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We still don't really know how good (or bad) the Surface Duo's camera will be

Surface Duo Camera
Surface Duo Camera (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Microsoft has finally unveiled all the details about the Surface Duo, its first dual-screen Android device. We know all the specs, its price, release date, and everything in between. We even know the specs of the camera, but we don't really know if those specs are any good.

On paper, the specs are more than adequate. An F/2.0 1.0um 11MP sensor is, while not the best, a pretty typical camera sensor found on phones these days. Yet, most people are assuming this camera will be bad, myself included. Perhaps that's because the few photo samples we've seen on social media so far don't paint a pretty picture.

But those photos were taken on prerelease hardware running unfinished software, so it's probably not fair to assume the camera is terrible based on those photos alone. Admittedly, I still think it's going to be mediocre, certainly not the best out there by a long shot. But I also don't think it'll be the worst thing we've ever seen either.

Microsoft not providing official sample shots from the Surface Duo's camera should be a big indicator that it hasn't focused on the camera with Surface Duo 1, and that it's probably not going to blow anyone's socks off. One of the big reasons the camera isn't going to be amazing is because Microsoft didn't want a camera bump on the inside or exterior of the product.

Hardware and software optimizations

Surface Duo Press Hero Pen Surface Earbuds

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Microsoft says it's using AI-optimization to enhance the quality of photos taken on Surface Duo using the built-in camera app. I assume this means that Microsoft is using some kind of computational photography behind the scenes to make photos look better as they're taken, as well as color correcting certain scenarios based on what you're actually taking a photo of.

Software can only go so far, however, and I doubt Microsoft's first attempt at this is going to trump the AI that Apple and Google are using in their phones. It is worth mentioning that Microsoft did tell us that the camera has the usual features such as night mode, portrait mode, slow motion mode, and 4K video support too.

Surface Duo FAQ: Everything you need to know

Where Surface Duo's camera will really fall down is in regards to the lack of versaility with only one sensor. Most phones these days have multiple camera sensors, which provide additional photography types including telephoto and ultrawide photography.

Surface Duo's single 84 degree camera isn't going to be able to compete in areas like this, no matter how good the sensor itself or AI optimization is. It's fair to say that camera phone photography nerds shouldn't buy the Surface Duo, but for people who don't much care about the camera will have no problems with what's included here.

It won't be like this forever

Andromeda EV4 Prototype

Source: MKBHD (Image credit: Source: MKBHD)

If Microsoft really wants to make a good phone with the Surface Duo, it will have to focus on the camera at some point in the future. Perhaps we'll see this with Surface Duo 2 or Surface Duo 3. The fact that Microsoft has already worked on AI optimization for the camera in Surface Duo 1 suggests that the company is already thinking about this, and hopefully it has big plans in store for future versions of the Surface Duo.

Of course, we'll have to wait and see the reviews to really understand how the camera performs. I think for a lot of people interested in Surface Duo, the camera will be fine. My prediction is that it'll take good enough photos in well-lit scenarios, but struggle significantly in low-light environments.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the Surface Duo's camera? Let us know in the comments.

Microsoft Surface Duo

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Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

42 Comments
  • Zac, do you know if there is any validity to this article? https://officerambo.com/microsoft-surface-duo-camera-features-everything...
  • Validity of what claims? There's nothing new I can see in that article.
  • Ahh ok. I don't recall seeing much detail about what the camera is capable of beyond specs, so maybe it's all standard stuff for camera phones (I don't take a lot of pictures), but I didn't know it had a 7x superzoom.
  • I care more about the experience. How easy is it to take a picture of something in front of you from book mode or from closed mode? What are the odds of trying to make a video call when folded all the way back but you have to flip the phone because you are using the screen without the front-facing camera. The lack of demo video makes me believe that it might be a little sub-optimal. I also wonder if the Camera app will support both screens even when folded all the way back. Like if you are trying to shoot a group photo from the opposite end, that group can see themselves? I suppose they really want you to do Microsoft Teams calls using book view more than using Office Lens.
  • During the Q&A with media they went into more depth about the camera and he showed how it worked in-real time.
  • Thanks for the reply Daniel. That's pretty encouraging.
  • I don't get how you can tell much from a heavily compressed image on social media. I think it will be fine for most people, but photography enthusiasts will probably hate it.
  • I guess it's an age thing, but I think the camera tech on phones is getting out of hand. There was a time when improving the tech involved in phone cameras was important because the earliest cameras were truly terrible and it was just the novelty of having a camera with you all the time. But for the past few years, even mid range phones can take pics that most users are perfectly satisfied with. The increasing size of camera bumps and number of lenses has approached the point of marginal actual gain but has become the best reason to bump up profit margins on the devices. Even when I owned the remarkable camera phone - the Nokia 1020, I still owned an actual quality SLR as well. People aren't buying as many SLRs or high end point and shooters these days because phone cameras are good enough for their needs. I suspect the Duo camera will be good enough, and that software updates will fix any issues discovered by wider use. The purpose of the Duo is not the be all-end all portable toaster fridge. It is a productivity device with a camera that can be used for Teams and still photography when needed. I'm certain many reviewers will miss this point entirely.
  • Agreed. Tech reviewers are obsessed over high end cameras on phones, but I think the vast majority of consumers are satisfied with good enough. It's not like everyone is out there trying to take photos for National Geographic.
  • This! I have been satisfied with phone cameras since Lumia 950 XL. Can't be bothered about the greatest cameras. I hardly take any photos though, so I may not be the typical customer.
  • What drives me nuts is that today's camera tech is all about making it obvious that the end result has nothing to do with the actual image you were to take. With all these shiny blur, beauty and HDR effects, the picture you took resembles nothing about reality. Phones become littered with fake photos.
  • This is my reply to one of our great group members who still has valid concerns about omitted hardware features in SDV1. It's very important that people understand this to perceive SDV1 correctly. "So, why not offer "extended memory"? I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, but you make it sound like MS doesn't want expandable storage as an option with Duo, and that's simply not the case. It's not about that. The reason Duo doesn't have expandable storage, NFC, or wireless charging, isn't because MS doesn't want Duo to have those things, rather because of packaging limitations with this all new from the ground up fist generation device. Developing a new type of device is tough. MS decided to focus on making this device relatively pocketable, and spend more engineering resources on ensuring the hinge works properly. Unfortunately, those things cause limitations, and in order for MS to maintain a focus on quality in those areas certain things had to be omitted this time around. MS wanted to perfect the basic form factor for version 1 and not let having to spend time cramming everything possibly available get in their way of perfecting the form factor. Microsoft has stated several times last week now that the basic form factor is where they want it they can begin work on adding other functions around Duo's foundation in future interations.. I personally think this is the best approach towards having a quality device in the long term. If Microsoft had lost focus, and just crammed everything in Duo at once, version 1 wouldn't have as good a hinge, would have been a thicker device, would not have the software experience that it does, and dispersing those engineering resources would have lead to many other things not being as good as they are for version 1. Instead, MS has decided to perfect Duo in stages. The first stage (SDV1) is about perfecting the software experience, and form factor. It's also about gathering data by feedback from the software experience, and seeing if the hardware has any physical limitations that need to be addressed. The second stage (SDV2) will be about further perfecting the software experience, form factor, and more focus on updating the hardware, and adding more functionality SDV1 was lacking. The third stage (SDV3 and beyond) will be about continuing to perfect the software, hardware, form factor, and the overall experience SD has to offer. (This is your killer device) This is EXACTLY how the Surface team has carried out making all of their Surface products good products, and they are good products... This stuff doesn't happen overnight, though. It's going to take some patience on our parts. The good thing is that MS is actually ahead of the curve this time. The foldable sector is new, and even Apple isn't in the game yet. Microsoft really has a head start with foldables and a head start is something Windows Phone definitely didn't have.. Look towards the future, and you will see the positive side of Surface DUO. The key word here is patience. 👌🏽💯👌🏽💯👌🏽💯"
  • "This is my reply to one of our great group members" I feel the same way in general about the level comments here at Windows Central. I enjoy writing comments here. As for the bulk of your comment, you echo my general thinking about SD v1. The amount of engineering to get it to the where it is today is remarkable. It is so polished and so finished even with the missing features people are commenting about. Sometimes you have to be done and ship the product - I have been there. The Surface Pro 1 was a ground breaking device seven years ago and now in 2020 you can make a legit case that the whole Surface Pro series was the most important PC in the last 10 years and it is so well realized that it will continue to be significant for the next 10. The Surface Duo has that same something going on. It is a high concept thing, you get it instantly, whether you buy into or not, it evokes strong reactions. That is a powerful moment. I am still trying to parse out the totality of it. It is far more profound that simply sticking two screens together. I have been thinking about the aspect ratios of the screens, how work together and of course the final physical size. What if each screen was 2:3; together they form a 4:3 screen. Going the other direction, 4:3s combine to form a 2:3 format, that is the Surface signature. I could go on but I should end. I am betting that in 10 years the totality of this device will be in the top two or three defining products for the next decade.
  • Microsoft! I do not mind a camera bump on this form factor at all! It will not ruin this device! Do what you have to do with future versions to make the camera as good as possible! Add multiple cameras! Do it! We will not be mad at you.
  • I can't seem to picture in my head how to take pictures with an external camera. Would it have to be in "book" mode? You wouldn't be able to fold it into phone mode cause then you would cover the camera. As I'm thinking about it, I guess you would have to open it into tablet mode and hold it in a horizontal position for portrait mode and vertically for landscape.
  • I think the idea is to continue with a FFC, and the bump be on the "outside" of the device. The device would fold flush by there being an indention on the other side of the device that the bump would recess into. This is such a no brainer I know MS has to have conciderd it. It's possible that they could do 3 in screen cameras in a row at the very top edge of the device. This is totally possible for a future version of Duo.
  • So you're going to put an indentation on the back of a super thin screen?
  • Then the bump would get in the way and you couldn't fold it 360° and have it be flush and a recess probably isn't possible at this thickness. This device cannot have a camera bump! Still not thinking things through! It is ok. This form factor won't catch on, just like it's predecessors. They will cancel it or pivot to a folding screen in a couple generations.
  • You're an idiot, and everything I said is totally possible whether are smart enough to comprehend it, or not.. Which you're not, so.
  • A recess on a 4.8mm phone? I doubt they have the room, especially if they want to add NFC and whatever else is missing from this one.
  • Ahh ok! That would be pretty cool.
  • I agree. Not sure if this is where you're headed, but this is my take: I'd prefer no camera bump to having one, but if adding one can significantly improve the camera, that's acceptable and a worthwhile tradeoff. I don't need the camera to be game changing, but it should be decent for a high end device, meaning better than all the mid-tier phone cameras. It should let me take reasonable pictures in low light and great pictures in bright light so that I don't need to carry a separate camera.
  • Also, I don't mind flipping the screen to use the same camera for selfies and video conferencing as the one I use for taking photos. In fact, I think that's efficient and a benefit of the Duo's design. Put the money and space that would have gone into a second camera into making the one that's there better.
  • The Duo would be functionally and aesthetically worse with a camera bump, but maybe there should be an option that only folds 350 degrees just for photography fanatics.
  • I find I'm getting closer and closer to rationalizing buying a Duo, but I waffle. I want one, but without Qi charging (my house, car, and office are set up specifically with chargers everywhere so I never need to use a cord again), NFC (that will force me back to using piles of change for the vending machine), and the possibly bad camera (since the Lumia 928 or Icon, phone cameras have been good enough that I no longer feel the need to carry an SLR when I travel), all combined with the knowledge that there's probably a much better model next year addressing those specific shortcomings... Hard to know if this would be an upgrade or downgrade from my Galaxy S10. It's starting to feel like the "Buy it" side of my personality is winning...
    On the camera, if it's "bad" how would that compare to the Lumia Icon? Would a "bad" camera in 2020 still be as good or better than that?
  • I doubt that it will be an upgrade from a Galaxy S10 in anything but the dual-screen aspect, which could be enough on its own. Personally, I'll be waiting for v2 and hoping to get at least NFC and Qi. I could begrudgingly live without Qi, although I have also spent money on numerous wireless charging devices, but I'm not doing without NFC because I don't want to have to start carrying a wallet again.
  • The QI charging is the one draw back, I really wish they had included as well, the rest I can work around. I did go ahead an ordered one but going back to cables will be a pain. There are those plug in QI charge coils but that would ruin the aesthetics. I hope the port is upto the future work out.
  • Yeah, that's a problem for me too with Qi chargers everywhere, including my car charger. But, there are great magnetic cables (I like the 10th generation versions, Gen-X, supports 3A charging and USB C and micro USB) that connect without having to touch the cable. The magnet is strong enough that it jumps up and connects to the phone in proximity (they do data too). Plus, they have the benefit of using a single connector for all devices except laptops (not heavy enough to handle the 5A charging needed for laptops). Those auto-connecting cables are good enough that I'd be able to live without Qi on a temporary basis until version 2.
  • With regards to the camera, I like the idea of part of the assembly being in each screen and they come together as one when you fold the device all the way open. I'm not sure how feasible this is but it would be a way to create a powerful camera without a bump on either half of the device. One issue might be that you then have four surfaces on which to get fingerprints interfering with your photos. You'd have to make sure to keep the surfaces on the inside of the combined assembly clean.
  • This camera is way better than the one I have.
    Although, I don't use a camera feature at all or not very often.
    later
    -1
  • This is the only thing that holds me back before deciding to buy Surface Duo. I mean I've Note 10 Plus and I'm 100% sure it'll be worse than the camera I've right now. but how much it'll be worse?!
  • I hope there is never a camera bump added to the Duo.
  • I think it's going to be really hard to treat this as a phone replacement without an outward facing camera. The camera is a BIG part of what we seek in a phone. In fact it may be the single most used feature of a "phone", even over call and messaging services themselves. Most average Joe's and Janes don't really care about a massive amount of Megapixels and are probably blissfully unaware of how many their current phone has. But they do care very much about how easy it is to quickly pull the device from their pocket, invoke the camera app, and snap a pic. How do you even take a non-selfie picture at all without an outward facing camera?
  • "How do you even take a non-selfie picture at all without an outward facing camera?" - quoting my own question Okay so I think I figured it out, you likely have to completely invert the phone in order to snap a pic. In fact I just confirmed that from another article. But idk the thought seems awkward to me. And I'm not so sure I trust the software enhancements they propose to make up for camera inadequacies. Hopefully I'm wrong. Will reserve judgement until I can play with it at Best Buy. But definitely enough to make me never consider pre-ordering one at $1400.
  • Fuji, I think the whole Duo will spend a lot of time folded open, because that's the standard "phone" form factor. That's how it will be when you're talking on it, taking photos, using it one-handed for anything, etc. I don't think that's an issue at all.
  • Yeah I think where I stand on this is having to play with it at Best Buy, and in listening to real-world reviews before I plunk down $1400 on the device. I'm not convinced I will want to leave it folded out all the time, I'll have to see some real-world stories of screen durability first. That leaves me opening and closing it several times a day. Bottom line, $1400 for me means serious scrutiny first.
  • Mr. Bowden wrote: "Microsoft not providing official sample shots from the Surface Duo's camera should be a big indicator that it hasn't focused on the camera with Surface Duo 1" When the 30 minute video presentation didn't spend much, if any time, on the camera my expectations were it will be mid tier quality or so. It will get job done. I do a lot of photography and I have had some utterly rubbish cell phone cameras and one good one, my Pixel 3a XL. I have taken some pretty good shots with all of them and in the case of the Pixel 3a XL I have published them on my blog. I am guessing the Surface Duo camera will do just fine in a scenes that are reasonably lit, do not have a big dynamic range and moderate contrast. It will most likely struggle to hold detail in the high key areas and tend to plug up the shadows. How it manages the white balance and the color tonality, if they nail those, you can work with that. Low light scenes will most likely be a struggle. The processing software will be important and if does reasonable computational photography, lots of blending, that is a big win. All of the sudden you don't need cutting edge hardware to get decent images. The camera UI will be fascinating - I am hoping it has a full set of manual controls. One of those screens is your view finder and it is huge. Clamp it in a tripod, go full manual, and suddenly you have something where can see what you are doing and the nuances of the composition. If you can do that a lot of the other short comings evaporate. Good photography is way less about specs and all that, it is about have having a good understanding of your gear and knowing what it feels like when a composition lights your brain up. It is the totality of the moment that matters. I will give this feature some hard scrutiny. Like the rest of the Surface Duo I will be evaluating it wholistically and not its components. If I can get it to fit in with how I work and consistently get reasonable images I very well could be a V1 customer. If there are too many compromises I most likely would sit out this round. This isn't a $500 phone, there is a point, because of my use case, where I would give it a hard pass. My main shooting is done with real gear. I use a cell phone mostly to take a few duplicate images so I can post them or send them out as attachments and as a in the pocket walking around thing. I don't expect gallery level image quality but it will have to have a certain performance floor. In a few weeks I will have a much better idea about all this.
  • While the camera is almost the single most important thing to me on a smartphone-device, not even the best camera could rescue this thing. It's just nasty.
  • They will not be able to fit a wide-angle lens because the device needs to be flat in both directions on the 360 hinge. There is a reason for those ugly camera bumps.
  • Interesting that a camera is the most important thing on a - are you ready? - phone. Perhaps if a camera is that important to some, why not buy - are you ready? - a camera. :-)
  • A phone camera is a camera that is always in your pocket.
  • It looks to me that there is a flash and a second lens like the one my Surfacebook uses for Windows Hello even though I read there will be no facial recognition.