What to expect from smartphone cameras in 2022

Close Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra camera housing

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

2021 is over and it has been an interesting year for camera phones. We saw mid-range devices such as 108MP cameras and astrophotography modes, flagship phones that put ultra-wide cameras on nearly par with primary lenses, and more camera industry brands partnering with manufacturers. Even Google has updated its hardware with the Pixel 6 series after years of 12MP sensors.

With all this in mind, what does 2022 mean for mobile cameras? We take a look at some potential smartphone camera trends that we can expect to see in the coming year.

Under-screen cameras get a boost

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 UDC close up

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Thanks to ZTE, we saw the first commercially available phone with an under-display selfie camera launch in 2020, but more phones were added in 2021. Xiaomi’s Mix 4 and the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 both offered under-screen shooters, while ZTE brought its second-generation Axon 30 series.

The problem with these cameras is that they are pretty bad in anything but broad daylight. And even here, the difference in quality between these cameras and traditional front-facing shooters is noticeable. We also get blur in the viewing area above the camera on the Galaxy Z Fold 3, so it’s not exactly seamless.

Related: The best selfie camera phones money can buy

Nevertheless, we expect under-screen cameras to get much better in 2022 as some of the major manufacturers have mastered the technology in 2021 and are no doubt improving the hardware and algorithms for next-generation efforts. However, we wouldn’t bet that all major flagships have this feature.

Cinematic mode is coming to Android

Apple iPhone 13 series side by side

Luke Pollack / Android Authority

One of the big selling points of the iPhone 13 series is the Cinematic Mode, which is basically a smarter portrait video mode. Of course, portrait video is not new, as we have seen that Huawei and Samsung already offer this option. But Apple’s example includes auto-focusing on a subject when their face is detected, tracking subjects, and more.

We have no doubt that some Android OEMs will copy Apple’s take on Cinematic Mode. But will everyone have Cinematic Mode in 2022? That is far from guaranteed. After all, several brands have copied 3D Touch, and we know how that turned out in the end.

We will see RGBW cameras again

Oppo Find X3 Pro camera profile

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Oppo Find X3 Pro

We first saw RGBW camera sensors come to smartphones in 2015 when Huawei launched the P8. In 2015 and 2018, Oppo also followed up on phones with these sensors. Conventional camera sensors have color filters with red, green, and blue sub-pixels. But RGBW sensors add white sub-pixels into the mix, promising better light capture and less noise.

Learn more: Photography terms explained — ISO, aperture, shutter speed and more

It looks like this technology could be brought back to life in 2022 as both Oppo and Vivo have announced their own RGBW camera sensors for future devices. In fact, Oppo says it will launch a commercial device with an RGBW sensor in the fourth quarter of 2021. Meanwhile, in 2020, Vivo said its first devices with RGBW sensors would launch in 2021, adding that it offers better image quality than RYYB sensors from like Huawei.

There have also been rumors that the Galaxy S22 series could get 50MP RGBW camera sensors next year. Even if this S22 claim doesn’t come true, it looks like RGBW sensors will definitely be one of many smartphone camera trends in 2022.

Stabilization to take a step up

Vivo X50 Pro Plus Camera Macro

Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) has been a must-have on more expensive smartphones for years, dating back to devices like the Lumia 920. But we’ve seen several companies go even further in recent years, such as Vivo with its micro-gimbal stabilization technology and Apple with sensor shift stabilization.

Vivo is expected to continue the micro-gimbal push next year, while Samsung is tipped to bring OIS to its mid-range Galaxy A series. Oppo also demonstrated its so-called five-axis OIS technology earlier this year and said it would debut in the first quarter of 2022. In other words, it looks like better stabilization, especially in more affordable phones, could be another big trend next year.

Variable telephoto more popular?

Sony Xperia 5 III Camera Case

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Sony had one of its most notable technical achievements in 2021 when it launched phones with variable telephoto cameras. The feature, found on the Xperia 1 III and 5 III, shows that you don’t necessarily need two separate telephoto cameras if you want great zoom performance.

Typical telephoto and periscope cameras shoot at a fixed zoom factor, with everything in between being hybrid zoom, supported by software. Sony took it one step better, though, with a telephoto camera that could shoot natively at 2.9x and 4.4x for the best quality (although Sony’s implementation wasn’t perfect).

We hope Sony continues to refine this technology in 2022, but we also know that Oppo is raising the bar with its proprietary zoom technology. The company announced a continuous optical zoom module earlier this year, which can smoothly move and shoot at any point between ~3.3x and ~7x. We’re not sure when this will launch, but it goes without saying that an appearance in 2022 is in the works.

Better 8K video

8K video mode in a camera app viewfinder.

Hadlee Simons / Android Authority

8K video recording first came to phones in 2019, when the Red Magic 3 offered some pretty disappointing 8K/15fps capabilities. Fortunately, 2020 saw a huge improvement thanks to the Snapdragon 865 series chipsets, which offer native 8K/30fps support. This trend has only continued in 2021 as many flagship phones offer 8K support.

We expect 8K video recording to see a quality improvement in 2022. It’s probably a little too early for 8K/60fps capabilities, but we fully expect improvements like 8K HDR or 8K with improved stabilization.

Custom Image Chips

Google Pixel 6 Pro camera

Smartphones typically rely on an image signal processor (ISP) in their phone’s chipset to process photos. For example, phones that use Snapdragon chipsets generally use the Spectra ISP. But we’ve also seen a trend in 2021 for brands to use their own custom ISP instead.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen companies offering custom imaging chips, as Google’s flagships have also offered custom imaging silicon as of 2017. And the company has stepped up its game in this regard with the Pixel 6 series. So we wouldn’t be surprised if Google, Vivo, Xiaomi and maybe more brands continue this smartphone camera trend in 2022.

The return of deleting objects

Pixel 6 Pro Magic Eraser Carphone Warehouse

Hadlee Simons / Android Authority

Google’s Pixel 6 series also brings a host of interesting camera features to the table, but it’s Magic Eraser mode that makes its way onto our list. Yes, Google joins Samsung and Huawei in offering an object-delete mode, which allows you to remove photobombers or specific items in a scene. Oddly enough, Google first demonstrated a take on this feature in 2015, so it took a long time.

It’s a good bet that Google’s decision to include this feature could prompt companies like Xiaomi, Oppo and OnePlus to implement their own Object Eraser mode in 2022. After all, Google offered an astrophotography mode in 2019 that has since been copied by Realme and Vivo. On the other hand, last year the company offered a Cinematic Pan mode that has not been copied by anyone.

The Pixel 6 phones also offer Motion Mode and Face Unblur functionality, adding motion blur to images and out-of-focus faces, respectively. So we could see competing brands adopt these features as well.

That was it for our look at potential smartphone camera trends in 2022. Are there any potential trends we missed? Let us know in the comments below.

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