Hello, millennials? The phone world is calling with a bunch of Insta-worthy camera tech that it wants you to adopt right now.
One of the quieter themes of this year's Mobile World Congress, the biggest phone show on the planet, was the phone industry trying to capitalize on a youthful love of visual storytelling. The result: A whole bunch of features that will give budding photogs an edge in the media-hungry worlds of Snapchat and Instagram.
It's an obvious feature to enhance -- who doesn't snap an endless number of photos with their phone? Whether it's a night out on the town or an adventure abroad, people can't help but fire off a few shots to capture that special moment in time. Phone makers know that if there's one feature to turn your head, it'll be camera technology.
The good news is they're setting you up to do even more with cameras that let you go wide, go long and basically do everything in between. Here are some of the new photo modes coming to a phone near you.
Huawei installed a new portrait mode on its flagship P10 phone, specifically designed to appeal to heavy Instagram users. It's clear why people are into selfies: a study by Georgia Tech in 2014 revealed that photos with faces in them were 38 percent more likely to receive a "like" on Instagram than photos without.
"We would like our users to stand out on Instagram," said Arne Herkelmann, Huawei's head of handset portfolio and planning for Europe, in a briefing on the P10 last month. More than 80 percent of millennials think they are creative, he said. "Portrait mode is designed around this."
In practice, this means that when the phone identifies your face, it will lock onto it, conduct portrait enhancements (because we could all use a little help) and optimize the lighting. Huawei claims the camera can simulate studio lighting effects by using its software to analyze where the light and shadow should fall, and adjust accordingly. Anyone who makes a living with studio photography will likely scoff at this, but phone cameras so often get lighting wrong that any improvements are welcome.
Self expression (as a group)
With the P10, Huawei extended its partnership with Leica to incorporate a higher-quality front-facing camera. This 8-megapixel snapper has an adaptive selfie mode, which will auto-adjust the angle depending on whether you're shooting a selfie or what Huawei dubs a "groufie," or a group selfie.
This particular form of self expression was popularized by Ellen DeGeneres and friends at the 2014 Oscars, but has its roots in the individual selfie, which science tells us is a mainstay of millennial culture.
But there's one big problem with Huawei's adoption of the word "groufie." When testing its reception in casual conversation, it turns out most people think you're saying "roofy." Exclamations of "groufie time!" in polite company could well be met with puzzled looks.
LG has another idea of what to call a group selfie, backing the word "wefie." Wefie has problems of its own, though, bearing a passing resemblance to the word "weepies" used to describe the tearjerker genre of movies.
LG's X Power2 boasts a 5-megapixel front-facing snapper that can capture these group shots of up to eight people without a selfie stick. There's also a suite of selfie software enhancements on board, including auto shot, which takes a photo as soon as it detects a face, and gesture shot, which can be used to trigger the camera either instantly or with a short interval.
LG's big focus at MWC was on the G6, which features a 13-megapixel wide-angle (125 degree) rear-facing camera. Wide angles aren't just popular for capturing landscapes. LG has found they're also popular with selfie takers and so has widened the angle of its front-facing camera to 100 degrees. "People love the experience it can offer," LG product manager Ian Hwang said at a briefing on the phone last month.
But many of the improvements LG packs into the G6 are centered less on what the dual lenses can achieve and more on the experience of shooting photographs.
Phone companies are increasingly picking off features from third-party camera apps and incorporating it in their own software. This is one way to appeal to the kind of people who love to mess around with their photographs to make them fun and sharable.
The G6 comes with a square camera app that allows you to take advantage of the wide-angle lens, while simultaneously making sure your photos are Instagram-ready.
Another Insta-friendly feature on the G6: something called guide shot, which lets you take multiple photographs with the same composition. This is neatly complemented by the grid shot feature, which lets you capture four shots stacked 2x2 as in a photo booth -- that classic millennial wedding staple.
The G6 also offers a smooth-feel optical zoom that stops any shuddering when zooming in while taking a video.
Zoom zoom zoom
Another phone maker going all in on zoom function is Oppo, which at MWC showed off a new dual-lens camera module featuring 5x "lossless" zoom. The lossless aspects let you get closer to the action without degrading the image, which often happens when you use a digital zoom on a camera phone.
To accommodate a slightly longer telephoto lens in its slim body, the module contains a mini periscope that catches the light and then diverts 90 degrees down toward the sensor. As you zoom in, optical image stabilization kicks in to keep your shot steady.
Oppo didn't unveil any phones using the module, but a new flagship phone is expected later this year.
Sony is also trying to appeal to the creative side of phone owners by showing off the Xperia XZ Premium at MWC, which has a super slow-motion video function.
Many phones have this feature, but the XZ Premium can shoot at an impressive 960 frames per second, to slow the action down even further. The iPhone, for instance, only lets you go as slow as 240 frames per second. If you already enjoy slow-mo videos of your dog jumping for a treat or your friend doing an awesome snow sports trick, you'll appreciate the XZ Premium.
All of this camera tech is new, and the phones aren't even out yet, so we can't cast our judgmental eyes over them just yet. While you're waiting for our full reviews, be sure to check out our first takes from MWC to see if any of these phones might be right for you.
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