Smartphone manufacturers have stepped their game up in a massive way when it comes to zoom and low-light photography in the last two or three years. We’ve seen everyone from Huawei and Apple to Samsung and Google make major strides in both regards.

But when it comes to zoom, we’ve seen a major trend for manufacturers to fudge the numbers, lie by omission, mislead the public, or simply fail to adequately explain their capabilities.

The questionable marketing centers on what exactly constitutes optical zoom in a smartphone sense, as well as the blurring of lines between optical zoom, hybrid zoom, and digital zoom.

Zoom technologies explained

Optical zoom in the context of a smartphone sees telephoto or so-called periscope cameras being used for zoomed-in shots. These cameras only offer one level of optical zoom though (e.g. 2x, 5x) rather than DSLR cameras, which are capable of moving lenses to offer several optical zoom levels. Telephoto and periscope cameras should deliver the best results out of all zoom technologies.

Digital zoom is just like cropping the camera sensor to give the impression that you’ve zoomed in. Phone cameras will often use digital up-scaling to produce an output file size that’s equivalent to the 1x resolution (e.g. upscaling to 8MP if the camera is an 8MP sensor). However, the actual level of detail retained is equivalent to cropping in on the original 1x image.

Smartphone manufacturers have been able to bridge the gap between digital and optical zoom somewhat with hybrid or lossless zoom.

Digital Zoom

Its been quite normal to use digital zoom as these days many smartphone are capable to capture 2x, 4x or 6x optical zoom. But there is a lie within it. On Android Authority investigation they found that Xiaomi’s Mi Note 10 specifically touts “5x optical” zoom branding on the rear (see the picture above), when it later admitted it’s actually using a 3.7x 8MP camera and cropping in to deliver a 5MP 5x hybrid zoom shot. The OnePlus 7 Pro meanwhile, delivers an 8MP 3x zoom shot from a 13MP 2.2x telephoto camera. Even this was quite common issues with the resolution issue of HTC One X series mentioning 13MP camera but true resolution comes out to from 8MP camera, in this case HTC was bluffing with digital zoom.

Hybrid Zoom

Did you hear about 100x Zoom or Space Zoom which enables the smartphone to capture space things but when you are going in details of such photos you will find that its another digital zoom hypocrisy which is same as digital zooming technology but more powered by AI Engines which uses multi-frame image processing to improve the image quality at such high level if hybrid zooms. Samsung, Vivo, Oppo and now other companies are in this dirty business.

Show Real Zoom Capabilities

No mention of digital, optical, or hybrid zoom in the initial teaser of Oppo Reno 2. (Ref – twitter.com) 

These days many smartphone manufacturers have started their journey from 2x telephoto cameras to 3x and 5x shooters. In general, the higher the native zoom factor of your telephoto or periscope camera, the higher the ceiling is for hybrid zoom. Even some brands are able to offer better quality hybrid zoom than other. But the main flagship phones should mention the true zooming capabilities rather than making sales on such lies and miserable truth. Only the photography professionals could identify the difference but smartphone manufacturers needs to stop this bluff game.

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