Oppo has come to Mobile World Congress this year not with a phone, but with a promise. That promise is a lossless 10x optical zoom that you’ll be able to obtain from a new triple-lens cameraphone system the company just unveiled. I tried it out from myself, and while I wouldn’t say that the results are quite as pristine as having a dedicated camera with a true optical zooming system, this is definitely the closest we’ve yet come to conquering the seemingly insurmountable challenge of injecting real zoom into the tight confines of a smartphone.
The key component to Oppo’s system is a periscope setup inside the phone: light comes in through one lens, gets reflected by a mirror into an array of additional lenses, and then arrives at the image sensor, which sits perpendicular to the body of the phone. That’s responsible for the telephoto lens in Oppo’s array, which has a 35mm equivalence of 160mm. Between that lens, a regular wide-angle lens, and a superwide-angle that’s 16mm-equivalent, you get the full 10x range that Oppo promises.
On the prototype device Oppo offered for testing, the camera software was locked down to allow only simple stills photography. I couldn’t try out any video shooting, though it’s encouraging to note that Oppo has added optical image stabilization (OIS) to both the main camera, which will feature a mighty 48-megapixel resolution, and the telephoto lens. The tighter the zoom the more necessary OIS becomes, so this is a must. I also enjoy the fact that Oppo’s telephoto OIS is done by wiggling the mirror by fractions of a millimeter in response to unintended hand movement from the user.
Even with OIS on board, previewing photos through the telephoto lens produces an unpleasant jelly-like wobbling effect to the image. So any time I moved the camera around during my testing, the picture wobbled a little. There’s also quite a long minimum focusing distance for shooting with the telephoto: it’s mainly intended for grabbing some fine architectural detail when sightseeing cityscapes or focusing in on a particular spot in some vast landscape.
Building on the development work that Oppo showed off two years ago at MWC — it was a 5x periscope zoom at the time and the phone was noticeably chunkier than average — the new prototype is better in every way. More zoom, more lenses, more sophistication, reduced bulk and weight, and, importantly, a planned released window. Oppo says that a retail device featuring the 10x lossless zoom system will be out in the second quarter of 2019.