We look back at how smartphone cameras evolved over time to use two lenses instead of just one, including how they compare to one another and why dual lens optics are now the norm.
Samsung recently launched its first dual lens mobile camera, packed onto the premium Galaxy Note 8 handset. For once the Korean company is actually well behind its rivals, as the likes of Apple, Huawei and LG have all released more than one smartphone boasting two camera lenses on the back.
So what was the first dual lens phone camera, who helped to make the tech popular and what are the best double vision shooters right now? Here’s all you need to know about the history and current state of dual-lens smartphone snappers.
What was the first smartphone to use a dual-lens camera?
One of the very first smartphones to use a dual-lens camera was the HTC Evo 3D, launched back in 2011. This used its two lenses to actually capture three dimensional photos, which could be viewed on a 3D television or the phone’s own 3D display.
However, these images maxed out at 2-megapixels, meaning they lacked sharp detail. Besides, they were simply a gimmick, near impossible to share and enjoy outside of the Evo.
When did dual-lens mobile cameras become popular?
In 2016, the LG G5 boasted a dual-lens camera setup that was very different to the Evo 3D, paving the way for future mobile snappers.
LG’s flagship device sported two independent lenses, which offered a very different view of the world. The standard 16-megapixel lens was a dependable tool for shooting your everyday life, while a backup 8-megapixel wide-angle lens offered an alternative option, for those sprawling vistas. Check out our LG G5 camera review for the full skinny.
Chinese manufacturer Huawei has also been a huge advocate of dual lens camera tech, sticking two shooters on the back of almost all of its phones since the Huawei P9 launched back in 2016. However, unlike the LG mobiles, these lenses actually work together rather than individually. In each case, one of the lenses is a full colour RGB snapper, while the second is monochrome only, capturing black and white images. The two images are then combined to produce the final photograph.
Apple jumped on the dual lens camera train with its iPhone 7 Plus, unveiled towards the end of 2016. Like the LG G5 and G6, the iPhone sports two independent shooters that can be used separately, although in this case they switch seamlessly depending on how you’re using the camera.
The main 12-megapixel lens is used for standard shots, while the second lens (also 12-megs) features a 2x optical zoom. This automatically takes over when you zoom into your subject, offering a close-up view without any impact to image quality. This camera design was copied over to the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, released a year later.
Certainly in 2017 we've seen no slowdown in the popularity of dual-lens smartphone cameras. As well as LG, Huawei and Apple, we've seen double snappers packed onto the OnePlus 5, Zenfone 4, Nokia 8 and plenty of other flagship devices. In fact, Sony Mobile is pretty much the only manufacturer not to make the jump from a single lens so far.
Samsung finally followed suit in September of 2017, with its super-specced Galaxy Note 8. Like the iPhone, this uses a second lens sporting an optical zoom, so you can get up close to your subject.
Which affordable smartphones use dual lens cameras?
While dual lens cameras used to only appear on flagship and premium devices, in 2017 we’ve seen some more budget-friendly mobiles boasting the tech.
Honor, the sister company to Huawei, was one of the pioneers in this area. The Honor 6X served up two lenses for under £200 when it launched in January, while the Honor 9 offers a brilliant double lens shooter for just £380 SIM-free.
Motorola is the first major rival to pack a dual lens camera onto its handsets for an affordable asking price. The Moto G5s Plus costs well under £300, yet boasts a very capable double shooter for that cash.
So which dual lens camera is best for me?
As you can see, a large selection of mobiles now offer a dual lens camera, covering a wide range of budgets. So which is the best for everyday photography, and your own specific needs?
Check out our full dual lens camera explainer, which outlines the different types of dual lens cameras you can choose from. This includes the advantages and drawbacks of each, plus the best smartphones sporting each kind of dual lens camera right now.
Meanwhile we'll continue testing all of the biggest and best dual lens mobile cameras you can buy right now, to see which is ideal for everyday snapping.