The Samsung Galaxy S30 will have its work cut out for it competing with the iPhone 12, but a new weapon could give it a pretty big advantage. A newly discovered design made by the Korean company points to the S30 potentially sporting a whopping six cameras, in an array that can move and tilt the sensors individually.
This is based on a patent titled "Apparatus and method for operating multiple cameras for digital photography", made by Samsung and found by LetsGoDigital. LGD has taken the design and its illustrations and made its own renders, allowing us to get a better handle on how this camera setup would work.
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Most smartphones max out at four rear cameras at the moment, although there are exceptions like the Nokia 9 PureView, the first smartphone with five rear cameras. However, with so many cameras it becomes hard to fit all of the sensors onto the back of the phone. In the case of this patent, it looks like Samsung's aimed for a horizontal camera bump, similar to the kind it used on the Galaxy S10 series, except with double the number of sensors and twice the height. We can't say we find this a good look.
The cameras themselves are five wide-angle cameras, either all identical or with one higher resolution 'master' sensor, and a single telephoto camera. Other than the sheer quantity of cameras, these sensors are unique in that they can tilt within their housing to provide unique effects.
For example, the sensors on each side could be arranged to look in opposing directions to allow for what the patent describes as 'pano-bokeh' - a panoramic shot with the background blurred, as well as other photo effects that are currently impossible on phones.
More generally, the cameras can work together to create better focussed, higher resolution images and high framerate video for capturing fast-moving objects by stitching their outputs together. This could prove to be more versatile than a single sensor with an equivalent resolution.
While the depth of the camera bump is quite large, there's a good reason for this too. The patent also outlines a pop-out mechanism that would allow the cameras to move in and out of the phone's body. This isn't just for easier storage purposes, but could also help change the focal length of the sensors, which would help with focus and zoom.
Samsung has a bit of history when it comes to adding mechanical components to its cameras. The Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S10 both had variable apertures fitted onto their main sensors. However, at the moment Samsung has taken a strategy of using the biggest camera sensors around for its cameras, such as the Galaxy S20 Ultra's 108MP main sensor.
This patent points to a pivot (excuse the pun) towards adding new functionality rather than more and more pixels. This is a good idea, since you get diminishing returns the greater the resolution of the sensor.
Apple has avoided the race for megapixels with its iPhone cameras, sticking with a decent 12MP for several years while making other upgrades. It's paid off too, with the iPhone 11 Pro being one of our best camera phones alongside the Galaxy S20. We don't expect the iPhone 12 to change much, aside from the iPhone 12 Pro getting a LiDAR depth sensor and a 3x telephoto zoom.
We may have to wait for a bit though. The upcoming Galaxy Note 20's camera array takes after the Galaxy S20 series, with the Note 20 Plus/Ultra reportedly adding a dedicated focus sensor. Therefore the earliest we'll see the camera array described in the patent will be on 2021's Galaxy S30. However, considering another rumor claims we could see a 150MP camera on the S30, perhaps Samsung's not done with its pursuit of the highest resolution possible yet.