Oppo Unveils Periscope-Style 10x Telephoto Phone Camera

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Just a few years ago, phones were all still competing in the megapixel race. Now, it’s less about the number of megapixels in a phone camera and more about what you can do with them. OEMs have decided the best way forward is to include more camera sensors, and they’re going a little crazy — some phones have as many as four cameras on the back. Chinese smartphone maker Oppo is talking up its latest triple-camera setup, which it claims will have the first ever 10x telephoto lens on a phone.

It’s common to have two cameras on a phone, but cheaper devices often use the second camera merely as a depth sensor. Flagship devices usually add a telephoto, monochrome, or wide-angle sensor to complement the main camera. When you get into three and four-camera setups, OEMs start going for the “kitchen sink” approach with all of the above options.

Oppo’s new camera module features three rear-facing camera sensors. There’s a wide-angle camera with a 15.9mm focal length, and a main camera that’s a bit higher than that. The star of the show is the 159mm telephoto lens, which offers 10x zoom. Most phones with telephoto lenses can to 2x or 3x zoom, and Oppo previously did 5x.

It’s tough to fit longer telephoto lenses in phones because everyone wants a compact, slick-looking device. Oppo solved the problem by turning the telephoto sensor sideways in a technique called folded optics, similar to what Light.co has tried. The camera optics are aligned perpendicular to the back of the phone in a so-called “peep up” periscope that redirects light so the camera points the right direction.

Oppo wants to call this “lossless” zoom, but that’s a questionable claim. Firstly, this is not technically “zoom” because it’s a fixed lens system — you can switch between standard, wide, and telephoto, but any zoom in between them is digital (and lossy). Still, that’s more than twice as much optical magnification as other smartphone makers can offer currently.

Oppo did confirm the triple camera system will have optical image stabilization, but we’re still missing several important details. For example, we don’t know the aperture of that zoom lens, which can be make-or-break for longer focal lengths. It’s also unclear if this technology will appear in a consumer phone this year. Oppo discussed the new 10x camera system at its Future Technology Communication Conference, but it won’t provide full details until Mobile World Congress. it also teased larger optical in-display fingerprint sensors in future phones. 

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