Oppo has been teasing us for a while with talk of phone cameras with folded optics. Now it’s all about to happen. At the Oppo Innovation Event 2019 in Barcelona, Spain, Oppo announced its 10x Lossless Zoom camera system. And it should be available to consumers in the second quarter of this year.
Lossless is, of course, a term most commonly used with data compression systems in which all the data is faithfully preserved. So I guess that’s what Oppo is getting at. But, in reality, it’s more a matter of, well, not making things up.
With most phones the only zoom is a digital zoom. The actual data captured by the lenses and sensor are processed in an attempt to make them look more detailed. But you can’t put into an image stuff that was never there in the first place. So only optical zoom is the real thing.
We have seen some impressive optical zoom in some recent phones, involving a second zoom lens to add real detail to images; to bring the subject closer to the phone. But Oppo is promising 10x!
10x Lossless Zoom, thanks to the periscope
The 10x Lossless Zoom camera features three separate cameras in the module. The “main” camera is a 48MP unit. I’m guessing that the this will involve to using four pixels to create one output pixel. If so, it will generate 12MP images. This is supplemented by an ultra-wide-angle camera, with a field of view equivalent to a 16mm lens on a 35mm camera. And it’s further supplemented by a telephoto camera with a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 160mm. That’s a pretty impressive telephoto reach.
For settings between those focal lengths, the image processing combines the shots from the two cameras to generate high quality output.
The long reach of the telephoto camera is thanks to folded optics, or what Oppo is called “periscope” optics. That allows them to fit a longer path into the narrow body of a phone.
In addition, both the main camera and the telephoto camera feature optical image stabilisation.
Hands-on with the 10x Lossless Zoom camera
After the speakers’ addresses at the event, the back wall to the venue opened, revealing four large tables, each surrounded by a dozen Oppo phones. They turned out to be older-style phone bodies incorporating prototypes of the camera. The three camera modules were arranged in a vertical line on the back. It remains to be seen what styling Oppo will adopt for the actual phones incorporating the 10x Lossless Zoom camera.
On each of the tables was an elaborate scene constructed of miniatures. That gave plenty of fine detail for the many attendees to zoom in on.
I also had a little play with a phone. The camera app is quite rudimentary at this point. It was locked in an automatic mode, and had just two controls: shutter and zoom. We can be certain that when the production phones roll out, they will have fast settings to allow you to jump to, for example, a 10x zoom.
At high zoom levels, the details were wonderfully sharp, way beyond what can be achieved with a regular phone camera. In use, it was clear that the O.I.S. was working. As I moved the camera slightly, the image would hold steady for a moment, then jump to the new position as the limit of the O.I.S. range was reached.
The clarity provided by the telephoto lens became more evident when I was later able to slip briefly outdoors with one of the phones. I took pictures centred on the same point with the Ultra Wide Angle and 10x telephoto settings in place.
On examining the photos, will it was clear that the telephoto was for real.
Here’s a sense of the scenes shown by the two. First, the Ultra Wide Angle:
Yes, look hard in the wide angle photo and you’ll see that the telephoto one actually is in there, towards the middle.
Now let’s look at these differently:
On the right I’ve cropped down to the communications tower from the telephoto picture. On the left is the same detail from the Ultra Wide Angle shot, blown up in size to match.
I need say no more, because that’s what optical zoom is about. There is no way any amount of fancy picture processing can invent the kind of details shown by this physical camera.
I’m not quite sure the implications of something else I noticed. The wide angle shots had a resolution of 8 megapixels. The zoom shots were 12 megapixels. It is possible that this was because the photos from the prototype Oppo unit were transferred to my phone via Bluetooth. Perhaps an incorrect setting was chosen. I’d expect that in the final product, all shots would be 12 megapixels in size.
The writer attended the event in Barcelona as a guest of Oppo. Oppo’s Australian website is here. There and here will be the places to monitor for when the first 10x Lossless Zoom phone appears for purchase.