How good are / what's the point of cell phone macro cameras

I use my cell phone’s single 12 MP camera largely for macro photography. I see lots of modern phones with a dedicated macro camera, but then they give it some antique resolution. I assume a macro camera will have a smaller minimum focusing distance, but if your main camera is something like 64 MP and the macro camera something like 5 MP, surely the difference in focusing difference is smaller than the difference in resolution? Shouldn’t a cropped shot from the main camera be as good as or better than a shot from the macro camera?

In many cases, the extra camera is just there to tick a checkbox on the spec sheet or simply to make the phone look more impressive by having another lens on the rear. So I think it is often a gimmick, perhaps more often than not.

That said, the macro lens can focus at a shorter distance, sometimes by a significant factor. And note that because megapixels go up by the square of the linear distance, a 4 MP sensor is as good as a 64 MP one at 1/4 the distance (and potentially better if the photosites are physically larger. If you can reach 1/8 the distance, or even closer, then the crummy 4 MP sensor will be doing better.

I knew my old camera (Samsung) had a better focus distance than my current one (Motorola) but playing around with the Motorola right now it looks like minimum focus distance is around six inches, which is worse than I realized. (The Samsung was probably close to three.) So the macro would have to focus at 3/8ths or 6/8ths of an inch by that metric.

I am skeptical that there are many (any?) phones where the macro camera is really no better than a cropped picture from the main camera. Not all sensor pixels are alike, so we can’t simply compare MP numbers and focal lengths.

The new iPhone ones (which I assume prompted this question) look pretty impressive for something that fits easily in a pocket.

iPhones weren’t the first with macro lenses. I was looking at this list. Many of those are not particularly high-end phones, and some only have a 2 MP macro lens. I think it’s very likely that at least some of these macro cameras are never better than the primary (though that also depends on how bad the primary is…).

I’m not the biggest fan of Apple, but they don’t tend to put junk in their products just to have the checkbox. Other makers clearly do.

A prime example of the type of macros I take happened just now. A jumping spider landed on me. It was too skittish for me to get a really good photo, but here’s one of my shots. The camera was at around the minimum focus distance, and framing the important part involved cropping down from 12 MP to 0.3 MP

The one I was noticing today was on the Galaxy A32.

I’m quite excited about the new iPhone cameras, with the wide apertures and such.

For macro photography, one thing that works in favor of the small cameras in cell phones is sensor size. Besides near focus, one of the issues with macro photography is the razor thin depth of field–it’s so bad that people often resort to stacking multiple shots to get a single decent sharp image. As it turns out, tiny sensor size helps us here.

Usually people want full frame sensors so that they can get the beautiful blurred background in portrait shots–big sensors do wonders for that. But if you want crisp focus in a landscape, you actually will be better off with a smaller sensor–as the sensor gets smaller, the depth of field increases.

So I certainly can imagine a tiny camera being able to do a proper job with macro shots.

My first digital camera was A Fuji 4900 - it had a 2.4Mp sensor with a diagonal pattern, interpolating the result to 4Mp. Yet it produced perfectly good 8x10 photos and I even have one I blew up to 11x14 and it’s entirely presentable. The key issue is - how good is the optical resolution?

So presumably the separate macro is for the occasion when a close-up is warranted - it removes the need for a more flexible optical focus for the regular camera, simplifying that lens structure. Perhaps the optical resolution for a camera that size is such that extra resolution is wasted, you can’t focus beyond a certain sharpness? (Or allows for a greater depth of field due to less need for sharpness) Or that the geometry of the camera(s) layout did not permit a bigger sensor? I can’t imagine the price difference of the 12 vs 5 chips has much to do with it nowadays.

What’s the target market for macro features on phones? Is it field photography or data transfer like printed codes and such?

People who like taking photographs of small things? Like, for instance, a Milkweed Assassan Bug?

Oh, the wierdo market?

I used a Panasonic DMC TS20. It’s smaller and cheaper than a phone camera.

Okay, so a personal insult, plus telling me that I’m doing it wrong? Peak Dope.

No, just an attempt at humor.

I believe there are a couple of aspects to the phone macro issue. First young people live in conjunction with their phones. When I mentored senior projects at the university the students used phones for everything instead of note taking. When I was doing field work they used apps that automatically recorded and catalogued images complete with lat lon location.

Being an old guy, I consider a phone a device for two way voice communication, Obviously that’s outdated. We need a new term. The instrument is actually a very powerful computer system with a phone as one of it’s I/O devices. So, the macro feature could be a handy computer accessory without being very good macro.

In the nearly 2 years that I have had this current phone, I used it that way only once, to contact a business, and that was after scouring the internet for an e-mail address. Other than for text messaging (my means of point-to-point IRL communications) I use my phone for not only capturing photos and video (and, rarely, audio) but also do the vast majority of my photo and video editing on-phone, only occasionally resorting to PC programs to do rare things that the phone can’t. Over the years I have accumulated a toolset of dozens of apps for doing that. I use it for all of my internet use, including writing this very post. I watch TV and movies on my phone. I read novels, comics, and manga on the phone. At points in the past I had stand-alone devices for many of these things (an analog 8mm camcorder, a Sony F707 camera, two different Sony Ebook readers) but as they have broken they never were replaced with other single-purpose devices. Lately I don’t even turn on my desktop computer even once a week (and then usually just to do file backups from my phone.) My phone is responsible for the vast majority of all the consumption and production that I do for all media. And I’m 48.

So, while I know that stand-alone cameras can take better photos in some ways than phone cameras, I’m not interested in having a second device that I have to make a conscious decision to carry with me (and then later make the step of getting the photos on the phone where I can actually use them). I’m interested in making the device that I always have in my hand or pocket anyway better at it.

It seems to me that a cropped photo of a large scene, and a macro photo are fundamentally not the same thing. In terms of perspective, what things are in and out of focus, erm…bloom? IANA photologerist but I think we can question the premise.

Why? For instance, can you tell that I cropped this photo (taken with my F707, not a phone) from a larger frame?

I’m not a “photologerist” but I have taken tens of thousands of photos of small things. I don’t care about your question of the premise.

This is the original shot, BTW. That’s the edge of one of my fingers holding the leaf at the bottom.


Well, you took my previous post a lot more personally than was intended, so I am concerned you won’t like actual feedback.
But yeah, again, I’m not an expert but none of the tick (?) is entirely in focus and some parts are very fuzzy, I suspect that a macro lens could indeed achieve better results.

I don’t care if you care, but why did you start a thread?
“Photologerist” btw was just a joke based on the fact I am not sure exactly what the name of someone who specializes in camera optics would be called.

No, as alluded to above, traditional macro lenses have a very shallow depth of field and tend to need “focus stacking.” That photo is actually well focused for a single-shot macro.

I started the thread because I was interested in information compairing the quality of photos for a given small object achieved by deeply cropping a minimum-focal-distance image from the high-resolution main camera versus a lesser cropping of an image from the low-resolution macro camera on cell phones that include both types of cameras, with thoughts towards my future cell phone purchases. Since you seem to have no practical imput on that (or basic understanding of macrophotography) your input in this thread is unproductive.