So… does AI mean we're just not going to bother with better cameras any more?

Samsung Galaxy S24 phone close up of cameras
(Image credit: Luke Baker / Digital Camera World)

AI is wonderful. AI is dangerous. AI is helpful and AI is frightening. And AI also does some amazing things for photography… but have we reached the point where AI is so amazing that manufacturers are more concerned with it, and don't bother improving the cameras themselves?

That's the question I was left with, following the Samsung Galaxy S24 launch. Because as clever as that phone was, the most impressive thing about it was all the AI-powered translation, and gesture-based searching, and automatic transcription, and everything except the cameras – which were essentially recycled from the Samsung Galaxy S23

When I was love-blogging the launch event, I shared a tweet (yes, it's always going to be a tweet) that made me laugh. In retrospect, though, it's left me scratching my head a bit.

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The S24 family can certainly takebetter photos than the S23 – but not because it has better cameras. Indeed, the only change in the cameras themselves was on the Ultra, where the 10x optical zoom module was replaced by a 5x optical zoom module that uses AI to take a supposedly superior 10x image. Superior or not, some folks definitely perceived it as a downgrade.

Either way, if market monolith Samsung isn't even bothering to upgrade the cameras on its flagship phones, what does this say about the state of camera technology in phones? Are we just conceding that the cameras are as good as they're going to get, and we're just going to patch up the rough edges (like low light and zoom) with AI trickery and upscaling? 

I don't necessarily see this as a problem. Now, if Canon or Sony stopped bothering with making new image sensors and better lenses – instead using AI to make up for optical and technical shortfalls – then yes, I think that would be problematic. But software has always been the reason that phone cameras are as capable as they are. 

My problem, however, is that as a photographer, I'm being sold a new phone where the cameras are no different than the old phone; only the software is. So why can't I just have the new software in my old phone, to make those new improvements to the same cameras?

I'm fascinated to see what Apple does over the next few years. It's a little behind Samsung in terms of its camera sophistication but, once it's caught up, will it likewise stop bothering with better cameras and instead concentrate on AI to improve its photo capabilities? 

At least it's one less reason to upgrade my phone this year! 

Take a look at the best camera phones, including the best Samsung phones and the best iPhones for photography

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James Artaius
Editor

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.