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
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
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
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.