Thu. Feb 22nd, 2024

In the world of photography, there’s no precise difference between wide-angle and ultra-wide angle. It’s kind of a judgement call. The general consensus is that for a 35mm image format — aka, “full-frame,” — the dividing line is 24mm. Anything focal length shorter than 24mm would usually be considered ultra wide-angle.

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One most circa-2022 smartphones, the main camera is wide-angle. This is generally because a moderate wide-angle is usually the best lens to have, if you can only have one. So early on, smartphones had a single wide-angle camera. Once additional cameras were added, this main camera was certainly the best one, with the largest sensor. So going to a wider lens allowed for a shorter focal length and a larger sensor. Early smartphones might have a 30–40mm main camera focal length in full-frame terms, which is a moderate wide-angle. As sensors grew without getting fatter phones, this has moved to around 24–26mm on many smartphones.

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The largest camera sensor on a phone in 2022 so far is that of the Sharp Aquos R6/R7, which sports a 1″ sensor, Sony’s new IMX989, the same size found in the Sony RX10 and RX100 compact digital cameras. In order to fit, this main camera sports a 19mm lens. Once camera and ultra-wide angle. But that’s needed to keep it short enough to ensure the phone has an acceptable thickness.



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So what you’ll find is that the best camera in your phone is your wide-angle. If you have an ultra wide-angle camera, it will have a smaller sensors and a very small lens, somewhere around a 2mm focal length, with a full frame equivalence of 12–13mm. The lens is probably a partial fisheye lens, in which straight lines bend, to be straightened out by software.

The original ultra wide-angle cameras on smartphones didn’t even bother with autofocus, since a 2mm lens is going to have a hyperfocal focus range from maybe 1ft to infinity. But more recent phones are adding a focusing motor to these short lenses and, along with digital magnification (cropping), they’re using the ultra wide camera for a macro camera as well.

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