Reality check – nobody actually needs a 200MP camera phone

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra – a 200MP camera phone
(Image credit: Samsung)

It still seems bananas to me: a 200MP camera phone. A camera, on your phone, with 200 megapixels. I still can't get my head around it – it's utterly wild. 

However, to me that's all it is: wild. Because "wild" doesn't automatically equate to "necessary" – or even "good". And just because a 200MP camera phone sounds like an ungodly amount of resolution, I think we all see through the smoke and mirrors. 

Just think about it for a minute: most iPhones today still have a 12MP main camera (though the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max both hit 48MP). Then there's something like the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, a 200MP camera phone. On paper, that's a 1,567% increase in resolution.

Can even the most ardent S23 shooter put their hand on their heart and tell me that there's really a 1,567% increase in picture quality? Or even a 156% increase in picture quality? Because I don't see it. Admittedly I wear glasses, but I literally do not see it.

As a scientific achievement, yes, I concede that it's pretty incredible to squeeze hundreds of megapixels onto a tiny camera sensor. However, to quote the great Dr Ian Malcolm, "scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should."

Given all the controversy over Samsung apparently faking moon photos  and the ongoing issues with Samsung phones blurring images, it feels like the scientists might have been focusing on the wrong thing (literally, when it comes to the latter).

And what are all those pixels even good for, anyway? Again, I look at photos taken on my humble iPhone next to those on my friends' 200MP camera phones like the S23 or Xiaomi 12T Pro – my 12MP photos are simply better. 

The quality is better in low light, the colors are more natural in good light, and the computational software – which is actually the most important thing on a camera phone – is simply superior. And given that pixel binning is so prevalent in hi-res phones, the resulting files aren't that much different in resolution anyway.

Those of us who witnessed the megapixel arms race in traditional cameras know all too well that there's more to great pictures than pixel counts. I've got 16MP cameras that blow away these 200MP camera phones – so please let's dispel the notion that it's some kind of holy grail. 

It isn't. 

Until a traditional camera hits 200MP, at least… 

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James Artaius

The editor of Digital Camera World, James has 21 years experience as a journalist and started working in the photographic industry in 2014 (as an assistant to Damian McGillicuddy, who succeeded David Bailey as Principal Photographer for Olympus). In this time he shot for clients like Aston Martin Racing, Elinchrom and L'Oréal, in addition to shooting campaigns and product testing for Olympus, and providing training for professionals. This has led him to being a go-to expert for camera and lens reviews, photo and lighting tutorials, as well as industry news, rumors and analysis for publications like Digital Camera MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon MagazineN-Photo: The Nikon MagazineDigital Photographer and Professional Imagemaker, as well as hosting workshops and talks at The Photography Show. He also serves as a judge for the Red Bull Illume Photo Contest. An Olympus and Canon shooter, he has a wealth of knowledge on cameras of all makes – and a fondness for vintage lenses and instant cameras.