Dual Lens Smartphone Cameras : When to use which Part 1

Digiscoping moon

The ever-changing landscape of smartphones and their cameras is a confusing one. Some smartphones are still utilizing a single lens camera, but others have expanded into a dual lens and even 3 or 4 lens cameras. Wide-angle, super-wide angle or telephoto? In this 2-part blog post I take a look at the two camera lenses we at Phone Skope have found to work best.

If you just switched smartphones to a phone with a dual lens camera, I would suggest sticking with what you know; the wide-angle lens. Depending what the phone model is, the wide-angle lens will typically perform better in low light. This is due to the fact that the aperture on the wide-angle lens is larger, allowing a greater amount of light to get to the camera sensor. Getting more light to your camera sensor means your pictures will be better exposed and result in less grainy or noisy pictures and video. If you were to use the telephoto lens in low-light situations you might find that your images are “closer” but are really noisy and underexposed. (We will cover more about the telephoto in part 2.) Looking at the two images below, you will see that the wide-angle image is not as grainy and the telephoto image.

Dual Lens smartphone camera comparison

Not only will your image be better exposed, but the wide-angle lens will allow you to capture more of the scene. If you have two subjects you want to fit in the same frame without moving the optic, the wide-angle lens will help with that. This ensures you can capture everything and really share the entire experience.

If you are looking to zoom in and capture more of the detail of your subject, I would avoid using digital zoom if you can. You will be better off adjusting the optical zoom on your optic. In the event you are using an optic with a fixed power, like a binocular, the digital zoom can be really helpful to get closer to the action. Staying within 2x digital zoom, you should still retain most of the quality. After 2.5x (depending on the smartphone camera) your image will start to become pixelated and grainy. It’s not totally unusable footage but it won’t be the best.

Another advantage of the wide-angle lens is that it tends to produce steadier footage. With a wider-angle field of view, especially if the optic is handheld like a binocular, it will help to compensate for movement. Having the camera zoomed in, the slightest movement will take you off of your subject. I won’t go too deep into handheld digiscoping here, but if you are digiscoping handheld you might consider recording in the slow-motion feature. (We will take a closer look at this in another post) If your optic is on a tripod and it is windy outside, the wide-angle lens will help to reduce the shaky footage compared to the telephoto lens.

There are many positives to using the wide-angle lens on your smartphone, but the one shortcoming is in the event you need a little more reach. If you are looking to get closer to the action in a well-lit scene, the wide-angle lens comes up short. You will still capture a fine image, but it might require more reach to see all of the detail you would like.

The last downfall I have discovered with a wide-angle lens is that it tends to increase the vignette around your image. With digiscoping, your smartphone camera is looking through a tube which in most cases you will inevitably see. In most cases you can adjust the eye-cup or eye-relief on the optic to reduce the vignette or “black ring” around your image but typically you will find the ring around most images shot with a wide-angle lens. It’s not the end of the world but it can be annoying at times. As you might have guessed, this is where the telephoto lens really shines. We will go into greater detail about the telephoto lens in the next post.

If you are a creature of habit or “Don’t fix what isn’t broken” kind of person, the wide-angle lens is a great way to go. With its light gathering capabilities it is the best option for low-light situations compared to a telephoto lens. It is also a great option for landscapes or sightseeing, to capture all of the scene through your optics. If you have questions or comments about your digiscoping setup, send us an email at: support@phoneskope.com

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