- The periscope camera can offer optical zoom as high as 5X.
- They are, however, expensive and need a lot of R&D.
- Periscope cameras are necessary on your smartphone for good photography.
Cameras are one of the most crucial parts of a smartphone. One of the innovations that reached smartphone cameras of late is optical zoom allowing smartphone cameras to crop into a shot to focus on the subject from closer without spoiling the quality of the photo. Although manufacturers have put advanced cameras to offer optical zoom on smartphones, they are not logistically feasible and hold companies back from pushing boundaries.
Enter periscope cameras, the camera setup that derives its name from the eponymous instrument used in submarines to see far objects above the sea-level or anything that is not in the line of sight. Periscope work on the principle of reflection using prisms, lenses, or mirrors. In the smartphone industry, manufacturers use the same principle to build periscope cameras that can achieve optical zoom more than what digital cameras offer.
But why are we talking about periscope cameras suddenly and why are periscope cameras relevant today for your smartphone?
Answer to the first part of the question pertains to the presence of a good number of smartphones that have periscope cameras now available. Most notable ones include the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, which launched in India back in March, and the Realme X3 SuperZoom that was launched earlier this week. Oppo was too poised to launch the Find X2 Pro in India but the company had to cancel the plans due to the outrage against Chinese brands on social media.
Anyway, the Indian consumers, including you, are now hearing the word "periscope camera" more than ever. So, wouldn't it be good if you know about them?
Pardon me for answering that part also with a question, but you get the point. Cameras are important for smartphones, so much so that companies such as Oppo, Xiaomi, Samsung, Google, and Apple are investing hugely into the R&D of smartphone cameras. It would not be a stretch to say that a large portion of this investment is dedicated towards enhancing the zoom capabilities of the cameras. As such, periscope cameras were invented to solve the issues of providing high optical zoom capabilities on smartphones.
Why did periscope cameras become necessary?
If you have seen a DSLR, you might have noticed that the lens body does not sit flush with the main body. Instead, it is attached on the front in a way that lets it expand or shrink, as needed. On zooming in, the camera lenses and other elements move to align themselves in a manner that can produce a lossless optical zoom. But that is not the case with smartphones whose sleek body does not allow big camera modules into a cramped space.
Not like smartphone manufacturers have not tried doing that. Take, for example, the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom. The camera outlier at its back was not only there to provide the user with optical zoom that can work in tandem with the smartphone but it also was heavy and mocked the form factor smartphones are associated with.
Except for a few smartphones with such camera modules, many smartphones do not condone this style, much less embrace it. Most smartphone manufacturers have shied away from taking the novel route to design their cameras. What they want is that the smartphone cameras should not only offer a good lossless optical zoom but also look beautiful and appealing.
Periscope cameras were the solution.
The periscope cameras have a unique architecture that allows ample space for the lens, sensor, and other elements to more freely and work in accordance with producing a greater amount of optical zoom. There is an L-shaped tunnel in the module with a rectangular opening on the outside, which allows the light to fall on the prism fixed inside. The prism bends the light ray to 90 degree and passes it to the lens and finally the sensor where it is registered. Higher the tunnel, higher the optical zoom range. For example, the specific capability for 5X optical zoom relies on how long the periscope camera used on the smartphone is.
But, why it became so important lately?
Since the optical zoom delivered by periscope cameras is quite high, smartphone manufacturers are in the rat race of who can offer the best optical zoom on their smartphone's camera. The race to offer the highest optical zoom can only be won by only so many marketing terms. You have seen a lot of marketing terms, such as "SuperZoom", "Ultra Zoom", and "Space Zoom" being overused by the smartphone companies to sell their smartphones. However, these terms do not always tell you the truth and serve you with what will entice you to buy the smartphone.
In reality, putting a periscope camera on a smartphone is expensive. That is why they are found on smartphones that have a premium price. The deciding factor for the price is the length of the periscope camera.
You might ask, why?
To explain that, let us go back to the structure of the periscope cameras -- the one with the tunnel. Periscope cameras can be enlarged by only so much, if they have to produce maximum optical zoom. While smartphone manufacturers do not have the feasibility of putting a huge bump at the back, they have the flexibility to make long tunnels for periscope cameras. The smartphone manufacturers take the freedom of deciding how long the tunnel on the periscope camera will be.
This means if you want more optical zoom on your smartphone camera, you will have to spend more. That is why smartphones such as Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra with 5X optical zoom and 100X Space Zoom cost around Rs 1 lakh.
And why should it matter to me?
There is a good reason why you should consider optical zoom before buying your next smartphone. When you buy a smartphone, one of the few key things that you look for in it is the cameras. Tell me, will you buy a smartphone without any cameras?
Now that you have answered the question with, I presume, a NO. Let us talk about why periscope zoom is also important. Zoom capabilities on the smartphone cameras serve many purpose and need to be there for most everyday situations. You cannot always go near an object to click it, which is when you need to zoom in. Having an optical zoom will ensure you do not lose any details in the photograph when zooming in, unlike digital zoom. Be it a concert, or clicking a photo of a butterfly or a bird, optical zoom will help you get rid of that grainy photo when you zoomed into the get a shot.
A good optical zoom will provide you with a good image quality but it will also factor in the budget. You will have to look at several specifications besides the optical zoom to decide the best smartphone in your budget. For example, the crazy 100X Space Zoom on Galaxy S20 Ultra is attractive but the smartphone costs Rs 97,999. On the other hand, the 5X SuperZoom on the Realme X3 SuperZoom comes at a much lower price of Rs 27,999. But do not forget the rest of their specifications that affect their costs.