Not all camera phones are created equal. The images they produce depend heavily on the quality of the sensor, the types of materials from which the components are made and the capabilities of the software system that processes the images. As a general rule, you get what you pay for: A cheap phone that came free with your service plan is unlikely to produce the results that a more costly one does. And while it can be hard to find the specifications for a phone's camera, there are some things you can look for to ensure that you're buying the best device you can afford.
One of the most difficult qualities to judge in a camera phone is the image resolution. In an ideal world, the image resolution would be directly related to the megapixel count, or the number of light-sensing photosites on a camera's complimentary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) chip. Most camera phones offer at least two megapixels -- enough for a clear 4 by 6 print -- but some can shoot as many as 12 megapixels. While this measure can be useful, image resolution depends on a number of other factors. One is the size of the sensor and the spacing of its photosites. The small sensors and tiny photosites common on many camera phones can create visual "noise," or grain, in low-light situations, making them useless for many applications. An inadequate image-processing system or a low-quality lens may also compromise image resolution.
The lens is another important aspect in determining image quality. Be sure to choose a camera with a glass lens rather than a plastic one, and look for a lens that bears the name of a reputable optics maker. An optical zoom is also a useful feature for a camera phone lens. This mechanism allows the user to magnify the image within the frame without compromising picture quality, unlike the more common digital zoom feature that simply crops the larger image. Other useful characteristics to look for include autofocus and aperture settings. With autofocus, a photographer can push the shutter-release button halfway down and it will focus on the object in the center of the frame, allowing for greater user control. Aperture settings can indicate a camera's versatility: While most camera phone settings are fixed between f/2.8 and f/4.0, look for one that can be adjusted across a wide range.
Having the right equipment is only part of taking good cell phone pictures. Read on to discover helpful tips and techniques for shooting photographs.