A typical discussion of the best smartphone cameras typically centers around things like image sensors, lenses, and to a large extent, the manufacturer’s camera algorithm. Chipmaker Qualcomm, however, seems a tad miffed about all this. At the company’s 2021 Investors Day conference, Qualcomm made a feeble attempt at letting the world know that it deserves some credit for the imaging capabilities possessed by some of the world’s best camera phones.
Qualcomm attempted to make a case for itself by highlighting the fact that most of the past recipients of DXOMark’s best smartphone camera award happened to be powered by Qualcomm processors. They also used Qualcomm’s powerful line of Spectra Image Signal Processors (ISP), thereby making them worthy of some credit. Take the case of the Snapdragon 888-powered Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra — the 2021 winner. While most people give credit to the phone’s impressive camera hardware for its imaging prowess, Qualcomm wants us to also appreciate the fact that most of this hardware was powered by Qualcomm’s Spectra 580 ISP.
Qualcomm doesn't get enough credit for its smartphone camera technology in NA as the DXOMARK winners are Chinese brands like Xiaomi and OPPO. All use Qualcomm solutions. $QCOM #QCID2021 pic.twitter.com/aBNVANIdc6
— Patrick Moorhead #5GThings #LenovoIAC #QCID2021 (@PatrickMoorhead) November 16, 2021
There is some merit in Qualcomm’s claims. Currently, the most powerful ISP available for Android smartphones — the Spectra 580 — also happens to be the first triple ISP from Qualcomm. This ISP is capable of handling the parallel processing of multiple images and takes a significant leap toward computational photography. It also endows the Mi 11 Ultra with the ability to capture 4K HDR videos with computational HDR. But literally no one mentions these things while talking about the best smartphone cameras out there.
Could there be a reason why Qualcomm doesn’t seem to be receiving the credit it deserves for enabling great smartphone photography?
A closer look at the list of previous DXOMark winners may answer this question. The list includes phones like the little-known Xiaomi Mi CC9 Pro, Oppo Find X2 Pro, and the aforementioned Mi 11 Ultra. Unfortunately, to the average smartphone consumer in the West, all three devices are relatively unknown products from smaller brands. None of these devices have the brand recognition of an iPhone 13, a Samsung Galaxy S21, or even a Sony Xperia Pro, for that matter.
The marketing material for camera phones that use Qualcomm’s Spectra ISP -rarely talk about the ISP itself and tend to concentrate more on the number of cameras, their megapixel count, and how good the ultra–wide or telephoto lens really is. For example, how many of you knew that the Qualcomm-powered Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra — which is considered to be among the best Android smartphones out there — also uses the same Spectra 580 ISP as the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra?
It remains to be seen how many people agree with Qualcomm’s contention that it doesn’t receive enough credit for all the things it has managed to enable with its ISPs. Perhaps the general consensus is that image and video quality are inherently tied to more tangible things like sensors and lenses.