- Cameras have been around on smartphones for a while now. However, their functionalities and features have changed.
- While cameras on phones have generally become more powerful than in the past, they have also lost some features that could be relevant even today.
- Here is a look at seven features that phone cameras had in the past and would be super handy in today’s devices.
When cameras first appeared on phones, they were considered an extravagance and a luxury that had no place in “real” phones – BlackBerry, after all, stubbornly refused to place a camera on its devices for the longest time. However, as with so many things, cameras became an integral part of the phone experience and today are so important that brands like Apple and Samsung highlight the camera prowess of their smartphones ahead of other, more phone-y features. However, while cameras today are a very important part of any smartphone arsenal, cameraphones do seem to have lost some features from their predecessors. Features that would be super useful even today.
It would be super cool if brands could step into a time machine, grab these seven features from cameraphones of the past and paste them on the current crop of camera-toting smartphones:
1. Camera lens covers
It might surprise some but there was a time when many phone cameras actually came with sliders that slid across the lens to cover it to prevent scratches. And in some cases, it even was linked to camera functionality – you slid open the lens cover to launch the camera, and slid it shut to close the camera. It was also a great protector of privacy – if a phone’s camera lens cover was shut, you knew there was no photography possible. The feature gradually disappeared from phones, but we would love to see it back, especially given how cameras jut out from phones, making them so much more susceptible to scratches and smudges. Some phone covers do come with this feature now, but it would be awesome to see them on the phones themselves.
2. Camera shutter and focus buttons
Before touchscreens became the rage, most phones with cameras came with a camera shutter button, generally just below the volume rocker. The functionality of the button was simple – press it to launch the camera, press it to take a photograph when the camera is launched, and if the camera had autofocus (many did not!), a light press would help you lock focus (almost always bang in the center of the frame).
Now, we know that things like touch to focus are not possible with shutter buttons, and that volume buttons on most phones today can be customized to act as shutter buttons, but we still think that the dedicated shutter button did make photography a lot easier. It kept the phone stable, and also made it very easy to take pictures with just one hand. We are not asking for on-screen shutter buttons to be replaced, but just for the return of a proper shutter button, especially on them super large phones. Even a dedicated button for shooting videos (they used to exist too) would be helpful!
3. Selfie mirrors on the back
There was a time when many phones did not come with dedicated selfie cameras. But you could still take selfies using the rear camera. And aiding you in this task were tiny mirrors or even shiny steel panels., placed just next to the camera, letting you get a glimpse of yourself as you took a snap. It was a very rough measure and nowhere as accurate as tiny displays/viewfinders, but it was extremely handy and let us use those rear cameras for selfies (and as there were dedicated camera buttons, hitting the shutter was not a problem either). Given how powerful some of the main sensors are on phones these days, this would be a handy option to have. And a whole lot less expensive and more battery-friendly than entire displays on the back.
4. Xenon flashes
They were supposed to be the hallmark of a “real” cameraphone but have gone missing. Xenon flashes – similar to the ones you see on DSLRs and on many point and shoot cameras – were supposed to be the best for shooting not only in low light conditions but also where the glare was too much. They were, in the words of a Nokia product executive, “the closest thing one can get to the sunlight.” Alas, they were also bulky and heavy and did not fit in with the slim and trim phone trend and ultimately faded away. They still remain awesome though, and anyone who has used them will tell you that they deliver far better low light photography results than all the computational photography flavored phones of today.
5. Single cameras
Some will say that the train has already left this station, but we still believe that a device with a single very good camera will actually deliver far more value than one with a single good camera, and two or three “associate” cameras that stand around it like fans surrounding a superstar. Google has shown that magic is possible with a single sensor on the Pixel 4A and even the much-maligned iPhone SE does a decent job with its single camera. Yes, we do understand that marketing a camera with only one camera might be a challenge, but surely consumers will respond once they realize its benefits. It would also free up some space on the back and save battery life. Quick note: we have nothing against extra cameras that actually add value to the photography experience!
6. Twisty displays
We might be in the era of foldables, but more than a decade ago, the likes of Nokia were making phones with displays that could be twisted around a hinge to give you different perspectives and shooting angles. The Nokia N90 and 3250 let you get the sort of perspectives and shooting angles that many action cameras of today would struggle to deliver. Imagine having that sort of flexibility on a phone today. Yes, we know the “movable parts increase fragility” crowd will say that something like this is impractical today, but then they were saying the same thing about multiple cameras seven years ago.
7. Dedicated camera phones that look like camera phones
This is not really a phone feature, but more of a phone design element. There was a time when a camera phone looked like… well, a camera first and then a phone. Sony used to try very hard to make its Cyber-Shot camera series of devices actually look like its Cyber-Shot camera series. And Nokia had no qualms about giving one of its phone Handycam-like feels. Phones that were supposed to have camera prowess were loud and proud about it, with special camera-centric design elements. Fast forward to today when most phones basically look like each other, irrespective of camera quality.