Oppo’s Game Changing Optical Zoom May Win The Smartphone Camera War — But When? – Forbes

Oppo shows off a prototype phone with a 5X optical zoom at this year’s Mobile World Congress. Photo: AFP/Josep Lago/Getty Images

The battle for smartphone supremacy within China is just as fierce as the Apple vs Samsung one going on in the U.S., or Samsung vs LG in South Korea, except it’s a lot more volatile due to China sort of existing in its own bubble with its own set of rules, and that there are so, so many Chinese phone brands.

The Chinese smartphone power rankings (determined by annual sales or shipments), for example, tend to change every few weeks. A couple years ago, Xiaomi was at the top, leading to lazy comparisons by western media that it was “China’s Apple,” only now Xiaomi has been overtaken by not one not two but three brands. The top spot seemingly flips between Huawei and Oppo every few weeks. It’s wild up there.

So how are Chinese brands differentiating themselves? They usually have to focus on a specific part of the smartphone and focus on that. For Oppo, which sold the most phones in China last year, the company is working on a 5X optical zoom which, if it ever comes to fruition, should be a game-changer in the smartphone photography war. (Optical zoom, for those who may not be aware, is “real” zoom, not the “digital” zoom that is available on most smartphones now by pinching out from the screen. The latter isn’t really a zoom, but merely blowing up the image, hence clear loss in photo quality.)

Oppo's vice president Jiang Anyi presenting the tech at MWC.

Oppo technology

Oppo’s vice president Jiang Anyi presenting the tech at MWC.

This is the exciting part: the tech is closer to reality than we might think. In fact, Oppo showed off the tech at Mobile World Congress last month and it works as advertised. The tech uses two cameras (which Oppo has dubbed “Dual Camera Zoom”), one of which is placed sideways, inside the phone (meaning it doesn’t face the back of the camera but the side of the camera). Oppo says the system uses a series of sensors to direct light through a prism into the sideways lens, which then projects the image to the second camera that faces the back of the phone.

It’s a complicated set-up, so here’s a photo provided by Oppo showing the tech.


Oppo smartphone

Oppo’s innovative set-up sees the second camera placed sideways at a 90-degree angle.

With this set-up the camera is able to zoom 5X without loss in photo quality. Below is a screengrab from Oppo’s promo video.

A screengrab from Oppo's promotional video, showing off the company's true optical zoom compared to a digital zoom on other smartphones.

Oppo technology

A screengrab from Oppo’s promotional video, showing off the company’s true optical zoom compared to a digital zoom on other smartphones.

And here’s the video in full.

The company, however, did not say when the zoom technology will be ready to be implemented into its smartphones. So this seems like the tech might still be a year or two away.


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