Turning back time: The last smartphones with a single rear camera setup

While they are pretty much dead in the premium segment, smartphone with a single rear camera used to be the norm just a few years ago.

The world of smartphones is constantly evolving, with manufacturers introducing new features and technologies with every iteration. One of the most significant developments in recent years has been the move towards multiple cameras on the back of a smartphone, which has become increasingly common on high-end devices. Many smartphones now feature two, three, or even four lenses on the back.

However, multiple lenses don’t necessarily mean they will give you better camera quality, in fact, the aim is to give users greater flexibility when taking photos. Instead of having a single lens that could do it all, manufacturers started offering multiple lens with different features. Think of it like a DSLR camera with interchangeable lenses.

However, there was something special about having just a single camera unit on a phone. Maybe it is the simplicity of it all? Or maybe it was because manufacturers could focus all their attention on a single camera? Regardless, smartphones with single rear cameras took some incredibly good images thanks to their concentration on a single sensor and software processing. In this article, let’s take a look at the last smartphones from major brands that brought a single rear camera lens.

Do note that we will be limiting the devices in this list to those priced at Rs 25,000 and above. Some manufacturers (like Nokia) continue to offer smartphones with a single rear camera in the budget segment.

1. Google Pixel 4a

Pixel 4a Barely Blue
The Google Pixel 4a was perhaps the last of its kind to come with a single-camera setup and could still hold its own against flagship devices. This was achieved partly due to Google’s supremacy in computational photography, which had become a hallmark of the Google Pixel series. This smartphone was launched back in August 2020 at a starting price of Rs 31,999. 

In terms of specifications, you would get a compact 5.8-inch hole-punch AMOLED display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G SoC, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of UFS 2.1 storage, A USB 3.1 Type-C port, and a 3.5 mm audio jack. Of course, the magic of this smartphone lies in the cameras. The single 12.2MP Sony IMX363 sensor might not sound like much, but coupled with Google’s computational photography algorithms, it takes photos like a boss, with a good focus on contrast and human skin tones. The 8MP front-facing selfie camera was no slouch either.

Apart from that, the Pixel 4a has dual stereo speakers, with near-stock Android and Pixel-exclusive features such as unlimited storage in Google Photos. The smartphone received its last major OS update, Android 13, in 2022.

2. Apple iPhone SE (2022)

Apple iPhone SE
While most high-end smartphones have moved on to multi-camera setups, there is one that still offers a single-camera setup, the Apple iPhone SE (2022). As one of the newest phones in this list, it is also the most powerful thanks to the A15 Bionic chipset. It is also the only one that supports the latest computational algorithms such as Smart HDR 4 and Deep Fusion. 

On the surface, the iPhone SE (2022) seems like a standard run-of-the-mill flagship smartphone with a metal glass-sandwich design, IP68 water and dust resistance rating, wireless charging, and Touch ID. Apart from that, you get the benefits of the Apple ecosystem such as AirDrop and iMessage. This smartphone was released in March 2022, so Apple will continue to support the phone for many years to come. This smartphone retails for around Rs 49,900 in India for the base 64GB variant.

3. Samsung Galaxy S9

Samsung Galaxy S9

Samsung, the world’s second-biggest smartphone company, also had some great phones released over the years. The Galaxy S series has been their staple flagship offering since 2010, and the Galaxy S9 (launched in 2018) was no exception. It was their base offering alongside the S9 Plus, and both of them had some great features.

The Galaxy S9 was a metal glass-sandwich design, with an IP68 water and dust resistance rating. The front of the device sported a beautiful 5.8-inch 1440p Super AMOLED display with HDR10 support and a 3D Touch feature for the home button for good haptic feedback. The chipsets were different depending on where you were living. For the west, the Galaxy S9 was powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, whereas for India, the smartphone was powered by Exynos 9810.

The battery capacity was 3000mAh, which doesn’t seem like much compared to current gen smartphones, but it was pretty decent for the time. The single 12MP rear-facing camera with OIS was an excellent shooter and was capable enough to record 4K videos at 60 frames per second. In fact, this smartphone was one of the very few that could shoot crazy slo-mo videos at 960 frames per second! (albeit at a lower resolution of ‘just’ 720p).

The 8MP selfie camera also had some cool features. You could perform dual video calls using both cameras simultaneously, as well as an Auto HDR that would correct exposure levels on subjects when under harsh sunlight.

The Galaxy S9 also had some interesting features that are not actually present in today’s flagships. The phone had an Iris scanner for biometric authentication, and MST (magnetic secure transmission), that mimicked magnetic stripe cards so that you could pay even on old PoS machines. It also had a dedicated heart rate and SpO2 sensor near below the LED flash.

This smartphone was launched on February 2018, with a price tag of Rs 57,900 with 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM.

4. OnePlus 3T

OnePlus was the original ‘flagship killer’ when it came to smartphones. It was out to prove that flagship phones need not be that expensive. Initially, the company followed the system of launching a single device per year, but by the time the OnePlus 3 launched, the company figured, it could do better. The OnePlus 3T had some minor upgrades such as an upgraded Snapdragon 821 chip, an increased battery capacity, and some cool finishes such as Gunmetal Grey and Midnight Black to stand out from the crowd.

This smartphone had a unibody aluminium design with the front display protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass 4. The 5.5-inch Optic AMOLED display was excellent, with a 1080p resolution and vibrant colors.

The 16MP rear-facing camera came with OIS and did its job well. You could record videos up to 4K at 30 frames per second. The front-facing camera was also the same resolution, albeit with a different sensor (the Sony IMX471 which is still used even today on the OnePlus 11 series).

The 20W Dash charging was incredibly fast and could charge the smartphone from 0 percent to full in around 1.5 hours. That was a convenient feature and was one of the first devices to offer fast charging as standard. This phone was launched at a price of Rs 29,999 for the 6GB RAM and 64GB of internal storage variant.

5. Motorola Moto Z and Moto Z Force 

The Moto Z series were some of the best smartphones released by Motorola. Both the Moto Z and Moto Z Force were flagship smartphones with some great features. The phones were powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, and the displays were 5.5-inch 1440p AMOLED displays. The only difference between Moto Z and Moto Z Force is that the Moto Z Force had shatterproof glass, a bigger 3500 mAh battery (as opposed to 2600mAh one on the Moto Z), and a higher res 21MP rear main camera (compared to 13MP one on the Moto Z). 

The unique feature of the Moto Z series was the Moto Mods. They were essentially magnetic snap-on accessories, which would enhance the functionality of the device. Some popular mods at that time were the JBL Speaker mod, a battery bank mod, and a projector mod. 

These smartphones were launched in 2016, and the Moto Z was priced at Rs 39,999 in India. The Moto Z Force was available only in the USA for a price of $720 (approx. Rs 50,000)

6. Xiaomi Mi 5

The Xiaomi Mi 5 was a flagship smartphone released in 2016. It had a compact 5.15-inch 1080p IPS LCD display protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 4. The specs were quite powerful (for the time) with a Snapdragon 820 SoC, 3GB of RAM, and 64 GB of internal storage. The rear camera was a 16MP sensor with OIS, and the selfie camera was a 4MP Ultrapixel sensor.

The 3000 mAh battery was quite good and supported 18W quick charging. This smartphone was launched back in 2016. The software was decent with MIUI 7 based on Android 6.0 marshmallow. At launch, the Mi 5 was priced at Rs 24,999.

7.  Sony Xperia Ace

The Xperia Ace is technically Sony’s last smartphone to be released with a single rear camera. It was also the fabled Xperia XZ4 compact that never made its way to the global markets and was limited to Japan. This compact smartphone has a 5-inch LCD with FHD+ resolution and 18:9 aspect ratio. The front comes with the classic large Sony bezels alongside a dual speakers setup and 8MP selfie cam.

Inside, the phone is running on the Snapdragon 630 alongside 4GB RAM and 64GB of storage, which is expandable. At the back, was a single 12MP combined with an LED flash. The right-hand side houses the fingerprint sensor and volume buttons. In terms of battery, you are looking at a 2700 mAh cell with 18W quick charging.

This smartphone was released in May 2019 with a price of JYP 48,600 (or approx. Rs 31,000).

8. Huawei Mate 8

The Huawei Mate 8 was a beautiful flagship smartphone released by Huawei in 2015. It had a unibody aluminium construction, with a 6-inch IPS NEO LCD display protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3 at the front. This smartphone was powered by Huawei’s very own Kirin 950 chipset and was powered by a massive 4000 mAh battery. 

The single 16MP rear camera with OIS can record up to 1080p video at 60fps, and the 8MP selfie camera is also quite decent with 1080p videos at 30fps. The software powering this smartphone was the EMUI based on Android 6.0, it does have some nice features such as knuckle gestures, where you can launch apps with your knuckles.

9. ASUS Zenfone AR

Released in 2017, the ASUS Zenfone AR was one of the coolest smartphones released by the company. It had support for Google Tango, where it would use cameras and AR (Augmented Reality) to help measure stuff in your home to play AR games. This phone had a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 at the helm, along with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage.

The single 23MP rear-facing camera with OIS was pretty decent for photos and video. You could also record videos up to 4K at 24 fps on this smartphone. In terms of selfies,  the 8MP camera was considered more than enough. The pricing was around $600 (approx. Rs 39,000), which was quite high at that time, just to use Google Tango. Support for which was stopped in 2018.

10. OPPO R9s Plus

The OPPO R9s Plus was an upper midrange smartphone released by OPPO in December 2016. It was the bigger brother of OPPO R9s, with a 6-inch 1080p AMOLED display protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 5. 

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 653 was powerful enough for daily tasks, but it wasn’t quite flagship-grade. The 16MP rear camera with OIS was good at daylight photos and was capable enough to record 4k videos, it would struggle at night with grainy photos. The front camera was 16MP in resolution and you would get some great selfies.

The battery capacity was pretty impressive at 4000mAh and complementing it was the 20W SuperVOOC charging technology. This smartphone was launched in December 2016 at a price of CNY 3,499 (approx. Rs 35,000) and was limited to China.

So that was a look back at some of the last devices to launch with a single-rear camera. From the way things are going, it looks like the multi-camera setup will be the way for companies. Who knows, maybe there will soon be another breakthrough that sees single rear cameras back in action!