Gadgets for humans

What the hell does the wide-angle lens on your phone do?

Spoiler: it's about getting as much stuff in the shot as possible

header image basics wide angle lens

Welcome to TNW Basics, a collection of tips, guides, and advice on how to easily get the most out of your gadgets, apps, and other stuff.

Remember when phones had a single camera on them? Normally on the device’s rear? Now, concentrate, and try to conjure a mental picture of them…

… THEN THROW THAT IMAGE IN THE TRASH, WE’RE IN MULTI-CAMERA WORLD NOW, BUSTER.

Yes, we now live on a planet where your everyday mobile phone probably has a variety of lenses on the back — and we’re here to help you understand what they all do.

We’ve already looked at a time-of-flight (ToF) camera and the functions of a telephoto lens, but today we have something different. So, one-and-all, let’s find out what the hell your phone‘s wide-angle lens does.

Pray tell, what does the wide-angle lens on my phone do?

We’ve mentioned before that modern phones use their array of lenses to take a range of shots. The device and its software then combines these images into the single super picture you see on your screen.

The part a wide-angle plays in this is, unsurprisingly, width.

In other words, a wide-angle lens gets as much as possible in a shot. It means that if you’re taking a photo of a big row of people, you won’t have to step back very far to fit them all in.

Some phones these days are going beyond simple wide-angle lenses, and feature ultra wide-angle cameras, with the Huawei P30 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S10 foremost in this field. Although there’s a technical differentiation between ultra wide- and wide-angle lenses (it’s to do with the focal length width), for the regular consumer, it’s pretty simple: ultra wide-angle lenses can fit more stuff in the shot.

So, there you have it. Next time you’re snapping something quickly with your camera phone, remember it’s the wide-angle lens on the device that’s helping fit everything in without you having to walk backwards. Stay tuned for more explainers about how photography on your phone works.

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Published August 27, 2019 — 13:27 UTC

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