Oppo didn’t unveil a new smartphone at their Mobile World Congress conference, but instead showed off new camera technology that brings optical zoom to smartphones, without the camera bump at the back. The new system also employs a dual camera setup, but uses a very clever trick to keep the whole module thin. Oppo had earlier sent out an invite indicating that they’d be unveiling something groundbreaking for smartphone photography, which is exactly what the crowds attending MWC received.
Oppo’s new camera system employs a clever design to incorporate optical zoom into the smartphone. Instead of having the lens-array and the sensor in one line, Oppo has utilized the design of a periscope. According to the demo showed off by Oppo, the light comes in through the camera opening, hits a prism and is reflected at a 90degree angle through a lens array with a sensor at the end of the path. This design allows Oppo to give the users 3x optical zoom, however, the second wide angle lens also adds image data to the mix and using what Oppo calls “image fusion technology” the optical zoom can be increased to 5x. The lens array offers image optical stabilization, because that is essential for zoom lenses. Oppo has a neat video explaining the technology which you can see below.
Optical zoom has been kind of a holy grail for smartphone photography. While we have seen various companies attempt it, none of them have manged to get it perfect. We had Nokia fuse a 42 megapixel sensor in the Lumia 1020 so that you could zoom into the photo, mostly because the resulting image was a 5 megapixel jpeg. The iPhone 7 Plus with its dual lens setup offers just 2x optical zoom. Oppo takes that number up to 5x. While this is an exciting development, we are yet to see the technology make its way into an actual smartphone, given that Oppo didn’t announce one this year at MWC 2017.