After yet another round of relative incremental upgrades as compared to their previous generations flagships, in this case Samsung Galaxy S8, Samsung needed their new flagship, Galaxy S9, to have a “wow” factor that sets it apart from the crowd. For the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus, Samsung added another tool to its photography arsenal: a variable aperture. This provided the much needed solace to their fans who weren’t compelled to buy one for the subtle differences between it and it’s predecessors.
The Galaxy S9 ships with a new 12 megapixel rear camera capable of switching between f/1.5 and f/2.4 apertures. So, what exactly is variable aperture and why is it such a big deal?
The aperture of a lens determines the amount of light that a camera sensor receives.To understand what it achieves, think of it as the eyes of a human body. When it’s bright, your eyes squint and when it’s dark your eyes open wide. The aperture inside a lens does the same thing for a camera. This technology is nothing new and has been around since the 1800s. When looking down the barrel of a DSLR, you will notice a series of aperture blades that form a circular opening. These blades can widen and narrow to different sizes. If it’s dark, the blades widen to let in more light. If it’s bright, they narrow to create a smaller opening that lets in less light. Amongst DSLR and handheld cameras, this is a ubiquitous feature but not since 2009’s Nokia N86 has the world seen a phone with variable aperture, and Samsung’s revival of that feature has stirred up interest in this long lost feature.
It should also be noted that with f/1.5, the Galaxy S9’s lens has the widest aperture ever seen on a phone.The advantage of these insanely wide apertures is that they improve a camera’s performance in low-light situations. But the bigger the opening for light to enter, the harder it is to keep the entire image looking crisp and sharp. Herein lies the cleverness and years of business superiority of Samsung, while recognizing that being the first to f/1.5 is a nice marketing claim to have, it has also ameliorated the issues that such a lens would pose by implementing a variable aperture camera module. Now that’s hitting two birds with one stone! It can use f/2.4 to capture sharp images in good light, and switch to a wider f/1.5 aperture to gather more light in a dark environment thus soaking up more light so the shot looks brighter.This would produce notably better pictures despite the lighting conditions.
The dual-aperture system is indeed an impressive feat of engineering achieved by Samsung, and the consumers are sure to be in its awe while it’s a bold statement by Samsung to its competitors: The game is on!