What it is: The physical size of a smartphone limits the size of the camera lens, so the only way to improve camera quality is through software.
At one time, film camera dominated. When digital cameras appeared, they took chunky pictures so film enthusiasts could rightly point out that film was superior, which it was. Then digital photography gradually improved until it equalled and eventually surpassed film. Now hardly anyone uses film any more.
This same pattern is now playing out in camera quality. Dedicated cameras always have room to add bigger lenses that smartphone cameras can never duplicate. For this reason, dedicated film enthusiasts claim that smartphone cameras can never surpass dedicated cameras.
The problem is that physical lenses can only improve to a certain point. On the other hand, software improvements rely on processing images given the physical limitation of a smartphone lens. Initially, these software improvements still created inferior images compared to dedicated cameras, but software can keep improving while physical lenses cannot. Eventually, software improvements in image quality will equal and eventually surpass the physical lenses on dedicated cameras.
There’s a physical limit to image quality through bigger lenses. There’s no limit to image quality through software improvements and processing power. The only way dedicated cameras can compete is by adding processing power of their own, which will drive up their cost to make them impractical for most people. The future of photography is software.
Smartphones will likely continue using one, two, and even three-lens solutions to capture more light and data to process, but it won’t change the fact that the only way to improve image quality is through software that processes an image in ways that a physical lens on a dedicated camera can’t do.
If you want to see the future of anything, just look at what’s superior and see if its improvements can keep pace with its newest competitor. In the case of photography, physical lenses can never improve as rapidly as software improvements so that means smartphone cameras will one day replace most dedicated cameras.
Just as film used to be the standard for photography, so will dedicated cameras one day fade away like film. The future is computational photography.