focus. However, the touch screen, being a general purpose control, lacks the agility of a separate camera's dedicated buttons and dial(s).
Starting in the mid-2010s, some advanced camera phones feature optical image stabilisation (OIS), larger sensors, bright lenses, 4K video and even optical zoom, for which a few use a physical zoom lens. Multiple lenses and multi-shot night modes are also familiar. Since the late 2010s, high-end smartphones typically have multiple lenses with different functions, to make more use of a device's limited physical space. Common lens functions include an ultrawide sensor, a telephoto lens sensor, a macro sensor, and a Range imaging sensor. Some phone cameras have a label that indicates the lens manufacturer, megapixel count, or features such as autofocus or zoom ability for emphasis, including the Samsung Omnia II (2009), Samsung Galaxy S II (2011), Sony Xperia Z1 (2013) and some successors, Nokia Lumia 1020 (2013), and the Samsung Galaxy S20 (2020).
The usual fixed focus lenses and smaller sensors limit performance in poor lighting. Lacking a physical shutter, some have a long shutter lag. Photoflash by the typical internal LED source illuminates less intensely over a much longer exposure time than a flash strobe, and none has a hot shoe for attaching an external flash. zoom lens and tripod screws are rare and some also lack a USB connection or a removable memory card. Most have Bluetooth and WiFi, and can make geotagged photographs. Some of the more expensive camera phones have only a few of these technical disadvantages, but with bigger (a few are up to 1", such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1), their capabilities approach those of low-end point-and-shoot cameras. The few hybrid camera phones such as Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom and K Zoom were equipped with real optical zoom lenses.
As camera phone technology has progressed, lens design has evolved from a simple double Gauss or Cooke triplet to many molded plastic aspheric lens elements made with varying dispersion and refractive indexes. Some phone cameras also apply distortion (optics), vignetting, and various optical aberration corrections to the image before it is compressed into a jpeg format.
Most camera phones have a digital zoom feature. A few have optical zoom, and several have a few cameras with different field of view, combined with digital zoom as a hybrid zoom feature. For example, the Huawei P30 Pro uses a "periscope" 5x telephoto camera with up to 10x digital zoom, resulting in 50x hybrid zoom. An external camera can be added, coupled to the phone by Wi-Fi. They are compatible with most smartphones. can be configured to operate as a camera even if the phone is asleep.
When viewed vertically from behind, the rear camera on some mobile phones is located in the top center, while other mobile phones have cameras located in the upper left corner. The latter has benefits in terms of ergonomy due to the lower likelihood of covering and soiling the lens when held horizontally, as well as more efficient packing of tight physical device space due to neighbouring components not having to be built around the lens.
Some can store this media in external memory (secure digital card or USB on the go pen drive).
The first commercial camera phone complete with infrastructure was the J-SH04, made by Sharp Corporation; it had an integrated CCD sensor, with the Sha-Mail (Picture-Mail in Japanese) infrastructure developed in collaboration with Kahn's LightSurf venture, and marketed from 2001 by J-Phone in Japan today owned by Softbank.It was also the world's first cellular mobile camera phone. The first commercial deployment in North America of camera phones was in 2004. The Sprint wireless carriers deployed over one million camera phones manufactured by Sanyo and launched by the PictureMail infrastructure (Sha-Mail in English) developed and managed by LightSurf.
While early phones had Internet connectivity, working web browsers and email-programs, the phone menu offered no way of including a photo in an email or uploading it to a web site. Connecting cables or removable media that would enable the local transfer of pictures were also usually missing. Modern smartphones have almost unlimited connectivity and transfer options with photograph email attachment features.
One of these examples was the Nokia Fun Camera (model number PT-3) announced together with the Nokia 3100 in June 2003. The idea was for it to be used on devices without a built-in camera (connected via the Pop-Port interface) and be able to transfer images taken on the camera (VGA resolution and a flash) directly to the phone to be stored or sent via MMS.
In 2013-2014 Sony and other manufacturers announced add-on camera modules for called lens-style cameras. They have larger sensors and lenses than those in a camera phone but lack a viewfinder, display and most controls. They can be mounted to an Android or iOS phone or tablet and use its display and controls. Lens-style cameras include:
External cameras for thermal imaging also became available in late 2014.
The metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) active pixel sensor (APS) was developed by Tsutomu Nakamura at Olympus in 1985. The complementary MOS (CMOS) active pixel sensor (CMOS sensor) "camera-on-a-chip" was later developed by Eric Fossum and his team in the early 1990s. This was an important step towards realizing the modern camera phone as described in a March 1995 Business Week article. While the first camera phones (e.g. J-SH04) successfully marketed by J-Phone in Japan used charge-coupled device (CCD) sensors rather than CMOS sensors, more than 90% of camera phones sold today use CMOS image sensor technology.
Another important enabling factor was advances in data compression, due to the impractically high computer memory and bandwidth requirements of uncompressed media.
A camera phone was patented by Kari-Pekka Wilska, Reijo Paajanen, Mikko Terho and Jari Hämäläinen, four employees at Nokia, in 1994. Their patent application was filed with the Finnish Patent and Registration Office on May 19, 1994, followed by several filings around the world making it a global family of patent applications. The patent application specifically described the combination as either a separate digital camera connected to a cell phone or as an integrated system with both sub-systems combined in a single unit. Their patent application design included all of the basic functions camera phones implemented for many years: the capture, storage, and display of digital images and the means to transmit the images over the radio frequency channel. On August 12, 1998, the United Kingdom granted patent GB 2289555B and on July 30, 2002, the USPTO granted US Patent 6427078B1 based on the original Finnish Patent and Registration Office application to Wilska, Paajanen, Terho and Hämäläinen.
On June 11, 1997, Philippe Kahn instantly shared the first pictures from the maternity ward where his daughter Sophie was born. In the hospital waiting room he devised a way to connect his laptop to his digital camera and to his cell phone for transmission to his home computer. This improvised system transmitted his pictures to more than 2,000 family, friends and associates around the world. Kahn's improvised connections augured the birth of instant visual communications. Kahn's cell phone transmission is the first known publicly shared picture via a cell phone.
Cameras on cell phones proved popular right from the start, as indicated by the J-Phone in Japan having had more than half of its subscribers using cell phone cameras in two years. The world soon followed. In 2003, more camera phones were sold worldwide than stand-alone digital cameras largely due to growth in Japan and Korea. In 2005, Nokia became the world's most sold digital camera brand. In 2006, half of the world's mobile phones had a built-in camera. In 2006, Thuraya released the first satellite phone with an integrated camera. The Thuraya SG-2520 was manufactured by Korean company APSI and ran Windows CE. In 2008, Nokia sold more camera phones than Kodak sold film-based simple cameras, thus becoming the biggest manufacturer of any kind of camera. In 2010, the worldwide number of camera phones totaled more than a billion. Since 2010, most mobile phones, even cheapest ones, are being sold with a camera. High-end camera phones usually had a relatively good lens and high resolution.
Higher resolution camera phones started to appear in the 2010s. 12-megapixel camera phones have been produced by at least two companies. To highlight the capabilities of the Nokia N8 (Big CMOS Sensor) camera, Nokia created a short film, The Commuter, in October 2010. The seven-minute film was shot entirely on the phone's 720p camera. A 14-megapixel smartphone with 3× optical zoom was announced in late 2010. In 2011, the first phones with dual rear cameras were released to the market but failed to gain traction. Originally, dual rear cameras were implemented as a way to capture 3D content, which was something that electronics manufacturers were pushing back then. Several years later, the release of the iPhone 7 would popularize this concept, but instead using the second lens as a wide angle lens. In 2012, Nokia announced Nokia 808 PureView. It features a 41-megapixel 1/1.2-inch sensor and a high-resolution f/2.4 Zeiss all-aspherical one-group lens. It also features Nokia's PureView Pro technology, a pixel oversampling technique that reduces an image taken at full resolution into a lower resolution picture, thus achieving higher definition and light sensitivity, and enables lossless zoom. In mid-2013, Nokia announced the Nokia Lumia 1020. In 2014, the HTC one M8 introduced the concept of having a camera as a depth sensor. In late 2016, Apple introduced the iPhone 7 Plus, one of the phones to popularize a dual camera setup. The iPhone 7 Plus included a main 12 MP camera along with a 12 MP telephoto camera which allowed for 2x optical zoom and Portrait mode for the first time in a smartphone. In early 2018 Huawei released a new flagship phone, the Huawei P20 Pro, with the first triple camera lens setup. Making up its three sensors (co-engineered with Leica Camera) are a 40 megapixel RGB lens, a 20 megapixel monochrome lens, and an 8 megapixel telephoto lens. Some features on the Huawei P20 Pro include 3x optical zoom, and 960 fps slow motion. In late 2018, Samsung released a new mid-range smartphone, the Galaxy A9 (2018) with the world's first quad camera setup. The quadruple camera setup features a primary 24MP f/1.7 sensor for normal photography, an ultra-wide 8MP f/2.4 sensor with a 120 degrees viewing angle, a telephoto 10MP f/2.4 with 2x optical zoom and a 5MP depth sensor for effects such as Bokeh. Nokia 9 PureView was released in 2019 featuring penta-lens camera system.
In 2019, Samsung announced the Galaxy A80, which has only rear cameras. When the user wants to take a selfie, the cameras automatically slide out of the back and rotate towards the user. This is known as a pop-up camera, and it allows smartphone displays to cover the entire front of the phone body without a notch or a punch hole on the top of the screen. Samsung, Xiaomi, OnePlus, and other manufacturers adopted a system where the camera "pops" out of the phone's body. Also in 2019, Samsung developed and began commercialization of 64 and 108-megapixel cameras for phones. The 108 MP sensor was developed in cooperation with Chinese electronics company Xiaomi and both sensors are capable of Bayer filter, which combines the signals of 4 or 9 pixels, and makes the 4 or 9 pixels act as a single, larger pixel. A larger pixel can capture more light (resulting in a higher ISO rating and lower image noise). Under display cameras are under development, which would place a camera under a special display that would allow the camera to see through the display.
While phones have been found useful by tourists and for other common civilian purposes, as they are cheap, convenient, and portable; they have also posed controversy, as they enable secret photography. A user may pretend to be simply talking on the phone or browsing the internet, drawing no suspicion while photographing a person or place in non-public areas where photography is restricted, or against that person's wishes. Camera phones have enabled everyone to exercise freedom of speech by quickly communicating to others what they see with their own eyes. In most democratic free countries, there are no restrictions against photography in public and thus camera phones enable new forms of citizen journalism, fine art photography, and recording one's life experiences for social media or blogging.
Camera phones have also been very useful to street photographers and social documentary photographers as they enable them to take pictures of strangers in the street without them noticing, thus allowing the artist/photographer to get close to subjects and take more lively photos. While most people are suspect of secret photography, artists who do street photography (like Henri Cartier-Bresson did), photojournalists and photographers documenting people in public (like the photographers who documented the Great Depression in 1930s America) must often work unnoticed as their subjects are often unwilling to be photographed or are not aware of legitimate uses of secret photography like those photos that end up in fine art galleries and journalism.
As a network-connected device, megapixel camera phones are playing significant roles in crime prevention, journalism and business applications as well as individual uses. They can also be used for activities such as voyeurism, invasion of privacy, and copyright infringement. Because they can be used to share media almost immediately, they are a potent personal content creation tool.
Camera phones limit the "right to be let alone", since this recording tool is always present. A Mashable 2019-11-19
In January 2007, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a plan to encourage people to use their camera phones to capture crimes happening in progress or dangerous situations and send them to emergency responders. The program enables people to send their images or video directly to 911. The service went live in 2020.
Camera phones have also been used to discreetly take photographs in museums, performance halls, and other places where photography is prohibited. However, as sharing can be instantaneous, even if the action is discovered, it is too late, as the image is already out of reach, unlike a photo taken by a digital camera that only stores images locally for later transfer. However, as the newer digital cameras support Wi-Fi, a photographer can perform photography with a DSLR and instantly post the photo on the internet through the mobile phone's Wi-Fi and 3G capabilities.
Apart from street photographers and social documentary photographers or cinematographers, camera phones have also been used successfully by war photographers. The small size of the camera phone allows a war photographer to secretly film the men and women who fight in a war, without them realizing that they have been photographed, thus the camera phone allows the war photographer to document wars while maintaining her or his safety.
In 2010, in Ireland the annual "RTÉ 60 second short award" was won by 15-year-old Laura Gaynor, who made her winning cartoon,"Piece of Cake" on her Sony Ericsson C510 camera phone. In 2012, director and writer Eddie Brown Jr. made the reality thriller Camera Phone, one of the first commercial produced movies using camera phones as the story's perspective. The film is a reenactment of an actual case, and the names were changed to protect those involved. Some modern camera phones (in 2013–2014) have big sensors, thus allowing a street photographer or any other kind of photographer to take photos of similar quality to a semi-professional camera.
Some smartphones can provide an augmented reality overlay for 2D objects and to recognize multiple objects on the phone using a stripped down object recognition algorithm as well as using GPS phone and compass. A few can translate text from a foreign language. Auto-geotagging can show where a picture is taken, promoting interactions and allowing a photo to be mapped with others for comparison.
Smartphones can use their front camera (of lesser performance as compared to rear camera) facing the user for purposes like (selfie) and videoconferencing.
Smartphones can usually not fixed on a tripod, which can make problems at filming or at taking pictures with long exposure times.
From time to time, organizations and places have prohibited or restricted the use of camera phones and other cameras because of the privacy, security, and copyright issues they pose. Such places include the Pentagon, federal and state courts, museums, schools, theaters, and local health club. Saudi Arabia, in April 2004, banned the sale of camera phones nationwide for a time before reallowing their sale in December 2004 (although pilgrims on the Hajj were allowed to bring in camera phones). There is the occasional anecdote of camera phones linked to industrial espionage and the activities of paparazzi (which are legal but often controversial), as well as some hacking into wireless operators' network.
Reportedly, the first gallery exhibition to feature iPhoneography exclusively opened on June 30, 2010: "Pixels at an Exhibition" was held in Berkeley, California, organized and curated by Knox Bronson and Rae Douglass. Around the same time, the photographer Damon Winter used Hipstamatic to make photos of the war in Afghanistan. A collection of these was published November 21, 2010 in the New York Times in a series titled "A Grunt's Life", earning an international award (3rd) sponsored by RJI, Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. Also in Afghanistan, in 2011, photojournalist David Guttenfelder used an iPhone and the Polarize application. In 2013, National Geographic published a photo feature in which phoneographer Jim Richardson used his iPhone 5s to photograph the Scottish Highlands.