back to article True optical zoom coming to HTC smartphone cameras

An HTC spokesman says that smartphone camera technology is advancing at such a rate that it may soon catch up to "real" cameras in one critical feature that separates pro shooters from snap shooters: optical zoom. "Optical zooming in a smartphone is not too far off at all for HTC," the company's camera honcho Symon Whitehorn …


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  1. Hud Dunlap

    The best camera is the one that is in your hand.

    Yes my Nikon D50 is much better than my iPhone, but my phone is always with me and my Nikon isn't.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: The best camera is the one that is in your hand.

      No question. I've taken way more pictures since getting a smartphone than I ever did with my DSLR. I can be out on a lunchtime walk from work and take a couple of shots of some shrubbery or industrial heritage. Areas with only a handful of possibilities are just not worth visiting with a DSLR unless you're a professional. But if a footpath goes near them I can be there with my phone.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The best camera is the one that is in your hand.

        " I've taken way more pictures since getting a smartphone than I ever did with my DSLR."

        True for many, but I found it worked the other way. I've never found smartphones a rewarding photographic experience, and digital compacts something of a fast food experience. But when I got a m4/3 Panasonic G2 (marked down to £200), and was able to use depth of field, and control exposure time etc, I really got back into taking nice photographs in a way that I hadn't been able to since I abandoned silver halide. I'm sure the truly committed will scoff at my electronic viewfinder, kit lens, and mere 12 Mp images on an m4/3 sensor, but it works for me.

        I suspect that many of the enthusiast photographers are like my father in law - they choose technically brilliant but over-heavy full frame DSLR's, insist on a collection of prime lenses, suitable bullet proof camera bag that collectively weigh half a tonne, and that's why they never have it with them.

        1. That Awful Puppy

          Re: The best camera is the one that is in your hand.

          Amen to that. While my ego/stupidity wouldn't let me buy a mere G2 and a kit lens, the m4/3 stuff is good enough for almost anything, barring any paid assignments where its lack of dynamic range could hurt me, and it's small enough to have it on me at almost any time.

        2. jonathanb Silver badge

          Re: The best camera is the one that is in your hand.

          12 megapixels is absolutely fine for a camera. It will give you a resolution of approx 600ppi on a 5x7 photo, and nobody will notice any graininess at even half that resolution. For an A4 print, you will get about 360ppi, and again that is absolutely fine.

  2. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Easy zoom

    The zooming-in part is fairly easy but then those tiny lenses don't gather a useful amount of light. This PR is a waste of time unless somebody has invented a meta-material that simulates a wide lens and a deep barrel in a wide and shallow space. All the tiny lens tricks of stacking, super-resolution, and noise reduction are already out there and performing as marginally as physics dictates.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Easy zoom

      It's not so much that they don't gather a useful amount of light, but the unavoidable tradeoff between light gathering power (i.e. absolute aperture), sensitivity and resolution. A small lens plus a large number of pixels means each pixel is insensitive, which is, I think, why HTC have chosen to trade pixels for sensitivity.

      The question is whether someone can compute a lens with a large front element and a right angle prism so that the rest of the elements can be disposed along the long axis of the phone body. This would just about make a zoom feasible. As a further step, several sets of lenses could be used to cover each step in a zoom range. Of course, the present trend for super thin phones would have to fall by the wayside, but at one time we accepted 16mm thick phones, and these could hold quite reasonable size lenses.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Easy zoom

        "The question is whether someone can compute a lens with a large front element and a right angle prism so that the rest of the elements can be disposed along the long axis of the phone body. This would just about make a zoom feasible."

        This was already achieved in certain compact digital cameras over a decade ago.

        Perhaps it's due for a return?

      2. Michael Thibault

        Re: Easy zoom

        Made ever-more-possible by folded light paths and... of course... sensors that are curved (spheric sections).

  3. Steve Knox
    Paris Hilton


    NO optical zoom on selfies PLEASE. I don't need to see more details on any of those faces...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: NOOOOooooooo!

      Needs moar chromatic aberration. That always reminds me of Lovecraft, but then so do some selfie-subjects. How do they get those shots without extra limbs/tentacles? Maybe the next Nikon or Canon will add in LTE for rapid filing, or just looking odd whilst making a phone call.

  4. fishman

    90 degrees

    I assume that they will use a prism to turn the light path 90 degrees so that they will have room for the zoom and not be restricted to a length of less than the thickness of the phone.

    1. John Bailey

      Re: 90 degrees

      There was actually a camera that did this years ago. Can't remember who made it, or even if it was any good.

      My preference would be for a sensible thickness phonecamera with room for a proper zoom.

      1. Fuzz

        Re: 90 degrees

        Konica Minolta made one, for it's time a pretty decent camera. Sony also made some, I'm guessing from the Minolta designs after the acquisition.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: 90 degrees

          Panasonic have done that too with their 'folded lens' cameras, including the TZ1, that twin-lens stereoscopic camera, and I think their 'tough' compact cameras.

  5. Tannin

    Yes, no doubt. And no - no possible way

    Today's lesson is how to take a new fact and draw an absurd conclusion from it.

    1: Observe that telephone cameras are getting better and that this new development will make them better still.

    2: Fail miserably to notice that the cameras under threat from this improvement are not DSLRs, nor their newfangled interchangeable lens mirrorless brothers, but the smaller, cheaper point and shoot cameras which are directly threatened by phone cams and which are in fact already suffering from massively reduced sales worldwide because phone cams, while inferior in many respects, are not all that inferior and are, for many people, good enough.

    3: Instead, pretend that this has something to do with DSLRs, which are in a completely different market segment, serve a completely different purpose, and are not in the least threatened by telephones, not now and not in the future.

    4: Illustrate your story with a particular SLR lens which hardly anyone owns or uses and which sacrifices all of speed, weight, cost, and depth of field control to the one virtue of large focal length range - a lens, in other words, which concentrates on something SLR lenses don't do particularly well at and P&S cameras are often quite good at, as opposed to concentrating on the things that most other SLR lenses do best, none of which are or can be challenged by a P&S camera, let alone a telephone.

    DSLRs have vastly bigger sensors which is why they are so big, heavy and expensive, and is also why they produce vastly better image quality and always will. Well, always until someone invents a completely new universe with new laws of quantum physics. For quality imaging, there is no and can never be any substitute for large numbers of photons striking the imaging sensor. This has nothing to do with optics or technology, it is a fundamental product of the quantum nature of electromagnetic radiation.

    (Of course, for many purposes a low(ish) quality image is perfectly OK, and it's hard to see dedicated P&S cameras lasting for too long on the market when (more or less) the same functionality is available free with the telephone you were going to buy anyway. But DSLRs ... just learn some physics, OK?)

    1. joed

      Re: Yes, no doubt. And no - no possible way

      P&S cameras have their own niche. I get the all the talk about "always with you", yet when I go hiking, biking or driving I'd rather have a camera with real shutter release button, comfortable to hold/operate one handed and with decent picture quality. Zoom is nice feature as well. I'd ignore anything with 12+ megapixel but either way quality/size of the sensors, lens are order of magnitude higher even on a basic P&S when compared to fancy smartphone (and price for "premium" phone matters as well). And while I'll hesitate before taking DSLR (or m43) for a hike, I'll have room for P&S and a phone (this one for emergency and not pics).

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Yes, no doubt. And no - no possible way

        That's the lovely thing, there are different cameras to choose from the trade-off between image quality, size and versatility.

    2. MrXavia

      Re: Yes, no doubt. And no - no possible way

      I agree, and one thing they can add is a one click camera button on the phone, that would be great and eliminate the unlock, open app, take photo that I do now for a fairly spontaneous photo

      But if I want a decent photo, if I know I need to take photos, or if I am just at home and have time, I grab my DSLR...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yes, no doubt. And no - no possible way

        On a stock android phone you can do that. Turn on, swipe left then press one of the volume buttons to shoot - no need to unlock or open an app.

    3. Artaxerxes

      Re: Yes, no doubt. And no - no possible way

      I can see the future being to integrate phones into your DSLR somehow, allowing for wireless uploading or editing on the fly. Whether this is through a clip/micro USB on the camera or something more aking to keeping the sensor on the DSLR and using the phone as the 'brain' of the camera.

  6. Fihart

    Another Kodak moment.

    Like other travellers I have realised that some experiences are better not filtered via the viewfinder of a camera.

  7. spudmasterflex


    If that's the case htc why did you put the same crappy sensor in to the one m8 as the old m7, that was the deal breaker in upgrading for from my old htc one.

    Instead I've gone for the Xperia z2, such a shame.

  8. Sampler


    if they're serious about good smartphone camera's than raw image support is a necessity as much as optical zoom, afterall, why bother gathering all that information to throw it away compressing to jpeg?

    1. returnmyjedi

      Re: raw

      The Lumia 1020 and 1520 both support the RAW format, y'know.

      1. Sampler

        Re: raw

        I didn't know that, it's quite interesting, I should've qualified my initial post though pertaining to platforms people would actually want to buy ;)

        1. cambsukguy

          Re: raw

          1020 pics are amazing even in non-raw mode. Luckily, I like WP too, and Nokia build, and built-in maps, and free music, and long battery life.

          So, it appears you are full of shit, and wrong of course. Perhaps fewer people buy WP, so what. It sells a reasonable amount of phones so plenty of people want to buy them

          The reason it doesn't sell as many of the other major platforms is nothing to do with the phones and more to do with marketing I suspect.

          Witness Samsung domination of Android, despite the obvious fact that HTC often make a nice phone, with more features and better looking to boot, not to mention Sony and Google.

          1. Sampler

            woah, that's some vitriol for a bad joke (mine, that is, not windows phone as a platform)..

            I'd used Windows Mobile HTC's since I stopped using Nokia's and stayed with HTC when they went Android so I personally feel I have some experience for my "full of shit" comment - windows phone offers nothing over andriod and has a whole lot of negatives to go with it, personally feel they shot themselves in the foot with windows phone, windows mobile wasn't all that bad to use.

            Nokia's famous build quality is arguable on their classic devices, more like nostalgia, have seen many fail (like the slider on my 7110, the camera on my 7650, keyboard on the 7610 (though my 6210 was fairly stable)) and friends who have the newer devices it's much the same.

            I've used windows phone and there's nothing it has over Android, windows phone and Nokia are both good partners as they're both examples of companies poised to have swiped up the new mobile market that the iPhone is accredited with but both fumbled with ball disastrously, would I really want to spend money on a platform that'll be thrown out and incompatible with the next on the whim of the company (ie windows mobile 6 not compatible with phone 7 not compatible with 8). Looks like app developers feel the same. Also, hows that youtube app coming along..

            You're welcome to your opinion, but when it leads to calling people names on the internet to defend it you really should really look at your values and readjust your life's priorities.

  9. Steve Medway

    What wasn't said in the article is that compact camera's will go the way of the dodo very soon.

    A phone's optics doesn't even need to be 'better' than a compact's optics, it just needs to be 'good enough'. MP3 quality isn't as good as CD, same principle.

  10. Tannin

    As regards foldable zooms, perhaps the way forward for very small cameras (like phones) will be in liquid lenses (like an eye) where the lens stays in place but changes shape. No doubt there are people working on this as we talk, though I have no idea how far away practical introduction might be.

  11. John Miles

    Phone sizes

    If phone sizes keep increasing - then this might be easier than anticipated

  12. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    Perhaps, one day

    When the Film Libraries start accepting pictures with the same qualitiy of the first generatino of DSLR.

    Magazines and books need top quality images. This may no longer been the case in an all digital world.

    Until then my D800 (true 36Mp) and my 200-400mm F4 Lens will do me just fine for bird photography.

    1. That Awful Puppy

      Re: Perhaps, one day

      I'm sure the equipment list in your signature in photography forums is wonderfully detailed.

      1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

        Re: Perhaps, one day

        What Photography Forums do you have in mind?

        Hint, the answer is none, well none that you might have access to anyway. Plus to save you the search, you won't find any of my more recent pictures on the internet because I had a bad experience with plagurism a few years ago.

  13. Alan Watson

    Given that phone cameras don't yet even have adjustable apertures, I don't think that SLRs have a lot to worry about yet.

  14. Dick Emery

    My HTC One sucks

    I have a HTC One M7 and sure it was a poor choice of phone when it comes to photos (not bad in low light but terrible at everything else) but then again I carry a Canon S90 around for any photo opportunities. For everything else I use a 70D (Previously a 450D) if I know I going someplace interesting. I have seen very few shots from a smartphone camera that are 'good enough' yet. There are some examples on display on the net of course. But not to be found on most social sites. There is more to photography though than merely pointing a lens at your mates in the pub or your furry friend (pets included). Light, composition, subject matter etc. Everyone can be a photographer but not everyone has an eye for something you want to look at more than once.

  15. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Round about 2000 I bought a mid-range Olympus with decent size lense, 3:1 optical zoom, a whopping great 3.2M pix resolution and (now obsolete) 128MB SmartMedia cards. It has travelled the world with me and I still use it regularly.

    The absolute killer feature is the fact that the body shape forms a very comfortable hand grip, but more important even than that is that this shape means it takes 4x AA battery. I have never had to be concerned about charging, battery supplies etc.

  16. Vociferous

    Replace dSLR? No. Not a chance.

    But it might be time to ditch the compact camera I bring on vacations. I don't think this cellphone will be able to take photos as good as my Canon G15, but it may be close enough.

  17. Jim Lewis

    How can this item not make reference to the already available Samsung S4 Zoom (which I own)?

    This is essentially a compact camera/smartphone combo which already delivers significanlty superior camera performance in a phone format.

    I have no problems using this as my only phone and I'm extremely happy with the photos produced by it as well as all other aspects of the smartphone use.

  18. auburnman

    The HTC rep is talking like they have a specific something up their sleeve; I wonder if they're working on a deal with a big name in compact optics like the folk that do/did Nokia's camera's (Carl Zeiss?)

  19. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    I'll keep that DSLR

    until I can fit my 85mm F/1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar to my phone (fits my EOS through an adapter). My smartphone is fine for every day shots, but in low light conditions (theatre, animals around dusk, astronomy) I need to catch more photons than the puny lenses of camera phones can catch. Simple physics: double the aperture in diameter for a given pixel count, double the signal to noise ratio (when photon-noise limited). Nothing can alter that. What could change is the maximum electron density per unit of area on photosites of CCDs or CMOS chips. That would allow better dynamic range on small photosites, provided the number of photons captured allows that increase in dynamic range.

    This does not mean I do not applaud the improvements in camera phones. They have come a long way from being a barely usable gimmick to a pretty decent instrument for everyday photography. The only downside is the sheer number of selfies produced. Finally, I would not like to carry the bulk of said 85mm lens (close to 900 gr) on a daily basis, of course.

  20. David Paul Morgan

    Don't try and build it all in...

    I think the sony concept of a seperate lens system has tripod legs...

    so you have the benefits of better 'optics' when you need it.

    That said, I think I still prefer having a seperate viewfinder, than trying to see the screen in bright sunlight!

  21. LDS Silver badge

    The difference is a camera is designed to take photos, a smartphone is not

    A DSLR - and even other types of cameras - is not just a sensor and a lens. It's a tool designed from ground up to take photos while concentrating on the subject. Its controls and its software are dedicated to this task, nothing more and nothing less. You can change shutter speed, aperture, and focus without moving your eyes away from the subject. You have dials, rings and buttons are where you expect them, and you don't have to fiddle with on-screen controls competiting with the framing and subject. An optical viewfinder doesn't burn through battery power, while offering the highest resolution and color fidelity you can achieve (how many phone screen can handle Adobe RGB, or at least a decent sRGB? And let's not talk about ProPhoto RGB...)

    You don't risk a message or phone call interrupt your shooting, or a music player deplete your battery. You can store your images on fast, high capacity cards, while some phones can't even accept a micro SD card - and no, you can't upload wirelessy fast enough, often.

    The smartphone is a usueful "jack of all trades and master of none" device - but it will take a very long time before it can replace devices designed ad hoc for a given task.

  22. Rick Brasche

    its a question of convenience or "what you need"

    My problem is, the DSLR (well, micro 4/3rds) is only awesome after I spend a f**kton on extra lenses. Any kit lenses are insufficient, as is any budget flash.

    To get adequate range out of any higher end dedicated camera and the satisfaction of getting seriously excellent photos, you need more attachments. Like the bazooka lens in the article.

    Cell phones might catch up to a really good point-and-shoot really soon, which is what most of us want. It's when you're getting artsy-f@rtsy that I need the goodies.

    Like land speed records, the horsepower to go the first 120 isn't that hard. it's each 10 mph after that. It takes almost takes more money per mph after 200 than it took to get to 200.

    1. Vociferous

      > Any kit lenses are insufficient, as is any budget flash

      And even so ANY dSLR with ANY kit lens and ANY budget flash will still give you better image quality than ANY cellphone.

      The only real question is if you need high image quality. For many people, the answer is very clearly "no".

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