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Rotating camera modules: How far they’ve come and what the future might hold

The front camera has become an essential feature for all smartphone users in the age of social media. It is a feature that some people cannot live without while some users do not mind giving it up.

In the past half a decade, smartphone manufacturers have been focussed on getting the best out of a smartphone camera, which has been the centre of innovation.

This article talks about a solution that manufacturers came up with in a bid to offer more exceptional front camera capabilities — rotatable camera modules in smartphones.

The rotatable modules make the rear camera double up as a front camera. Higher image quality, image stabilisation hardware, and other such things can be afforded with this manoeuvre.

One crucial factor that comes under scrutiny with ideas like these are the durability of the units and most companies usually come up with numbers which signify that their product will be long-lasting, but everyone knows even a little bit of dust can go a long way in harming the hardware of the device.

Some of the design choices and smartphones with these unique modules have been listed and talked about below.

Also read: Why do smartphones have so many cameras? How many do you really need?

The past: A rotating module and hinged design

A rotating module is the most generic type of design that was first made available to the public. It was popularised by the Oppo N1, which was the first phone to use a rotating module and CyanogenMod.

Rotating camera modules: Past, present and what the future might hold
Oppo N1

The Oppo N1 had specs that made it a decent contender in the smartphone market at that point of time and has a 13MP rear camera, which was described as being adequate in terms of image quality.

The camera unit on this phone is a manual one to rotate and has no fancy motors like the current generation.

Oppo stated that this unit has been tested for 100,000 rotations and if you flip the unit 20 times a day it’s bound to last for at least ten years.

Reviewers have mentioned that the hinge does allow for various angles and holds it’s position firmly, be it in between of its range of motion. The camera also snaps back in into place when it is 5 degrees away from its default position.

Hinged design

Phones with a hinged design for the camera uses a mechanical part as well that requires a user to move the unit manually. Found on the Huawei Honor 7i this form uses a traditional hinge which we would see in our doors.

Rotating camera modules: Past, present and what the future might hold
Huawei Honor 7i

The hinge has a rigid structure allowing for different angular positions which bring variety in the types of photos taken. Huawei claims that the module can be rotated over 75,000 times and remain firm; it can also withstand 50kg worth of weight.

The phone, on the other hand, comes with mid-range specs and has a 13MP rotatable sensor.

The present: Slider with a rotating camera

The designs mentioned above define the past of rotatable cameras, and the design found on Samsung’s Galaxy A80 which we have covered in this article is what determines the present.

Samsung Galaxy A80 announced: Features, price and availability
The rear camera of the Galaxy A80 — sliding and rotating

While the units mentioned earlier were made to provide greater front camera functionality, this unit rose out of the current trend for bezel-less displays and in the process allows for a massive improvement in front camera performance.

The camera unit is one that is motorised and is housed in a motorised sliding unit. A lot of motorised there, also bringing with it a lot of chances for problems.

The unit works in a two-fold system where the slider comes up first and is then followed by the rotating camera.

This allows for the 48MP primary camera, the ultra-wide lens and the 3D-depth sensor present to work in conjunction to enable live-focus selfies and videos with greater separation between the foreground and background.

Samsung Galaxy A80 announced: Features, price and availability
The front camera of the Galaxy A80 — slid up and rotated

Dust and dirt are the main enemies of this unit, in case of the older generation design, there was still a chance to clean off some grime and dirt which collected because of the open mechanism. In Samsung’s case, the motors are hidden away, and any bring uncertainty in case of its durability.

Samsung has not made any claims about the unit’s durability when compared to its competition.

Also read: The return of sliding phones: Are they here to stay?

The future

Rotating camera modules may have been a unique design choice but as apparent from the article – moving parts can be a hassle in the long term. The future of the front camera is one that is full of uncertainty.

Some companies are adding other displays while some are making sliders while the others are folding theirs to provide front camera capabilities. Examples of these are the Vivo Nex Dual Display, the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 and the Huawei Mate X.

The return of sliding phones: Are they here to stay?
Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 has a sliding front cam

The Vivo Nex Dual Display avoids the need for a moving part while adding another screen. The Xiaomi keeps a moving part but instead of having a fully exposed module or one that is completely sealed — it uses a module with magnets and a physical slider like the phones of the past.

Lastly comes the Mate X, which folds a section of the display next to the camera set up to allow for ease of usage.

Conclusion

Rotating modules are for sure on their way out due to the uncertainty of their durability and the advancements being made are sure to satisfy the needs of the consumers.

A slider which is dependent on the user is undoubtedly more reliable than a motor controlled by software, while a secondary display brings with it an opportunity for more features.

While the future of the front camera remains uncertain, it sure is set to be full of innovations and surprises, and we’re for sure looking forward to that.

Also read: Cinematography 101: How to record cinematic footage from your DSLR?

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