What's the big deal with mobile phone plastic camera lenses? If professional digital SLR cameras make use of glass lenses for their photography needs, why is it that just about every camera phone takes the plastic route?
Mobile Phone Plastic Camera Lenses
As you may have noticed, most if not all camera phones have a very small lens in comparison to standalone digital cameras. Also like most entry-level point-and-shooters on the market, you'll find that mobile phone plastic camera lenses dominate the market. You can notice the slight flex and "warping" of the plastic lens when you move your cell phone around.
Go ahead and try it with everything from the Motorola RAZR to something from the Sony Ericsson Cyber-shot range. There's a good chance that when you make some movements with your camera phone, you will see the image "flexing" on the edges. This is in sharp contrast to the smoother movement you experience with a true camera, even budget-minded ones.
The Main Advantage
By and large, the biggest advantage to mobile phone plastic camera lenses is cost. It is much cheaper for cell phone manufacturers to use plastic lenses rather than full-glass lenses. Also, given the tiny and fragile nature of glass, the plastic can typically be a little more durable as well. Going through the manufacturing process of a mobile phone, a certain level of durability is certainly of value.
Just about all cell phones, including the very best camera phones on the market, make use of plastic camera lenses. This includes more expensive offerings such as the Nokia N95 smartphone. The plastic appears to be a little clearer and it seems to have less flex in higher-end models, but there is still some image distortion.
Disadvantages of Plastic Lenses
And that is the biggest disadvantage to mobile phone plastic camera lenses. These lenses will have a tendency to distort the picture, especially if there is a little bit of movement or if you are took close to your subject. The internals of a camera phone are also not as advanced as most consumer-level digital cameras either. As a result, the image quality of camera phones -- while it is improving -- is not quite up to par with standalone cameras.
Another major disadvantage is that plastic lenses can easily get scratched, scuffed, marred, and fogged, especially if the camera phone does not have some form of cover for the camera portion. There are not that many handsets that have a camera lens cover -- the Sony Ericsson K790a comes to mind -- so the lens is always exposed to the elements. This can cause all sorts of unforeseen damage. This is one of the reasons why you should consider investing in a cell phone case.
This is one of the common iPhone complaints, because the camera is left exposed on the back of the handset. It's also unfortunate that the iPhone does not a flash for the camera.
Are There Camera Phones with Glass Lenses?
If there are, they'll either be quite expensive, very rare, or both. Until it is cost effective for cell phone manufacturers to do so and until the public speaks out about the use of plastic lenses in mobile phones, these companies will stick with plastic and eschew glass.