Oppo Demonstrates A Zoom Lens Phone Camera

Has Oppo solved the smartphone camera digital zoom problem, and will this newcomer to the NZ market soon be a major player here? PAT PILCHER chews it all over.

 

Oppo recently launched their smartphone range in New Zealand, and they’re not mucking around. Neil You, Oppo’s NZ managing director, says they’re gunning for a 10 per cent share of the NZ smart phone market. This would see Oppo become the third largest smartphone provider.

As the hillbilly said “Them’s be fighting words!” and what a fight it’ll be! Apple (#1), Samsung (#2) and Huawei (#3) aren’t going to concede marketshare, so Oppo will need to play a very smart game indeed. They’ll have to if they’re to go from being an obscure (albeit critically acclaimed) AV product brand to a household smartphone name.

They’ve not given much away, but have hinted at six-monthly model releases. This might keep the Oppo brand at the forefront of smartphone buyer’s mind, but bombarding the market with so many models could create confusion.

Another tactic also likely to get used will be innovation. The sheer amount of phone makers charging a premium for warmed over versions of last year’s model means anyone offering real innovation could have a compelling selling point in the me-too smartphone market.

Depending on what Apple and Samsung launch in the coming months, that third spot might not be all that impossible after all.

The scale of the Chinese market means Oppo are already one of the world’s top five smartphone makers. This means they’ve some serious manufacturing scale and the R&D and innovation savvy.

My case in point is the 5X Dual Camera Zoom technology Oppo showcased at the Mobile World Congress. It could be a real phone photography game changer.

Smartphone cameras tend to offer limited zoom capabilities. This becomes obvious when taking a picture of the moon. You usually end up with a small white dot that looks more like a bright star than our closet-orbiting neighbour. Further zooming in usually fires up the digital zoom.

This sees a section of the viewfinder image cropped, enlarged and “enhanced”. The upshot is that pixels get enlarged and the image is a lo-fi mess that is all but unusable.

The answer to this photographic conundrum is an optical zoom. [Wow! Just like an SLR! – Sarcastic Ed]. It works like a telescope. Several moveable lenses magnify the image. No pixels get enlarged and the resulting image is several gazillion times better than anything you’d get with digital zoom.

Unfortunately sliding a smartphone with a zoom lens attached into a pocket or purse simply doesn’t work. (Hey, is that a phone in your pocket or are you pleased to see me?)

Oppo has achieved the impossible. They’ve crammed a 5x optical zoom into a smartphone. You’d think they’d found the technology powering Doctor Who’s Tardis, but the reality is clever. They’ve moved camera image sensor so it faces sideways. They’ve then added a bunch of mirrors, prisms and movable lenses to create a periscope zoom lens. This shifts light from the lens on the back of the phone sideways where it can get magnified and zoomed. So instead of jutting a zoom lens off the back of the phone it consumes minimal space inside the phone.

The prototype Oppo showcased got mixed reviews. That said, the consensus from those lucky enough to check it out was that the optical zoom worked well and decent photos of the moon should be a do-able proposition.

The hardware Oppo’s demoed was large for smartphones, but these are engineering prototypes. Oppo says that 5x zoom system will get built into slim smartphones that’ll hit the market over the next 12 months. They might be in with a good chance after all. PAT PILCHER

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