1 Inch Sensor Is The Future For Smartphone Cameras - Sharp Aquos R6

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I have mentioned before not too long ago that the only way to achieve a significant jump in camera performance for smartphones is to use the larger image sensor, 1 inch to be precise. This already started happening with the Sharp Aquos R6 being released in the middle of 2021, and I recently acquired a used unit in good condition, because I was curious to see how 1 inch image sensor performs and if this truly is the future for smartphone photography. In this blog article, I will share my experience shooting with the Sharp Aquos R6's camera extensively for weeks, with plenty of fresh photographs. 

I have also shared my opinion on why I think the 1 inch is the future for smartphone cameras in my YouTube video here (click), which I will not repeat in this blog article. A word of caution for those outside of Japan, this Sharp Aquos R6 was released specifically for Japanese market only, so if you import this unit out of Japan, you do not have customer support, no service/repair available and there will be no software updates too. 

Sharp Aquos R6 featuring a large 1 inch image sensor camera

This is not a review of the Sharp Aquos R6 smartphone, as I am not a tech/gadget reviewer, but what I can do is explore the smartphone camera's capabilities from the viewpoint of a professional photographer. The fact that the Sharp R6 features a large 1 inch image sensor makes this phone camera worth taking a closer look. I must acknowledge that the first smartphone that features a 1 inch sized image sensor was the Panasonic CM1, which was launched in 2015, and I don't have that smartphone to do any comments or comparison with. In modern day availability, the Sharp R6 has the largest image sensor used in a smartphone camera today. Some advanced compact cameras also utilize 1 inch sensor, such as the Sony RX100 series and Canon G7x series. From many reviews and user experience feedback using these exisiting cameras with 1 inch sensor, I am expecting the Sharp R6 to perform really well when it comes to resolution, dynamic range and high ISO shooting versus any other smartphone offerings today, even against the flagships. 

Let's cut to the chase. The 20MP backside illuminated (BSI) CMOS image sensor used in the Sharp R6, coupled with a 19mm F1.9 equivalent lens is impressive. The camera in Sharp R6 is simply the best hardware I have shot with (at the time of writing). Nothing from Apple's iPhones, Samsung's flagship S20 something series or Huawei's best models come close to what the Sharp R6 can do. 

In terms of resolution, the images from the Sharp R6 came out sharp, detailed and packs in plenty of good contrast. The images are consistently sharp without looking over sharpened, or having too much artificial processing being done. The 20MP resolved are true 20MP, and the per pixel quality is apparent when pixel-peeping, the fine details in the real resolution beats any 48MP, 64MP or 108MP sensors in other smartphones with pixel binning tricks can do. Since the image sensor is also relatively large, if you can get close enough to your subject and have the background far away, you can render shallow depth of field effect, blurring the background effectively, having real bokeh, without all the fake rendering of other smartphones. 

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The dynamic range is also remarkable, without using the HDR function, the Sharp R6 is capable of maintaining balanced images even in high contrast scenarios, and with HDR activated, the details from highlight and shadow regions are easily recovered. 

Perhaps the biggest advantage that I noticed was low light shooting. Without using the night mode (which can make things worse in most smartphones, trust me), the Sharp R6 can shoot clean, high ISO images. I was surprised to see how usable the ISO3200 images were! Details and color tonality were well maintained, yes there was some noise but the noise was not destructive to the image, and the grain looked perfectly tolerable without pixel peeping. I am comfortable shooting with ISO800-1600, something that most smartphone cameras would struggle! If you have shot in really low light environment with the Sharp R6, and compare the images with other smartphones, you will realize just how important the hardware is in producing best possible image quality. There is only so much the software can do. 

The biggest problem I observed in many smartphones today, even from iPhones or flagship Android phones is OVERPROCESSING. If the images are not sharp enough, just apply aggressive sharpening, which in turn created ugly halos and sharpening artifacts in the final output. If the images have too much noise, just apply heavy noise reduction, smearing off useful fine details and contrast, resulting in painterly, water-color, soft, fuzzy looking images. If the camera does not have enough dynamic range, just apply aggressive HDR, or if the camera shoots in low light, just activate the Night Mode, or Night Sight, and apply crazy amount of processing to improve the image quality. The consequence? Images appear overcooked, unnaturally flat and losing the realistic look of what photographs are supposed to be.

I was very happy to see how effortlessly natural the images coming out of Sharp R6 is. There is some processing involved, yes, but not too aggressive, and you can see that the realism of the images are well preserved. With the capable 1 inch image sensor, you don't need too aggressive of HDR or noise reduction processing to get the job done. Heck, with high quality pixels in the 20MP 1 inch sensor, you don't need to over-sharpen the images, they are already sharp to begin with. The quality (at lower ISO settings in good light) from the Sharp R6 is almost as good as what I can achieve with my Olympus professional cameras using a kit lens! That is truly something to write home about. 

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Unfortunately, Sharp Aquos R6 is not the perfect smartphone camera. The 1 inch image sensor produces the best image quality out of any smartphones today, that much I dare to say, but there are other issues and flaws that come with this smartphone. The software of the Sharp R6 has a lot of work to be done. The Autofocus is painfully slow and unreliable, there is an annoying shutter lag which makes any critical shooting (say street photography capturing moments) almost impossible. Also, the camera overheats from time to time, with the overheating warning on the camera is basically frozen and you can't shoot. The 19mm F1.9 lens is not perfect, there is some corner softness (common flaw for ultra wide angle) and flare is also an issue. I also wish there is image stabilization on the lens to further push the capabilities of what the camera can do. 

Having said all that, I cannot wait for other smartphone manufacturers to take a spin on this 1 inch image sensor with improved software, AF and overall performance. The possibilities are endless!

I am truly impressed by what the Sharp Aquos R6 can do, the camera hardware is no longer just an inferior smartphone camera, but is as capable as a true advanced compact camera. The future of smartphone photography is going to be exciting!

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Enjoying this smartphone camera a bit too much!


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3 comments:

  1. Nice work, Robin. Your food images make me hungry. Now, I've got to get one of those phones.

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  2. Those images are impressive but I've grown so tired of the UWA view common to smartphones. The 19mm equivalent of this lens is crazy wide, not something I could ever be happy with.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Just looking at this article again and I suddenly remembered that Sharp joined the Micro Four Thirds standards body in 2019. What was all that about?

    ReplyDelete