Are camera bumps becoming a symbol of photography prowess?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Are camera bumps becoming a symbol of photography prowess?
Camera bumps on smartphones are a common subject for discussions among tech enthusiasts. As phones became slim and sleek, camera assemblies started protruding from the backs of devices in various shapes and forms. And while initially it was thought that this design flaw will be something manufacturers will be able to iron out in a generation or two, the reality turned out to be quite different.

Оf course, there are phones that don’t have camera bumps and we’ll talk about them as well, but overall, they’re a design element that’s prominent on almost all smartphones these days. So why is that? Is it really so hard to squeeze that last millimeter of the camera within the body of the phone? Maybe. But maybe there’s more to camera bumps than we think.

Cameras: the horns smartphones smash against each other


As system chips reached a level where upgrades are hardly distinguishable by the user, smartphone makers started focusing on something more tangible: cameras. These days, camera performance can make or break a smartphone, as it was proved by the Pixel 3a (when it comes to making it) and countless flagships that remain in the shadows because of their sub-par photo image quality.

During announcements of new phones, significant parts of the presentations are focused on cameras. Slides and videos highlighting the different sensors, shooting modes, AI and video recording capabilities are abundant and made to look as impressive as possible.

But most people don’t tune in to watch the launch of their future phone or care enough to even check the device’s official webpage. So, how can manufacturers keep sending the message that their phone has a superior camera performance long after the release of their phone? One way is through ongoing marketing campaigns that feature TV ads, billboards and even Tweets from movie stars. That’s not only expensive but not feasible for all models, all the time, and in every market. Which is why manufacturers have taken a more direct and somewhat primitive approach: designing the camera modules to make a statement themselves.
 
But before we get to that “advanced” function of camera bumps, let’s talk about why they even exist. In one word: physics.

Camera bumps, why even have them?


Despite phone manufacturers being able to shrink down cameras to minuscule proportions with amazing capabilities, there are still some constraints they have to adhere to. How camera optics work is not the focus of this article so won’t bore you with the details, but the gist of it is that there’s a certain length (or thickness depending on how you look at it) the camera needs in order to provide a respectable image quality. And as other hardware components shrunk and smartphones became slimmer, manufacturers had no choice but to let the cameras stick out from the body of the phone, creating what we call a camera bump.

While camera bumps aren’t usually aesthetically pleasing and some stick out even when the phone has a case on, phone makers try to design them to be extra durable by reinforcing them with a metal lining or using sapphire glass over the lenses for extra scratch resistance.

Of course, not all phones have a camera bump. One way it can be avoided is by increasing the overall thickness of the phone. This also allows for a bigger battery and other components to be included, so there’s no definitive right or wrong solution. Some users don't mind the additional weight if it means longer battery life and cleaner-looking design.

But having a camera bump might have an extra benefit that has nothing to do with sensor sizes and light capture.

When it comes to photography, size matters


We’ve all been in a situation where you’re on a trip taking a picture with your smartphone while the person next to you whips out a DSLR camera with a lens bigger than your forearm and starts machine-gunning everything in sight. That person might be a pro or might have just bought that equipment yesterday and doing everything wrong, but internally, you’re impressed nevertheless.

With smartphones, the hardware differences aren’t that drastic yet, but they do exist and I think they matter more than people realize.

Let’s take for example the Huawei P30 Pro and the Oppo Reno 10x Zoom. Both have a three-camera setup with one of the cameras being a periscope one. However, while the Oppo has its cameras flush with the back panel with only a change in texture noticeable when you slide your finger over them, on the Huawei, there is a massive camera bump in a color that contrasts with the rest of the back panel. So, we decided to have a small experiment.

We took both phones and showed them (hiding any branding) to people in our office building that are not part of the PhoneArena team. We asked them to tell us, based purely on what they see, which one they think has the better camera. The vast majority pointed towards the P30 Pro with one participant saying “This one looks uglier so it’s probably the better one.” in reference to Huawei’s flagship.

As silly as it may sound to give such power to something as simple as the way the cameras look, the reality is that when people don’t have sufficient information to draw conclusions from, they go for what their instincts tell them. In this case: bigger camera = better camera. We see that with megapixels all the time: people not familiar with camera technology these days assume that more megapixels is strictly better because all they see are numbers on a specs sheet.

And as the battle for market share is getting fiercer, manufacturers are right to further highlight camera bumps as an additional and easy-to-read sign that they have the superior camera customers want. The opinion from above about the P30 Pro’s ugly bump is not wrong either, it’s very likely that companies are deliberately making camera bumps rougher looking and not as sleek as the rest of the phone, to give a “professional” vibe to their camera setup. 

Time to emphasize the hardware


We have two very fresh examples of this trend and they’re coming from some of the biggest players in the game.

Google, which loved boasting about the greatness it achieved with the single camera of its Pixel phones, is going full-on camera island for the Pixel 4. The design Google itself teased on Twitter shows a camera bump with two lenses and an undisclosed sensor but enough real estate for at least another camera. This is a massive change from all previous Pixel models and it shows that Google is shifting to a higher gear when it comes to camera performance. We’re not sure what the company will deliver, but the excitement is already high.

On the other side of the battlefield, Apple seems to be aiming for the same effect. Although nothing official has come out of Cupertino yet, all leaks point towards 2019 iPhones with a massive square camera bump as well. Unlike the Pixel, future iPhones will have three different camera lenses, and quite large ones at that if the renders are to be believed.

With iPhones multiple generations back running the latest iOS as fluidly as the latest models, cameras have become one of the biggest differentiators between models. And while the iPhone XS has a noticeable but still somewhat discreet camera bump, with the iPhone 11, Apple is making a big sacrifice in the looks department to emphasize the new and improved camera capabilities. Тhe new iPhone will have the most prominent camera bump of all and by a large margin. That is, again, if the leaks are true.

Samsung is not losing ground in this race either. While the “bumps” on the S10 devices don’t stick out as much as those on competing flagships, the cameras are clearly the focal point of the rear design. The quad-camera setup of the S10 5G model is intimidating, and it's not even the focus of the device. The company is also quite generous with cameras for its lower-tier smartphones from the Galaxy A line, where four cameras appeared together for the first time.

How far will manufacturers go before they move to something else to compete for? Can we see the return of the telescopic lenses popping up from the back of phones? Or will everything remain hidden in the body and eventually we’ll see camera bumps disappear once and for all? As much as we want to see how good smartphone cameras can get, we’re definitely not looking forward to even uglier camera bumps. But as the saying goes: this too shall pass.

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22 Comments

1. shield

Posts: 869; Member since: Sep 12, 2015

No! LG G8 no ugly f**king camera: bump and good camera: other is stupid.

5. eausa

Posts: 86; Member since: Feb 28, 2019

Exactly. Camera bumps are there because of limitations. Limitations that LG seemed to have solved. I don't understand why these guys are putting a spin on something so obvious.

2. notfair

Posts: 767; Member since: Jan 30, 2017

"Camera bumps, why even have them?" - Because apple invented the "thin phone" trend and other OEM's followed and apparently the masses do want thinner phones which translates to smaller batteries; who would've guessed that the masses are stupid...

9. oldskool50 unregistered

They know why. In their older reviews of Samsung phones that had bumps, they hated and described them as disgusting. But now they flip flop and want us to embrace them. Just like they blasted Samsung for having oversaturated photos and liked Apple for more natural look. Now its reversed and Samsung has the .ore natural look and Apple is way over saturated. Funny how they don't bring it up. Such hypocrites!!!!!

11. midan

Posts: 3123; Member since: Oct 09, 2017

"Now its reversed and Samsung has the .ore natural look and Apple is way over saturated. Funny how they don't bring it up." iPhone photos aren't oversatured. Photos look very natural. Apple had few years ago time with their candy colors, thank god they came back to more natural, which always been Apple strong point. As i'm Owner of X and taken thousands of photos with this, the photos look very close to real life. And every reviewers are saying exact same about iPhone cam. So this is propably only in your head like that Apple selling 150m iPhones this year thing :D

14. Vancetastic

Posts: 1771; Member since: May 17, 2017

I didn’t see your comment on the portrait photo article...you know, the comparison that iPhone didn’t win? Hmmm.

20. Marcwand3l

Posts: 456; Member since: May 08, 2017

"iPhone photos aren't oversatured. Photos look very natural." No, they objectively don't look very natural.

10. midan

Posts: 3123; Member since: Oct 09, 2017

With current big phones trend thinner phone just makes the phone feel a lot smaller, it's that simple. Before we had small phones which were very thick and yet they felt small.

18. TheOracle1

Posts: 2340; Member since: May 04, 2015

"With current big phones trend thinner phone just makes the phone feel a lot smaller, it's that simple." HUH? I know you and Leo are part of the iFive but wtf are you blabbering about? Camera humps are on the back. Thinness/thickness? Smh. Leo would be proud but the two of you generally outdo each other with garbage posts.

3. User123456789

Posts: 1176; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

They use this bulge because they want too. They could easily add thickness to the body. They dont because users will complain if they also dont increase battery. My phone has 1/2.3" , no bulge

4. jjface

Posts: 258; Member since: Jun 07, 2017

Are you setting up to praise the iphone xi?

6. surethom

Posts: 1730; Member since: Mar 04, 2009

Dont bother me as always but a ultra thin case on the back, but make the phone the 0.2 or 0.5 thicker & put a bigger battery in the phone.

7. LawnBoy

Posts: 203; Member since: Feb 23, 2019

Solution: make phones to at least thickness of the camera. More space = larger battery and maybe we can keep the headphone jack:)

8. oldskool50 unregistered

Now you're acting like you are embracing camera bumps. But in your reviews of older Samsung phones, you showed nothing but hate and disgust for them. Such flip-flops here!!!!!

12. japkoslav

Posts: 1552; Member since: Feb 19, 2017

physics

13. monoke

Posts: 1197; Member since: Mar 14, 2015

I hate them but I'm beginning to think OEMs do add bumps on purpose, mainly as aesthetics despite how thick a phone is. Even Xperias have them now even with thicker devices than years past. I don't know about bumps associating with thoughts of better camera becuz 95% of phones have bumps so where's the differentiation?

15. JCASS889

Posts: 613; Member since: May 18, 2018

Phones are getting boring if this is what people are truly concerned with.

16. cmdacos

Posts: 4331; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

Thankfully I haven't had a phone with a protruding hump for a few years now. Thanks Samsung.

17. Cat97

Posts: 1979; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

No. .

19. NateAdam8

Posts: 439; Member since: Feb 17, 2012

Camera bugs exist because OEMs are trying to make phones thinner and lighter but I'd rather not have a camera bump and a bigger battery then a thin phone but that's just me as far as I don't know what others want. I think there are people that agree with me?.

21. Ericphoneareana

Posts: 1; Member since: Jun 21, 2019

The bumps are covered by the absolutely necessary phone case, as most phones are glassback. Or you go commando and get a new phone every 3 months when you drop it and it shatters. So who gives a fk

22. DaveElliott

Posts: 149; Member since: Sep 20, 2012

If a bump equated to having a much better sensor or lens assembly, what do I care if others are grasping their pearls about the back not being flat?

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