Sony’s new Xperia 1 IV has beaten Apple to the punch by bringing to market a powerful new smartphone technology Apple is still working on behind the scenes.
The innovation is found in the phone’s camera that features three rear-facing lenses, including a 16mm ultra-wide, 24mm wide and, most importantly, an all-new 85-125mm true optical zoom lens unlike anything found in any other smartphone. Sony claims this is the “World’s first true optical zoom 85-125mm lens’ in a smartphone.
Why ‘True’ Optical Zoom
Sony’s true optical zoom lens is different because, until now, nearly every ‘optical zoom’ capability on a smartphone would be more accurately described as ‘fake optical zoom.’
While such fake optical zoom techniques do use real telephoto optics to magnify the subject, the effect of smoothly zooming between different magnifications is always achieved digitally. This results in a progressive reduction in quality as you zoom in, often with an abrupt change in quality when the camera eventually switches over to the next lens.
Any form of digital zoom invariably results in compromised image quality as the image falling on the sensor must be cropped and enlarged via image processing techniques. Clever as these techniques may be, they can’t match the quality of a true optical zoom lens, which is capable of using the whole sensor area without cropping or additional processing.
By contrast, Sony’s lens works much like a zoom lens on a professional camera where you can physically adjust the lens to any magnification you want without any digital shenanigans behind the scenes.
Impressive as it is, Sony’s new lens isn’t the first true optical zoom lens ever to be found in a smartphone. Cast your mind back to 2013 and you may remember Samsung’s Galaxy S4 Zoom which featured an even more powerful 24-240mm optical zoom lens. To be fair, the important difference here is that Sony’s periscopic lens fits entirely inside the smartphone’s body, whereas the Galaxy S4 Zoom’s protruding motorized lens makes it feel more like a compact camera than a smartphone.
So should Apple be worried by Sony’s new flagship? Absolutely not. The Xperia 1 IV is tailored specifically for serious photographers, especially users of Sony’s range of high-end cameras, and will have limited mass-market appeal. Cutting-edge ‘optical’ zoom, has never been a high-priority feature for the iPhone, so I don’t expect Apple to be in any rush to bring its own version of this technology to market. But now, thanks to Sony, at least we know that it’s possible.
Follow @paul_monckton on Instagram