Huawei revealed its periscope camera technology to be implemented on smartphones at Mobile World Congress 2019 in Barcelona, Spain. A strange, new contender to the world of smartphone features, many struggle with it despite a wild year in 2018, filled with notches big and small, motorised selfie cameras, and a reprisal of the slider phone.
It’s strange and wonderful, and here’s what you need to know about the new tech.
1. How Does It Work?
While most camera makers and photographers think about the level of ‘zoom’ in a lens in terms of its “focal length”, many refer to it in multiples like a “2x” or “5x” zoom.
Most main shooters on smartphones are rather wide-angled, with an equivalent full-frame “focal length” of around 28mm, although many modern dual-camera arrays boast a second 2x “telephoto” zoom camera-lens combo that provides a two-times zoom – ending up around 60mm. That’s a decent portrait lens.
Focal lengths are a rather scientific term, since they refer to the actual distance you need within a lens to converge distant light rays to a point. A 60mm lens requires 60mm to gather light with its front lens element and converge and focus it onto a single point – the camera sensor.
It’s then easy to see why you can’t fit a super-telephoto lens on every smartphone – it will stick out like a very long, sore thumb on the back of the phone. Yes – unless fit most of it within the body in a tube, and then tack on a mirror to reflect light in at 90° into the tube. What does that sound like? A periscope!
While you might have a zoom feature on your current smartphones, zooming in at night will immediately show the detrimental effect it has on image quality. Digital zoom just uses lesser and lesser information from a decreasing patch of sensor, until digital noise gets overwhelming and the image is degraded significantly.
Optical zoom options, usually provided with a secondary camera, or with third-party clip-on lenses, don’t degrade the image (generally speaking), leading to much sharper, more detailed images.
2. Why Do I Need It?
Short answer: you don’t. Long answer: you don’t, until you’re at your child’s school play and you want to take a good photo of him/her with your smartphone. It’s dark, and you’re far away – which means the close-up, zoomed-in image of your child will look terribly noisy and just not very instagramable.
Or perhaps you’re at your husband’s soccer game and he looks terribly masculine. And he looks terribly far away too!
Huawei has not confirmed the actual focal length of the periscope lens on the Huawei P30, refusing to corroborate rumours that it will feature a 10x zoom. At 10x, it will have a focal length around 300mm.
300mm is about the longest, biggest lens a sports or safari photographer will bother to lug with them to an important event. It’s also zoomed-in enough to capture rather sharp, detailed images of the moon.
3. When Is It Coming?
The Huawei P30 will be launched in Paris on the 26th of March, just hours after Apple’s video-centric launch in San Francisco. It’s unclear how many models will be launched, although most are expecting Huawei’s usual pattern of a higher-tier “Pro” phone and a non-Pro phone. Whether the brand will launch a supersized “X” device like with the Mate 20 is another debate.
The periscope arrangement was also featured by fellow Chinese competitor Oppo, which will be implemented on its 5G statement piece to be premiered on 2nd Quarter 2019. It is confirmed to feature a 10x lossless optical zoom.
Despite this, Huawei has refuted similarity with its competitor, claiming that their version is “something nobody [has done] before”, and stressing that their solution is their own.
These comments have led many to speculate that the periscope camera on the Huawei P30 will feature a mechanical, optical zoom – much like the ones on expensive cameras. This will allow for flexibility in shooting options and possibly smooth zooming for video, all while maintaining lossless zooming on the mobile devices.