While Nokia may have had patents and the potential to bring variable aperture technology to smartphone cameras years ago — back when the Lumia brand was gaining traction and Windows Phone still had a future — it is Samsung that has finally made it a reality with the launch of their newest flagship, the Galaxy S9.
Touting the ability to capture photos at both f/2.4 and f/1.5 apertures Samsung's latest should have a significant advantage over rivals when it comes to shooting low-light scenes. For the uninitiated, the aperture refers to the hole at the front of the lens in which light enters and the f number or stop describes the size of the opening. In general, a lower stop is preferred for low-light photography as it allows more of the limited photons to enter the camera and in turn results in better, brighter images. Higher stops, meanwhile, are used for well-lit situations, as restricting some of the ample light results in greater sharpness and detail. The S9 will intelligently switch between the two apertures by activating its physical shutter mechanism and selecting the best mode of the scene it's presented with.
Having just two apertures to work with may sound unimpressive, especially when compared to dedicated cameras that have had far more stops as standard since the late 1800s, but this is a first for such a miniaturised module and doubtless only the beginning. I firmly subscribe to the sentiment that the best camera being the one you have on you, and as such am always excited to the advancements smartphone manufactures continue to bring to the table. I eagerly await the early reviews, which should start dropping ahead of the device's release on March 16, to see if Samsung can dethrone Google's Pixel 2 as the phone with the best optics.