Chinese phone maker Oppo has come up with a new camera module for smartphones that could help you get close-up shots without actually, you know, getting all that close to the item you’re shooting.

Most modern smartphones have a digital zoom feature, but you lose picture quality when you zoom in that way.

A handful have optical zoom functionality, but usually that either requires a large camera bump or a camera lens that tops out at maybe 2x. Oppo’s system promises 5X.

Actually, Oppo’s system features a 3X zoom camera and “image fusion” technology that the company says brings the total up to 5X of “lossless” zoom.

It remains to be seen whether Oppo can deliver on that latter promise, or if it’s best to think of this as a 3X optical zoom.

But even that is a bit of a feat, given the constraints of putting an optical zoom lens inside a thin camera. Oppo managed it by placing the telephoto lens horizontally inside a phone and then using a periscope-like design that uses a prism bend the light picked up by the back of your phone 90 degrees.

The resulting camera module if 5.7mm thick, which should make it small enough to fit in a smartphone without adding too much bulk.

Oppo says there’s also optical image stabilization to help keep your shots steady. And the camera system uses a dual-camera setup, with both a wide-angle lens and the telephoto lens.

There’s no word on when we’ll start to see phones with the new camera system, or if Oppo has any plans to license it for use in phones from other companies.

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11 replies on “Oppo unveils 5x lossless zoom camera for smartphones”

  1. This mechanism is new in phones but it has been used in compact cameras more then 10 years ago. I wonder why no other phone manufacturer hasn’t done this yet.

      1. You’re right, I thought they did a different solution in the end, because I found other camera descriptions for the Zenphone Zoom.

  2. But what is the effective maximum aperture for this camera? Trading 3X zoom for light sensitivity is not a great trade off. Personally I would rather have a F1.8 lens and really good OIS. With the resolution of today’s sensors, just crop after the shot.

    1. Cropping a photo to reproduce even just a 3X zoom means using 1/9 the pixels (you lose 2/3 both horizontal and vertical.) and then enlarging. 11% of the pixels of a good camera is not enough to compete with 100% of the pixels of a mediocre one. So if you start with a 12MP camera and crop to 3X zoom, you end up with 1.3MP. That is less than HDTV.

      Unless you are talking action or night shots- where you need the extra light to get a steady shot, a zoom lens will generally beat out even a higher quality prime every time if you are comparing true zoom to cropping. At least this is the case with non-smartphone digital cameras. For example, the cheapest 10X camera at full zoom will easily beat out a pricey SLR using a high end prime lens that is cropped a factor of 10.

      At a higher zoom it gets even more pronounced. A $300 60X zoom camera with a puny sensor will blow away what you would get with a $2000 SLR + $2000 10X zoom lens that is cropped to reproduce 60X.

    2. It’s not a final product yet, so there are no such specs, I assume.
      Since it’s a dual camera set-up, it’s very possible that the wide angle camera will offer larger aperture than the zoom camera.

      One thing to keep in mind is that mobile camera sensors aren’t actually that great. The per pixel detail level isn’t that great.
      So it’s not really possible to crop that much.
      I’m more in to captureing what the eye sees, so I would much prefer a great wide-angle (ultra wide angle, to cover the full view of both eyes, even) system, with really high captured resolution, but we don’t find that in mobiles. So to be able to capture details that the eye can clearly see, mobiles actually do need optical zoom to compensate for the low captured resolution.

      Yes it’s problematic that zooms in mobiles often have small aperture, but the wide angle with larger aperture won’t capture those details eihter in low light.

      The problem here is that the sensors will still be quite small.
      And the thickness will be problematic for the wide angle camera as well.
      The systems seems smart with prism based zoom… but it would be great if they made a thicker version, for a thicker more photo focused mobile with larger battery, that could then have larger sensors and better optics.

    3. Anyone that is “cropping” pictures after the fact is likely going to have a high-quality dedicated camera and not using a crappy cell phone camera for anything more than a picture of a kid’s birthday party. This camera is probably fine for its intended market. I know we don’t hardly use our cell phone cameras to take pictures, in my case I think I used it once or twice to take a picture of my office door just to see how good the camera is — it really takes poor pictures. I think I will continue to drag out one of my expensive Sony cameras when I want to take pictures — even the one that fits in my shirt pocket is light years better than any cell phone camera.

  3. “Actually, Oppo’s system features a 3X zoom camera and “image fusion”
    technology that the company says brings the total up to 5X of “lossless”
    zoom.”

    Yeaaaah, I’m going to call bullshit on that. It’s hard to get past physics. 3x zoom is still interesting though!

    1. Don’t under estimate software on this. NASA has been using similar “fusion” (one scheme is called super-resolution) for space probe pictures. If done right it can achieve valuable results.

    2. It offers 3x optical zoom, but it has two cameras, so one is a wide angle, and the 3x zoom camera doesn’t go as wide, so that at the long end, it is 5x zoom compared to the wide angle lens.

      the 3X zoom system seems prism based, and as such, it only offers 3 distinct zoom modes. More like changing the lens.

      The fusion system would use the data from images shut at two different zoom position or from the wide angle, and the lowest zoom on the zoom lens, to calculate the image that would come between them.
      I hope this can be turned of, or that there is at least clead stops when the camera is at an actual optical zoom setting. Software can do amazing things sometimes when it comes to imaging, especially when it uses more than one image to make the final result. But the actual optical steps should still be superior (but cropping to get the exact framing one likes, might not be better than using the two image based software zoom function in terms of quality if that exact framing can be reached in that way, but not with the actual optical positions)

  4. I predict oneplus will use this in their oneplus 5 (apparently 4 is bad luck in China and 5 would make sense with the 5x zoom)

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