LG, whose zoom camera module is in the Xperia 1 IV, has just unveiled a brand new periscope-style optical zoom with 4x to 9x telephoto range. As Engadget reports (opens in new tab), that would enable cameras to deliver full image quality through the entire zoom range instead of relying on a hybrid zoom.
The problem with hybrid zoom is that when you boil it down to basics, it's guesswork: digital zooming fills in the pixels, and while it's based on very clever algorithms it's no substitute for the real thing. When I go beyond the 3x optical zoom on my iPhone 14 Pro, the image quality suffers dramatically.
Why I hope for a periscope
The problem with optical zoom is that you can't battle physics: to get better optical zoom you need a bigger camera, and that's at odds with the vogue for super-slim smartphones. Periscope-style systems solve that by using very similar principles to submarine periscopes. Instead of sticking out vertically from the phone, they sit horizontally – so you get longer zooms without having a thicker phone or an overly large camera bump.
LG's new sensor effectively works like a DSLR camera, delivering full quality irrespective of the zoom level. It also includes optical image stabilisation to reduce image blur, a common problem with larger zoom levels where even tiny hand shakes can make big movements in the image.
The new zoom module should be coming to the best Android phones in 2023 and beyond: LG has teamed up with Qualcomm to integrate its tech in the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Mobile Platform, and promises that we'll see the first phones packing its new module at CES 2023 next week. It's possible that the module might make it into an iPhone 15 too: Apple buys a lot of components from LG Innotek, and an iPhone with much better zoom capability would be a big improvement.