Robert Triggs/Android Authority
Smartphone zoom has made great strides since the iPhone 7 series debuted its 2x telephoto camera in 2016. In fact, the 2x telephoto camera seems rather strange by modern standards when we have 3x, 5x, and even 10x cameras in our pockets. today.
However, there’s still one significant problem with smartphone zooms today, and that’s the lack of consistent quality when zooming through choppy levels. the answer? Dual telephoto cameras.
Two is definitely better than one
Hadley Simmons/Android Authority
Hands down the biggest argument in favor of dual telephoto cameras is that quality drops when you’re not shooting at the camera’s native optical zoom length. This means that you will see great image quality when shooting with the primary camera or 1x camera and higher quality images when shooting with the single telephoto camera (eg a 3x or 5x camera). But any zoom factor between these two cameras or beyond is based on digital or hybrid zoom techniques. Hybrid zoom almost always results in degraded image quality compared to an optical lens dedicated to the same zoom factor. Check out the difference in details between the Galaxy S22 Plus 3x, 10x, 20x, and 30x Hybrid Telephoto Camera. Obviously, a phone can’t do it all with just one telephoto lens.
As mentioned, we also see somewhat poor zoom quality between the 1x and the phone’s telephoto camera, as in the case of the Google Pixel 7 Pro, which has a large gap to fill lens. The phone uses Hybrid Zoom / Super Res Zoom when shooting between 2.5x and 4.9x, which relies on image merging techniques. Google combines data from the 1x and 5x cameras to produce a mixed result with spotty zoom levels. This results in a good level of detail in the center of the image but a significant loss of detail at the edges as the 1x camera is used to fill in the gaps.
Check out this comparison of the Pixel 7 Pro at 3x hybrid zoom versus the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s original 3x zoom. Take a look at the left side of the pumpkin in the Pixel snap compared to the iPhone image, while the Pixel provides superior detail on the right side, which is the center of the original image.
Dual telephoto cameras will help narrow the image quality gap between native zoom factors in a significant way, reducing the need for powerful software upgrades. On a Pixel instance, this can improve areas of reduced detail at the edges for Super Res Zoom as well. Think of it like having multiple, well-spaced water breaks during a fun run rather than having just one or two.
This dual lens approach will also allow smartphone brands to push the boat out when it comes to long-range zoom. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and Galaxy S22 Ultra both offer 3x and 10x dedicated cameras instead of having a single 3x or 5x camera. This makes long-range zoom greatly improved over short-range or mid-range single lens phones.
Digital zoom isn’t always great but multiple cameras help overcome this problem.
Moreover, the dual telephoto cameras will make for better portrait shots as the short-zoom camera is ideal for portraits compared to a 1x crop or with a 5x or 10x lens.
Finally, two dedicated telephoto cameras mean a more flexible video recording platform. We’ve seen this previously on Samsung’s Ultra phones as well, offering 10x higher video quality than phones without the original 10x shooter.
Better selfies and more flexible video shooting are two more advantages of the multi-zoom setup.
In saying that, Samsung’s two-pronged approach means there’s still a huge gap in quality on paper between 3x and 10x, as it doesn’t have a dedicated camera to adequately cover that gap (say, the 5x camera). But this option is still better for short and long-range telephotos, in theory, than a single 4x or 5x camera.
Another possible solution
Robert Triggs/Android Authority
A dual telephoto camera system isn’t the only way to deliver more consistent image quality at a variety of zoom factors. Variable telephoto cameras are another option that has come up in the last couple of years. Sony’s Xperia 1 IV was the first modern smartphone to offer a variable zoom camera with continuous zoom levels. This allows for a constant level of image quality between ~3.5x and ~5.2x as the mechanism physically moves the optics to achieve true magnification.
Variable telephoto technology is another neat solution, but it still needs improvement.
But this approach is not without its drawbacks. In our review, we felt the Xperia 1 IV’s camera phone lag behind other imaging software when it comes to overall image quality. The native zoom range isn’t as wide either, as you still rely on hybrid zooms below 3.5x and above 5.2x. We would therefore like to see future applications that offer a much wider zoom range.
It’s time to zoom in better
Ryan Haines/Android Authority
Huawei and Xiaomi were the first to offer dual telephoto cameras on their smartphones, and Samsung and Vivo have picked up the baton in this regard. Then we have Sony clearly innovating with its variable telephoto camera technology, so there are powerful and flexible zoom options there.
What kind of camera zoom does your phone have?
However, it’s fair to say that a few of the big-name players, like Oppo, OnePlus, and Apple, aren’t quite as ambitious when it comes to zoom capabilities on high-end devices. It’s especially frustrating for Oppo fans, as it was one of the first companies to introduce a periscope camera design.
So hopefully these brands will take the dual camera or variant phone approach next year. At the very least, we’d like to see these brands implement high-quality periscope zooms. Unfortunately, it looks like Apple may be the only player in the group to upgrade to a point-and-shoot in 2023.