Dual-camera dupe: some smartphones with dual-camera setups only have one camera enabled
Dual-camera setups are the future of smartphone photography. Tech journalists have said it. Market analysts have said it. Hell, even Apple, a company notoriously slow to adopt new mobile technologies (wireless charging, anyone?), bit the bullet with last year’s iPhone 7 Plus. With good reason, too; dual-camera setups allow for some incredible photography tricks that were previously only available via software, and these features (such as bokeh blur, depth sensing, and telephoto shots) were poor facsimiles at best.
We’ve seen a glut of dual-camera smartphones over the past year. Several (if not all) of this year’s flagships have or will sport two camera modules. Even the budget market offers dual-camera phones, most of which hail from China. However, with several of these phones, there’s more than meets the eye. The physical presence of two camera modules may not mean that both cameras actually work.
In a YouTube video posted earlier this morning, Mrwhosetheboss (a channel focused mainly on Chinese smartphone reviews) revealed that some Chinese mobile devices that claim to have two cameras actually only use one. The YouTuber took a closer look at the dual-camera setup on the Doogee Mix, a bezeless smartphone from China that claims to use both cameras to generate a bokeh-style effect in photos. However, Mrwhosetheboss discovered that one of the modules on the phone is actually never used; when that camera is completely obscured, the phone is still able to produce photos with the bokeh effect. Essentially, this means that the second camera is likely a dummied module and the bokeh effect is created entirely through software. The false camera was likely implemented to make the phone more appealing to unwary consumers. The “dual-camera setup” is nothing more than snake oil and marketing fluff.
Mrwhosetheboss isn’t the first tech reviewer to discover this sham. Another YouTuber by the name of AtomicShrimp released a video on July 8th calling out the same problem. It also seems like the “shamera” malady isn’t relegated to the Doogee Mix. Other cheap Chinese phones that purport a dual-camera setup may be pulling a similar trick. Mrwhosetheboss estimates that about 60% of supposed dual-camera phones are, in reality, single-camera devices. Although there’s no way to confirm the problem is this rampant, marketing a device as having two cameras when one is disabled is misleading and potentially illegal.
It should be noted that these claims don't apply to flagship phones from well-known brands. Smartphones like the LG G6, iPhone 7 Plus, and Samsung Galaxy Note 8 do in fact use both cameras and are true to the marketing behind their photographic prowess. Also, the tests performed in these videos are anecdotal. It could very well be that both reviewers had defective hardware or that the secondary cameras do work, but are of such poor quality that covering them up makes an indiscernible difference. Further testing is warranted before a solid conclusion can be reached. Regardless, these claims do point out a problem inherent in the oversaturated smartphone market: with so many manufacturers competing for the same consumers, some of them are going to lie.