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What is a telephoto zoom on a phone? All you need to know

What is a telephoto zoom on a phone? All you need to know

Whether you’re reading the latest smartphone review or evaluating your next upgrade, you’ll inevitably come across the term “telephoto zoom.”

So what is telephoto zoom? What does it have to do with smartphones? Should you care? And what is the best telephoto zoom camera currently available in a smartphone?

Let’s take a closer look at these questions and more.

Table of Contents:

What is the telephoto zoom lens?

Telephoto zoom is a term that relates to cameras in general, but most people will come across in relation to their smartphone.

Most of the modern smartphones will have multiple cameras on their rear surface. There are three main types of cameras. The two most common are the wide camera, which takes your usual shot and does most of the heavy lifting, and the ultra wide, which handles those zoomed-in landscape shots.

The final and least common type of camera is the telephoto lens, which uses powerful lens setups to zoom in on a subject by a factor of 2x and more.

In photography jargon, the larger the telephoto zoom, the longer the focal length (measured in millimeters).

How do I access the telephoto zoom?

You can access your phone’s telephoto zoom through the pre-installed camera app. Look for a button or dial that says 2x, 3x, or another multiple.

When pressed, the viewfinder should focus on the subject. Press the shutter button and you’ll take a photo with this telephoto zoom camera.

Optical zoom vs. digital zoom

While it’s easy to take zoomed photos on your phone, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have access to a telephoto zoom feature. Most cheaper phones, and even some more expensive phones like the iPhone 13, don’t have a telephoto zoom feature.

Rather, these phones crop an image taken by the wide sensor. It may look normal on the phone’s viewfinder, and the resulting shots will likely be suitable for sharing on social media. However, they will generally show less detail and sharpness than if a dedicated telephoto zoom lens were used.

You will often find this fundamental difference in focus presented as optical zoom and digital zoom. Optical zoom is preferable because it uses physical lenses to bring the subject closer. Digital zoom takes part of a photo taken by the main camera and uses image processing to artificially sharpen it.

Most high-end smartphone cameras will offer the ability to combine optical and digital zoom techniques to produce 10x, 30x, or even 100x enhanced hybrid zoom.

What is a periscope lens?

Another term you may see associated with the topic of telephoto zoom on smartphones is the periscope lens. This is a telephoto lens that places a set of lenses at a 90 degree angle to the rest of the camera components.

This leaves room in slim smartphone form factors for a more pronounced 5x or 10x optical zoom effect.

After an initial wave of periscope lens phones, so far few manufacturers have chosen to roll them out in 2022. Costs and increased space requirements are likely to blame here, not to mention the fact that most phone users they just don’t feel the need. to zoom that far.

Which cameras offer the best telephoto zoom?

The best smartphone currently on the market for telephoto zoom is the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. Unusually, it has two dedicated 10-megapixel telephoto lenses, one offering 3x optical zoom and the other offering 10x optical zoom.

Using a hybrid zoom technique, as shown above, it can deliver up to 100x zoom shots. True, these are not very beautiful. But 30x seems perfectly respectable and 10x hits look great.

Other notable mentions are the Vivo X70 Pro with its 5x periscope lens and the Huawei P50 Pro with its 3.5x periscope lens.

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