Often (more often than I woud like!) my engineering background gets the better of me. Out of frustration I end up asking “why do they make it that way”. So please bear with me, this may be of use to someone out there…

In smartphones the camera can be oriented in two directions – landscape and portrait. Video recorders and cameras were not designed like this, they only have one practical orientation – landscape. The world assumes video (and most photos) will be displayed in landscape format. But smartphones are easier to hold, one handed, in portrait orientation.

The digital camera sensor is traditionally rectangular with an aspect ratio of 4:3 Video typically has an aspect ratio of 16:9 This is why you can’t choose landscape video when shooting in portrait orientation on a smartphone. The camera sensor is simply too “short” in one direction.

However the camera optics are typically round and if the sensor was square then you could choose to shoot landscape or portrait orientation (or the phone could enforce video to always be in landscape format). It would also be great for the popular square photos on Instagram etc because you would not need to crop the image and could have better resolution square shots.

Of course it would cost a little more money for the square sensor – it would also have more pixels (a plus for the marketing department…). A square sensor would be 33% more expensive and have 33% more pixels. But the sensor is a small part of the cost of a camera module which is in turn a small part of the cost of a smartphone. It would be a much better solution. Which of the major smartphone companies will get this right first ? TBD