Selfie Camera Phone Buying Guide

January 24, 2016

selfie picture of a man doing weird face

If you are like me and love taking selfies, you probably want to make sure that you are peaking up a conventional camera or a mobile phone camera that can take gorgeous selfies. Some cameras indeed to that better than others. In this article I want to talk about the specs and features that are important to look for when buying a new mobile phone.

Field of View and Focal Length

lensThe field of view is measured in degrees and it signifies the angle of the captured frame. Subjects outside it won’t appear in the image. Mobile phone cameras have lenses and in most cases, the manufacturer of the phone tells us the focal length of the lens. The focal length of the lens is the distance between the first lens element and the image sensor. We can translate the focal length into a field of view and his can tells us how wide the lens is.

You actually want to find the 35mm equivalent focal length, because it makes it easier to calculate (I’m using a focal length to FOV calculator websites, like this one) how wide the field of view is. If the focal length give isn’t an equivalent one, we need to know the crop factor of the sensor, and multiply the actual focal length by that number in order to get the 35mm equivalent one.

Many  photographers are used to the focal length terms and know more or less what to expect when they shoot with a specific lens. Let me give you an example.

The iPhone 6S Plus and 6S both have a rear facing camera of 29mm effective focal length lens. This is the 35mm equivalent focal length that takes the sensor size (its crop factor) into account in the calculations. In fact, the actual focal length of the lens is 4.2mm.

29mm is translated to 73.4°  FOV (using the formula FOV = 2 arctan (x / (2 f)) ).  The 6S front camera is 2.65mm (31mm effective), less wide than the rear camera and equivalent to 69.8° FOV.

In comparison, the Google Nexus 6P has a 26mm effective focal length ( = 79.5° FOV) for its selfie front camera, which is considerably wider than the 6S Plus front camera. The Galaxy Note 5 has even a wider angle lens of 22mm effective focal length ( = 89.0° FOV). So the Note 5 front camera can capture a wider field of view. This means that compared to the iPhone 6s 31mm, you’ll be able to fit more of the surroundings inside the frame, and you can hold the camera closer to your face and still all your face will appear in the image.

That being said, when shooting with wide angle lenses distortions may occur, especially around the edges of the frame. In modern form those distortions can be correct via software when capturing images and digitally correct the barrel distortions and output an undistorted image. It’s done behind the scene and it’s seamless to the photographer.

LG came out with a very cool idea. Its V10 smartphone has dual selfie cameras on the front that allows you to choose between 80 degree or 120 degree field of view (or sometimes referred to as angle of view, which is the same but a different term). So this is why the LG V10 with its dual selfie cameras was such a big success among selfie and groufie shooter.

In this image on CNET, you can clearly see that there is a huge difference between 80-degrees and 120-degrees field of view. The 120-degree selfie has more distortions, but it’s fairly undistorted at the center, only at the edge you can clearly notie the distortions. This allows you to easily capture excellent group photos, that with a regular selfie front camera you wouldn’t able to achieve.  You can capture selfies with more visuals of the area around you in the background.

So when you choose a phone, make sure that it has a front camera with a focal length lens or a unique implementation like the one on the V10 that can provide you with the results you are looking. Keep in mind that the distortions can be easily corrected using various apps or using a software on your computer, so don’t be bothered by the edges distortions to much, it can be corrected.

Low Light Performance

night moon and cloudsNot many people pay attention to it, but it’s very important to also inspect the front camera specs, not just the main ones. Many people shoot selfies at night, where light sometimes isn’t optimal to get a well exposed shot. You probably don’t want to be limited by this, and you want to be able to capture selfies even when it’s getting dark.

To be able to do so, you need to make sure that the camera is equipped with the right hardware. The first thing is the lens aperture. The lens aperture is measured using an f-number (e.g. f/2.4, F1.4), sometimes written with or without a slash. The lower that number is, the more light that can pass through the lens. So you should prefer a F1.8 lens over an F2.0 one. You want the most light possible to pass through the lens and reach the sensor. More light means better low-light performance.

However, the aperture is not the only important thing. The sensor technology, the pixel size and image processing are also very important. You generally should prefer a back-illuminated or Stacked sensor. Both have been proven to provide higher sensitivity than front-illuminated sensors. Most of the mobile phones today use back-illuminated sensor, but Stacked sensor like Sony Exmor RS ones has shown better results due to better layer separation.

Having said that, there can be a big difference between two sensors depends on the pixel size. A sensor can be bigger than the other, but if it’s pixels are smaller, less light can be gathered for each photosite. Sensor technologies are continuously improving, and we already see some sensors with smaller pixels that outperform those with larger pixels. It depends on the combination of pixel size, sensor technology and image processing. Because not all can be directly measured, people are following lab test results like the one DxOMark are doing, to measure the sensor performance between and rate it.  DxOMark does it very well and rate each phone in various aspects, including its high ISO performance.

This is why its important to read reviews and also visit their website to see how a camera is relatively compared to another camera.

I personally browse through the Internet and view high ISO sample images, which give me an essence of the camera performance. Just don’t be confused with reviews testing only the rear camera, although some smartphone have a rotating / flip up camera which is also serves as a selfie camera when rotated forward (e.g. Oppo N3, Huawei Honor 7i).

Selfie Apps

mobile appAlmost all phones come with unique camera apps, but you should be paying attention to the ones for the front camera. Indeed, you can download apps from the app stores, but usually those bundles apps are already optimized for the built-in camera and are implemented natively in the phone’s native camera app. It makes it fast and easy to use filters like ‘Beauty’ filters and such, straight from the native camera app user interface.

Skin Tone & Imperfections to Perfection

smiley faceSome cameras render skin tones better than others. It’s also important to make sure that the image processing and white balance does a good job making you look at your best, not making your skin tone look colder or warmer than it should be for best looking results. You can find more information about it in phone camera reviews on the Internet. Just search for the phone’s model with the term “skin tone”, and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of information about it on sites that review the camera performance in-depth.

Keep in mind that even for skin tones, there are apps that you can use modify your face complexion, and even automatically remove wrinkles and pimples. They automatically detect imperfections to produce a more natural look and make you look at your best. Great for a Facebook profile picture or just experimenting with it for fun.

Some of the popular ones are Perfect365, Facetube, Pixtr, Photo makeover, Beauty Booth Pro, Visage Lab, Beauty Camera, PicBeauty and there are many others photo retouching apps which are designed to enhance your selfies.


When it’s time to choose your next phone, make sure you take those things that I’ve mentioned into account. Then you can be sure that you get a phone with a camera that can give you the best looking selfies for sharing with your friends and the world.  Happy selfiing!

Everything useful to add to our readers? – please share your recommendations in the comment section below.


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