I shall start by saying this – dual-camera smartphones are all the rage these days. I’ve seen many people looking for a new smartphone, and one of their criteria is “must have dual-camera“. While it is arguably one of the newest feature offered at the hardware level, there are major misconceptions about these dual-camera smartphones.

Lucky for you, we’ve gone deep into this subject and summarized everything that you need to know. Let’s break it all down and have a look with the utmost detail, so we won’t fall into more marketing buzzwords and confusions.

This editorial is not paid by anyone. This is solely to educate everyone regarding dual-camera smartphones.

Introduction

Dual-camera smartphones aren’t exactly a new idea after all. HTC One M8 was announced back in March of 2014, and it’s the first dual-camera smartphone ever. That smartphone was the first one ever that brought this idea to the mainstream consumer market.

Fast forward a few years to 2016, and the re-emergence of dual-camera smartphones started popping up again. It took about a year before it caught on the hype train, and things are starting to get really out of hand right now. I’ve heard people saying that “dual-camera smartphones always means more superior image quality“, and to the point where it is a must when choosing their brand new smartphone. That’s NOT the case! :O

Not all dual-camera smartphones are the same

Dual-Camera Smartphones
They might look the same – but in fact, they’re very different.

There are two different types of dual-camera smartphones. For the lack of a proper name, I just call the first type as “stereoscopic dual-camera system” and the other one as “hybrid lens dual-camera system“. The main difference here is the lens only. The megapixel count can be different between the two cameras on a single smartphone. Let me explain one by one.

Stereoscopic dual-camera system

This kind of system has both the cameras work together to get more visual details, specifically depth information. One camera gets the image, whereas the other camera gets depth information. When both these cameras work together, you’ll get additional features like what we’ve shown here with the with the Huawei P10.

Stereoscopic dual-camera system is like having two eyes – just like us humans

The only stereoscopic dual-camera system smartphone that gets all the fame these days is from Huawei. Huawei employed this camera system since the P9 and it’s conceptually the same as the one used on the HTC One M8 – which has identical focal lengths on both cameras’ lenses. It means that both the lenses are identical – same focal length and same aperture. In layman’s terms, this camera system is like having two eyes – just like us humans. As a bonus, it tends to have faster focusing speeds and the ability to refocus pictures, too.

Take a look at the Huawei P10’s dual-camera lenses here.

Dual-Camera Smartphones Dual-Camera Smartphones Huawei P10 lenses

Hybrid lens dual-system camera

The other dual-camera system found in smartphones don’t work together, but each of the cameras has their own specialty instead. So how do they work?

Quite simple, actually. Both camera lenses differ from each other – as one lens will have a shorter focal length (wide angle lens) and the other lens will have a longer focal length (oftentimes regarded as “telephoto” lens). You essentially get the best of both worlds when it comes to this type of dual-camera system. One simple tap of a button is all it takes to swap between the two lenses. That means you can frame your shots more flexibility and get a wide angle shot when you’re at a very tight spot.

Hybrid lens dual-camera system setup is like someone wearing a monocle

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom that we’ve reviewed here has exactly that – instead of having the same lens on both cameras, it has a 25mm lens on one camera and a 59mm lens on another. Like I’ve said before on our ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom review, its dual-camera system setup is like someone wearing a monocle. So, you can see things through

Take a look at the image here and the lens diameter can actually be seen.

Dual-Camera Smartphones Dual-Camera Smartphones ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom lenses

Also, this type of dual-camera system is found more commonly on smartphones. Take the iPhone 7 Plus and LG G5 and LG G5/G6 for example. The two cameras that they have are not using the same lens.

Finding out what type of dual-camera system is on a particular smartphone

So here’s how we can determine which dual-camera system your particular smartphone is using.

  1. Look at the spec sheet and see if there’s any discrepancy in both the camera lenses’ focal length, which is displayed in mm.
  2. Physically measure the diameter of the lens of both the lenses. If there is a difference, then it’s using the hybrid zoom dual-camera system.

The former method is definitely much simpler – but I must highlight one more point. Many spec sheets do not state the focal length, so it’s not such a surefire method after all. The latter is quite difficult to determine without any sort of proper equipment. For me, I took a picture and then did pixel-by-pixel comparison of both the lenses’ diameters.

Let me show you what I mean – that’ll get the message across a lot better than worded descriptions.

See the difference? The ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom has two different diameters, whereas the Huawei P10 has two of the same. That’s generally how I find out the difference between the two dual-camera systems.

Are dual-camera systems better than single-camera systems?

To answer that question, we have three flagship smartphones with three different type of camera systems. The Samsung Galaxy S8+ with a single-camera system, the ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom with a hybrid dual-camera system, and the Huawei P10 with a stereoscopic dual-camera system.

Dual-Camera Smartphones Samsung Galaxy S8 S8+
The Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ are highly regarded in mobile photography now.

I’ve taken all 3 flagships with me on a short little lunch trip and took a few shots with them. Let’s see how they all perform – and remember, we’re trying to disprove that dual-camera smartphones are always more superior than a single-camera smartphone in terms of image quality.

Here are 5 sets of images taken by the 3 different flagship smartphones. The first image is taken with the ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom, then the Huawei P10, and then the Samsung Galaxy S8+. All image sets follow this order. You be the judge of which has a more superior quality, and vote your favourite down below.

Of course, everyone has a personal preference when it comes to which of the images they like the most. So  – which is better?

Which smartphone takes better pictures?

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My friend Victor from Vtechgraphy has his own camera blind test on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Huawei P10. Click here and have a vote.

Conclusion

The one biggest conclusion I can draw out is that having more cameras on a single smartphone doesn’t mean producing more superior quality pictures. Having more cameras does offer more features to play with, but if those features aren’t utilized fully, then it’s actually rather pointless. Might as well save some money for another smartphone that offers better value in other aspects, like battery life.

What do you think of our breakdown and analysis on this hype train?
Tell us down in the comments section below or on our Facebook page – we are interested to know what you think and appreciate your feedback!

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The enthusiastic nanoelectronic engineer who found his way into simplifying the world of tech for everyone. Introverted, but noisy. Nice to meet you!