Smartphone Camera Terminology Decoded


Everyone who owns a smartphone has at some point come across some rather unfamiliar and peculiar options. Often we see terms like ISO, Macro, Infinity, Bracketing, etc, but do we really understand what these mean?

So let’s get down to it and get a better understanding of how our phone’s camera works. Here’s a list of Smartphone camera terminology decoded…


Hmm… ISO *yawn*, does that stand for “I Sleep Often?” Contrary to what you think, ISO does not refer to your napping patterns. It is in fact an industry standard for your camera’s level of sensitivity to available light. In simple language, a low ISO number gives you a darker image with less noise (pixelation) while a higher ISO number gives you brighter shots, especially in low light, but adds more noise to the images.

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Shutter Speed

Fast shutter

A fast shutter speed can freeze an action completely

This has nothing to do with how fast shopkeepers can open or close their shops. Shutter Speed, which is sometimes referred to as exposure time, is the length of time the camera shutter stays open to let light onto the camera sensor. A fast shutter speed can freeze an action completely, like the Dolphin in the above image. Conversely, a slow shutter speed can give the effect of motion blur like in the waterfall in the image below. It is also important to note that a faster shutter speed will produce darker images while a slower shutter speed will give you brighter ones.

Slow Shutter

Slow shutter speed can give the effect of motion blur

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Macro Focus


Macro mode is used for really tiny objects such as insects, flowers, jewellery and small toys.

Macro focus is a term that refers to close-up photography. Macro mode is most often used when trying to get up close and personal with really tiny objects such as insects, flowers, jewellery and small toys. Check out the above photo of a tiny insect to get an idea of what macro photography is all about. So the next time you want to get a perfect picture of a flower, you know which mode to select on your camera phone!

Infinity Focus

Infinity focus

Infinity mode, adjusts your focus for distant objects

The opposite of macro focus, infinity mode, adjusts your focus for distant objects. It helps the user capture as much detail in his shot as possible. Ever tried capturing a picturesque landscape, only to realise that the mountains are slightly out of focus? Try using infinity mode here and you’ll get quite pleasant results!


Let’s not confuse this exposure with shutter speed exposure, although they pretty much work the same way. In most mobile phones, the option labelled as “Exposure” actually refers to “Exposure Compensation”.  If you feel your images are coming a little too bright or maybe a little too dark, simply adjust the exposure compensation settings accordingly to achieve the perfect picture. Simple?

HDR or HDR+ Mode

HDR refers to High Dynamic Range photography which basically enhances the dynamic colour range of your pictures. In English? All right. This mode takes several photos at varied exposure levels and then merges them into one image, to give you the best colours for darks, lights and mid tones. With HDR mode on, you will mostly have to hold the camera still for a second or two, to capture the image accurately. There is no need to use a tripod, as the images are shot at a quick shutter speed, but as there are multiple shots taken, it takes a few moments. This may not be the best mode for shots of moving objects, but it does exceedingly well for landscape photography.

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AWB stands for ‘Auto White Balance’ mode, and you usually have an option to change it to one of the other presets, namely, Incandescent, Sunny, Cloudy and Florescent. This option helps you adjust the temperature hue of your photographs. Again, in plain English, it refers to the reddish or bluish tinge that an image has. So for photos that are taken during a bright sunny day, AWB will automatically compensate for the extra reddish tinge and give you a pleasing image. Should you feel the need to experiment a bit, try changing to any of the above mentioned presets.

Now that you know how your smartphone camera works, get out there and get snapping!

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