For years digital zoom has been stigmatized, and I didn’t know if it wasn’t going to be one of those cases of too much hype for a feature we’ve had on smartphones for decades.
But after using this new 2X mode extensively over the last month and a half, I can say that it absolutely delivers on Apple’s promise. This new 2X mode sets a new standard for smartphone photography by which all future phones will be measured, and it also once again opens up the big question of what the ideal smartphone camera system should look like.
How has no one thought of this sooner?
“This new telephoto lens uses the middle 12 megapixels of the quad-pixel sensor to deliver full resolution 4K photos and videos without digital zoom.”
All of these 50MP and 100MP sensors are grouped into pixels and treated as 12MP sensors at the firmware level
For this new 2X mode, Apple bypasses pixel binning. So from 1X to 1.9X, the iPhone would effectively be “stretch” a 12MP pixel shot, but once you hit the 2X zoom level it stops doing that and instead switches to using a crop of the center portion of the 48MP sensor. This 12-megapixel section of the sensor (without any binning) is how you have a “full resolution” 2X zoom on the iPhone 14 Pro.
It actually looks like something ANY smartphone with a 50MP main camera could have done. Scratch that: should have done this years ago!
Honestly, it’s a little surprising that this hasn’t been done before the iPhone 14 Pro.
On the Android side, we’ve had phones with 50 megapixel sensors for… a while! Last year’s Pixel 6 Pro uses a 50-megapixel primary camera, but it didn’t offer a sensor-like ‘optical grade’ 2X mode. So on this phone the zooming happens over a 12MP pixel photo, and when you zoom in the level of detail is understandably much worse compared to a full resolution sensor crop.
The same goes for other phone manufacturers: Xiaomi, Motorola, OnePlus. Despite years of using high resolution sensors, I haven’t seen a full resolution 2X zoom implementation.
It’s especially odd that just a month after Apple released this feature on the iPhone 14 Pro, it immediately appeared on the new Pixel 7 Pro. It’s clear that both companies have been working on it for a while, so it’s hard to say which started first, but assuming the priority should be Apple.
(Image Credit – PhoneArena) Despite having the highest resolution sensor, at 2X, the Galaxy S22 Ultra captures less detail than the iPhone 14 Pro and Pixel 7 Pro
The good news is that now that we’ve all seen the benefits, it’s a safe bet that most Android phone makers will eventually implement a similar feature in their upcoming flagships.
The size of 2X
“With its popular focal length and high resolution, 2x is the perfect choice of framing for Portrait mode.
I have written several articles in the past advocating for a proper 2X mode to be implemented on all phones.
There is a good reason for the popularity of 2X mode and that reason is… organic.
A 2X mode in the smartphone is very close to the 50mm focal length in dedicated camera jargon.
And this focal length has been called the “nifty-fifty” and has been the basis of modern cameras for years. So far, many professional cameras actually come with a 50mm lens, and the reason is that it’s an almost universal lens.
The reason it works so well for portraits is because with it you can capture a face without it looking distorted (like it would on a 1X wide lens); you can capture a full body portrait without stepping too far behind; you can capture the so-called cowboy shot, with the upper half of the body in the frame. You can capture it all with one lens!
You just can’t do that with a 3X lens without having to walk too far for most of these shots, and in my opinion you shouldn’t even be taking portrait shots of a single person using the 1X lens (it just looks distorted and…bad).
So what is the perfect camera system?
And do we even need a 3X objective, now that we have 2x?
But there’s a bigger question this new camera poses. If we now have a 2X camera that is practically as good as a dedicated 2X lens, how does that affect the ideal smartphone camera setup?
Specifically, do we even need a 3X zoom lens on smartphones now?
A 3X zoom lens is the third most common lens on a flagship camera system these days. Galaxy S22 uses it, Galaxy Fold 4 and Flip 4 too, iPhone 14 Pro and 13 Pro series have it, Huawei P50 Pro has 3.5X zoom (close enough).
But is a 3X zoom lens really necessary when you already have an excellent 2X, which can be extended with just a bit of digital zoom to 3X?
Not to mention that zooming on other flagship phones like the Xiaomi 12 Pro now seems completely out of place. The 12 Pro has a dedicated 2X zoom lens, but that seems like a big waste of space considering you can pretty much get the same results with just the main camera.
So maybe the ideal camera of the future can rely entirely on its primary sensor for close range zoom (2X and 3X) and swap that now common 3X lens for something that lasts much longer, a lens 5X zoom for example. 5X is just perfect for animal shots and with smart processing it can deliver great shots at 10X. Or why not even play with crazier ideas: can you have two long-range zooms? A 5X objective and a 10X objective would be absolutely amazing.
Either way, the conversation is now open and I think we need to rethink what a modern smartphone camera system will look like in 2023 and beyond.
#Samsung #Xiaomi #surprise #Apples #camera #good