There's a rumor going around about an upcoming cellphone from Samsung, due to be unveiled at Mobile World Congress, that possesses a 12-megapixel camera. Let's all give Samsung a round of applause for opening the megapixel war's newest battlefront: cameraphones.
We all remember the bad old days when digital cameras were new and manufacturers touted an ever-expanding sensor megapixel count, trying to out-do competitors and themselves with each successive device. "More megapixels equals better" was roughly the battle cry shouted at the consumer, who, at that time, was just getting to know the technology. Undoubtedly people fell victim, and spent more cash than they'd been planning to for a camera with a sensor that could record more pixels.
And now it looks like the same thing is happening with cellphones. Three or four years ago, we were all happy with 2-megapixel cameras embedded into our phones—it was enough to get a pretty good picture, record a VGA-resolution movie, basically capture moments you'd otherwise never photograph because you take your cellphone to more places than your camera. But then the megapixel count began to creep higher.
There was the 5-megapixel LG KG920 and Sony Ericsson K850. Then Grundig's X5000 upped the stakes with 6 megapixels. Samsung's SCH-V770 pushed the figure to 7. Some kind of barrier was then broken and over the last year or so there was a flurry of 8-megapixel devices: the Sony Ericsson C905, the LG KC780 and KC910, the Samsung SPH-V8200—which was reportedly the first—and many others.
And that's crazy. How many consumers print out their images bigger than a standard letter-sized piece of paper? Not many, I'll bet, and you need only around a 6- to 7-megapixel image for that task—anything higher adds detail you'll simply never see. For the standard 6 x 4-inch photo, about 5-megapixels will do. And that's just printing them out: To show photos on the HDTVs now gracing everyone's home you need a maximum of 2.1-megapixels, and the average digital photoframe will do VGA resolution—that's 640 x 480, or only 0.3-megapixels.
And now 12-megapixel phones are on the way, and history says they'll probably cost more than the 8-megapixel ones. Samsung should do the consumer a favor, declare a truce, and spend all that R&D money improving the optics, autofocus and flash on the poor-performing models we already have, and let the consumer buy a cellphone that takes great photos, irrespective of how many pixels it has.