Random Topic (1): the development of selfie camera (front camera)

Classic selfie phone -- HTC Desire Eye

Looking back at the days when the front camera was a mere 1.2 MP (VGA level) just a few years ago, it's hard to imagine how selfie cameras have improved by such a large extent (now 5MP with full HD video ability is the fundamental requirement). Manufacturers have been chasing after the resolution race. E.g. 5MP front shooter starts to appear in 2014 (HTC Desire 816 and HTC One M8 in Mar 2014).
Sony Xperia C3 back in mid 2014

Sony joined the race in mid 2014 by launching the Xperia C3 (5 MP also) with a front flashlight. HTC then topped the chart by the HTC Desire Eye. As its name implies, the 'Eye' is a 13MP CMOS sensor with dual flashlight and wide-angle lens. Soon, more flagship phones start off with a 5 MP sensor (Samsung ones, iPhone 6s) while some opt for higher resolution like LG (8 MP on LG G4, G5, 5+5 MP on LG V10)
Dual front camera on LG V10
as well as Sony (13 MP on its flagships)
Sony Xperia XZ, with 13 MP front shooter
. Vivo V5 plus (Jan 2017) even have a Dual 20 MP + 8 MP camera.

Vivo V5 Plus with 20 MP + 8 MP front shooter

So, just as the same idea and logic with main camera, high resolution DOES NOT necessarily means better quality. There are so many factors affecting this. I will discuss the imapct of various hardware. (Different companies also have different software which affects the ultimate quality of photos)

1. Wide angle

The most important one I think is the wide angle. Wide angle lens for selfie camera is a MUST if you want to take selfies with a group of friends. Here are some excellent examples of wide-angle selfie phones.

- Samsung S6 and S7 series (22mm = around 88 degree)
- Sony flagships in 2016 and 2017 (22mm)
- HTC Desire Eye (22mm), HTC 10 (23mm)

It is a very strange phenomenon for iphones (no matter which generation) not to include a wide angle len (31mm only, i7 and i7 plus even 32mm).
This makes me feel very strange.

Other manufacturers (e.g. Huawei) usually adopt 26-28mm, which is also acceptable but certainly contain fewer things in one shot when compared to 22mm ones.

2. Low light performance

Just as the main camera, low light performance usually sucks for smartphones. Samsung is famous for increasing the aperture (f number), e.g. even for mid-range phones and budget phones (e.g. Galaxy J series)
Samsung Galaxy J7 (2016)
the aperture is as high as f/1.9. 2016 and early 2017 flagship phones mostly have high aperture level of at least f/2.0 (notably Samsung S7 series: f/1.7, HTC 10: f/1.8). 

One more approach is enhancing the micron size (i.e. the amount of natural light absorbing by each pixel).
The most classical example is the Omnivision 4.08MP sensor with a striking 2.0μm (this controversial sensor will be further discussed in the "nostalgia phone" section). Nearly each and every HTC phone in 2015 adopts this front camera, the Xiaomi 5 in 2016 also uses. The advantage is obvious, better quality in dark conditions. Disadvantage is that 4 MP doesn't seem like a good marketing point because sadly most customers have no idea about this and care only about resolution.

Anyway, Sony seems to figure out a balance. The IMX 179 (8 MP with 1.4μm) is widely used among manufacturers (e.g. Nexus 6P, Huawei P8/P9/Mate 9/P10 series, Google Pixel (XL), Oneplus 3).

3. Addition of flashlight?

The idea of absorbing more natural light is discussed in the above section. Sometimes manufacturers add one (or two) flashlights on the front, just like the back camera. Motorola has been doing with its flagships in 2015 and 2016 (Moto X and Z series).
Moto Z with front flashlight

Sony Xperia C3 started this trend in mid 2014 while HTC Desire Eye brought this to a new level by two flashlights. Selfie-oriented phones like Sony C5 Ultra, XA Ultra, and even the budget Samsung J series are all equipped with flashlights.
Sony Xperia XA Ultra

Samsung J5 2016 (which is sold at a low price)

On the other hand, iPhone 6s used another quite weird and special approach -- adding the screen as flashlight. In my opinion this is useless compared to a real flashlight. Well anyway.
iPhone 6s which uses a weird screen flash

4. Commonly used front camera sensors and examples

- IMX 214 // 13 MP // 1.12 μm // E.g. Sony Xperia C5 Ultra, M5, X, X Performance, XZ
- IMX 179 // 8 MP // 1.4 μm // E.g. Google Pixel, XL, Nexus 6P, Huawei P8/P9, OnePlus 3,
- Samsung S5K4E6 // 5 MP // 1.34 μm // E.g. Samsung S6/S7 (edge) series, Note 5, HTC 10
- Omnivision OV4688 // 4 MP // 2.0 μm // E.g. HTC M9, M9+, A9, Xiaomi 5


~~~End of my first post! Please feel free to contact me or give me any comments :DD~~~

STAY TUNED to my upcoming posts and discussions!


  1. Woww it's so great! Can't wait to see your next blog!


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