Galaxy S9 Variable Aperture Explained – Plain Gimmick or Something Truly Revolutionary for Smartphone Cameras?


Before the arrival of the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus, smartphones always came with a fixed aperture. The previous-generation Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus did not feature something called a variable aperture and shipped off with a single rear camera lens with an aperture of F/1.7. Manufacturers are now battling it out and allocating resources for improving the cameras extensively on their devices, starting with the P20 Pro, the world’s first rear triple camera smartphone.

The Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9 Plus might not have three lenses incorporated at the back side, but that variable aperture feature is something that is a first on a mobile device and will provide a safe landing for other phone manufacturers to try and improve with their own handset iterations in the coming years. We take a closer look at how this variable aperture in these two devices work and how it could, or could not be beneficial for future devices.

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Variable Aperture Has Been Around Since Early Film Photography

To think it came to smartphones this late. Variable aperture simply means that the camera is able to change its aperture depending on the surrounding factors. For those who are familiar with camera terminology, an aperture is a term referring to how large the opening of the lens is. The bigger the opening, the more light the lens will be able to capture and project on the sensor.

In areas where there are limited sources of light, a smartphone with a wider aperture will be able to create a brighter and clearer image because the lens is able to capture more light. This is going to be the exact opposite for narrower apertures. Sadly, because smartphones are compact devices, they will always use a fixed aperture unlike what you get with DSLR or mirrorless cameras.

Things are taking a different turn now with the materialization of the variable aperture. However, it is much different from a DSLR in the sense that you cannot alter the aperture according to your liking. Here are more details that you’d like to read about.

Variable Aperture - How Does It Work?

A dedicated camera will be able to provide you with a varied number aperture value that you can adjust yourself but both the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus come with two aperture values; F/1.5 and F/2.4. What this means is that both devices are able to switch from F/1.5 and F/2.4 depending on the surrounding light but the aperture values cannot switch to numbers such as F/2.0 or F/1.6.

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While the aperture value will automatically switch according to the lighting conditions, users can also switch between these values manually if they feel they possess a better understanding of lighting conditions. Now here is the interesting bit. The dual aperture is present in the same lens thanks to a moving piece called an iris that adjusts the size of the lens opening.

This prevents customers from purchasing the more expensive Galaxy S9 Plus, who’s secondary lens has 2x optical zoom and a narrower aperture. Since this is a first time for the feature to show up in smartphones, we will be calling it a revolutionary piece of technology for mobile computing devices because fitting aperture blades inside a tiny smartphone is a marvelous feature of engineering, even though you should be reminded that having a dual aperture does not give you access to features like optical zoom.

Can You Use the F/1.5 Aperture Mode All the Time?

Of course, you can, because we mentioned earlier that the smartphone has a manual option that allows you to switch between aperture values at your own behest. Unfortunately, that is not going to be a good idea and we’ll explain why. The aperture changes the amount of light that is let into the sensor, but it also changes how soft or out-of-focus the background is.

As a result, the F/2.4 will shoot sharper images as compared to the low-light F/1.5 value. If you’re not a camera buff and just want to take pleasant images, we’d recommend leaving the variable aperture value on automatic mode for now.

How Extensive can the Variable Aperture Mode Become on Other Devices in the Future?

Optimizing a smartphone’s aperture to change values is a great way to make pictures come out differently, depending on the lighting conditions as we mentioned previously. While some manufacturers might boldly want to add three camera lenses on their smartphones, a variable aperture in the future could see several values. Perhaps we could see three or four aperture ratings in devices to really improve the optics functionality of mobile phones.

Having more than two aperture values can give a more in-depth smartphone camera experience to pro users too. At least for a couple of years, we do not see a market where users will effortlessly be able to change the aperture value like they do on DSLR on mirrorless cameras but who knows? The way the industry is moving, I honestly will not be surprised if we see devices that allow users to switch values with a factor of 0.1 (for example switch from F/2.0 to F/1.9 with just a click of a button).

The variable aperture feature is a very unique addition to the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus though it goes without saying that the feature can be improved extensively within the coming years. Let us know what you think if the feature is nothing more than a gimmick on a premium phone or is this the start of something new in smartphone camera photography tech. Do tell us down in the comments.