Some say that two different Android smartphones with the same sensor have different picture quality because of the software. What do they mean?

The software, in this case, is it a camera app or something low-level, OS-specific, drivers, etc?

I totally understand that the camera is great in a smartphone because of the lens, sensor, pixel size, OS, and software. So what is software in that case?

2 Answers 2


Camera does not give you the raw data it captures. Before it outputs the format you desire, the data will be processed by a set of algorithm implemented differently by each manufacturers, giving effects such as sharpening, denoising and anti-Moire. How they decide to implement it is beyond our discussion.

Manufacturers keep the algorithm private, so in many cases it's unclear whether it's only in the drivers (blobs) or requires both the app and the low level to work together. However, it's clear that without these proprietary algorithms, image quality will degrade more or less, as evident in custom ROMs without the camera blobs. In Sony's case, that algorithm can also get lost once you unlock the bootloader, causing equally significant effect.

  • but is it possible (in theory) to process the captured data on a software level? What do I mean? As you said on some custom ROMs no proprietary algorithms applied. It means that we're able to read that data and apply our algorithms. Isn't? Or it's not possible because of lack available documentation for those sensors, chipsets etc? Dec 21, 2016 at 12:36
  • @user1016265 As long as the ROM itself also supports RAW output you could just export it and do any edit yourself.
    – Andy Yan
    Dec 21, 2016 at 13:10
  • oh, you wanna say that if ROM supports output in RAW format, then it's the best quality what you're able to get it from that sensor? Or some proprietary algorithms would be applied still? Dec 21, 2016 at 14:00
  • I'm not entirely sure about that, but yes since it's RAW it has the best potential. Editing on PC beats anything on the phone, of course.
    – Andy Yan
    Dec 21, 2016 at 14:45

The software controls the camera settings like aperture, exposure, iso and also autofocus. So if the software sets wrong settings or just uses settings which aren't perfect and another software uses better settings, you get a different image quality with the same camera.

The same counts for manual camera settings. If you configure your camera wrong, you get imperfect pictures.

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