The History of the Camera Phone

The Evolution of the Camera Phone

Think about it, we now live in world where we can take a camera, a calculator, a clock, a phone, a notebook, a personal computer, a detailed map of the world, a compass and an entertainment center can be held in one hand.  What a time to be alive, right?  They say that necessity is the mother of invention and I couldn’t agree more.  With each passing day, we find more aspects of our lives that we can improve on, innovate, reinvent.  If you had told me thirty years ago that I would be able to use a phone to take pictures, I would have laughed at the absurdity and asked you what sci-fi novel you’re currently reading.  Today though, that far-fetched idea is now a reality that is still evolving, still improving.


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Pixelated Prelude

The camera phone has indeed come a long way since its pixelated low-res predecessors.  It all started with the SCH-V200, the first cell phone with a built-in camera from Samsung.  It was initially released in South Korea in June of 2000.  Essentially, the camera and the phone components were separate devices sharing one body.  To access the photos on the SCH-V200, the phone had to be hooked up to a computer.  Additionally it was only capable of taking 20 photos at a 0.35 megapixel resolution.

First Camera Phone - Samsung SGH-V2000
First Camera Phone – Samsung SGH-V2000
Image courtesy of:


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In November of the same year, Sharp produced and released what they argue is the first real camera phone in Japan– the J-SH04.  It could take photos at 0.11 megapixels and it allows the user to send their photos electronically.

First Camera Phones - Sharp J-SH04
First Camera Phones – Sharp J-SH04 Image courtesy of:


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Two years after camera phones blew up in popularity in Asia, the U.S. mobile company Sprint, decided to join the party and came out with the Sanyo SCP-5300.  It could take pictures at 640×480 pixels and had basic flash, a self-timer, digital zoom, a 0.3 megapixel capability and had the additional feature of various filters such as black and white, sepia and others.  It was initially priced at US$400 and had a hefty clamshell design.

First Camera Phone - Sanyo 5300
First Camera Phone – Sanyo 5300
Image courtesy of:


The camera phone’s popularity took off and by 2003, over 80 million units have been sold worldwide.  As its popularity soared, its prices dropped.  In July 2004, Sprint (Audiovox) released the PM8920, the first phone in the U.S. which boasted a 1.3 megapixel camera with more additional features like the multi-shot and a dedicated camera button.  Priced at US$150, it was definitely a step in the right direction.

First Camera Phone - Sprint PM 8920
First Camera Phone – Sprint PM 8920
Image courtesy of:


Towards the end of 2004, the camera phone’s popularity was at an all-time high.  Nokia, a Finnish manufacturer was leading the way, producing better camera phones with clearer and bigger resolutions with a wider array of additional features.  More and more, the camera part of the camera phone has become the main feature.


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Megapixel Main Events

These days, the camera phone is steadily keeping its pole position as the number 1 most revolutionized feature in smartphones.   Not only can you take better photos, you can also do photo manipulation, instant social media sharing, animation and print out high-resolution copies.   The top 2 players in the camera phone field, Apple and Samsung, continually find ways to improve and outdo their last versions and each other’s.  The iPhone 6 and the Samsung Galaxy S6 camera phones are the latest installments in the war of the camera phones.   By the looks of it, the camera phone future is bright and show no signs of stopping any time soon.


Some key phones:


These were the 2 phones to have a built-in camera. Samsung’s was released in June 2000 and Sharp’s was in November 2000. SCH-V200’s camera had 0.35 megapixels. It could take 20 photos but you can only view the photos if you connect the phone to a computer. The J-Phone or J-SH04’s camera had a 0.11 megapixel camera, and unlike the SCH-V200, it allows users to view the captured photos and send it electronically.

SANYO SCP-5300 (2002)

SCP-5300 was released in November 2002 and it’s the first camera phone from the U.S. It had a 0.3 megapixel capability that could capture images with a 640 x 480 pixels. The camera also has features such as white balance control, self-time, digital zoom, and various filter effects.


Audiovox was released in July 2004. It had a huge spike in image quality as it has 1.3 megapixels. The pictures could be passed wirelessly and the quality is good enough for it to be printed. Settings of the camera include a multi-shot feature that was capable of taking 8 quick photos straight.

NOKIA N90 (2005)

By 2005, Nokia lifted camera phones to a new level by releasing N90, which had a 2 megapixel capability. Features of the camera were LED flash, Carl Zeiss optics, and autofocus. The rotating screen was also well-received because it was ahead of its time.

SONY ERICSSON K800i (2006)

By 2006, Sony Ericsson took notice to Nokia’s prominence in phones—camera phones to be exact. They rivalled Nokia by releasing the K800i, which had a 3.2 megapixel camera that included Xenon flash, auto-focus, and image stabilization.

NOKIA N95 (2007)

At the time of its release, 5 megapixels looked like the pinnacle of camera phones and Nokia was the undisputed king of all of it. Even the 1st iPhone only had a 2MP camera. The N95 had a 5MP camera, the famed Carl Zeiss Lens, and it records videos at 30-frames-per-second.


In 2008, Samsung came out of the 5MP shell and released INNOV8, the highest that time. This didn’t translate to the phone’s popularity though, as you can see in the image to the left, the design was very much like Nokia’s N series—which was a little played out at that time. The growing popularity of the smartphones also hurt their stock.

NOKIA LUMIA 1020 (2013)

Enter mid-2013… Just as the battle for the highest MP for a camera phone was dying down, Nokia unleashes an astonishing comeback: Lumia 1020. The camera’s megapixel? A whopping 41! Their reign for having the highest MP will last for a long long time. Other features of the camera includes Carl Zeiss optics, optical image stabilization, auto/manual focus, and Xenon & LED flash.