The Huawei P30 Pro blew me away when it was released in March 2019. Of course, its (then) Leica-branded camera system was the center of attention, as Huawei quickly established itself as the leader in smartphone photography.
But one camera, in particular, stood out because it was unlike anything I had seen before. The modern implementation of the Periscope zoom lens seemingly came out of nowhere and flipped the script on smartphone zoom.
Interestingly, up until 2019 ultra-wide-angle cameras were “all the hype”, and while they were cool and somewhat useful, they could never get the same (literally) cutting-edge reaction. blast from my friend who saw a 50x zoom photo from a good periscope camera.
Before the takeover of the modern periscope zoom lens, it was unthinkable to shoot with 5-10x zoom, but that is no longer the case. Fast forward to today, long range zoom cameras on phones are:
- A huge selling point on most high-end flagships
- Always a fun feature that gets a reaction from your friends
- A reason to be more inspired, intentional and artistic with your phone’s camera
Street photography, architectural photography, wildlife photography, portrait photography, action/sports photography – these are just a few of the incredible “point and shoot” suborders that long zoom cameras scope on phones now allow! Of course, the fact that you always have this camera in your pocket is the real game changer. You never have to think twice about catching that bird on the roof and how far your dog can go to the park.
The long-range zoom on phones can also be very handy in more “normal” use cases, like trying to read a sign; Record your kids’ school performance from a distance or get a closer look at your favorite football/soccer star at the stadium, even if your cheap seat usually doesn’t allow it.
So it’s clear – the benefits of long-range zoom cameras on phones are enormous, and they unlock photographic potential that smartphone enthusiasts have only dreamed of. But with great power comes great responsibility! I’m sure this is the first time you hear this totally original saying.
Anyway, let’s spy on some people!
Invasion of privacy: long-range zoom on Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and Google Pixel 6 Pro – “too beautiful” and scary
Before we go any further, let me show you some camera samples taken with the Galaxy S22 Ultra at 10-100x zoom. They’re courtesy of a tech enthusiast and leaker ice universe and shared on Twitter.
This somewhat invasive Twitter thread is titled “Wish Them Happy!” and before I go ahead and (rightly) label this as scary, let me say that I highly doubt the photographer’s intentions were bad. He’s clearly a tech geek who really loves his smartphone’s zoom. I know this because I can relate to it (although I don’t tend to take unwanted wedding photos).
Either way, regardless of the intentions behind this particular set of photos, we can’t ignore the fact that the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s zoom capabilities can be very scary. The fact that this specific example is not an infraction does not mean that the next one will not be…
Long-range zoom on phones like the Galaxy S22 Ultra, Pixel 6 Pro and upcoming iPhone 15 Pro Max: ban, limit, regulate?
The Pixel 6 Pro’s 20x zoom compared to the iPhone 13’s 20x zoom. The Pixel 6 Pro has 4x periscope zoom and the iPhone uses digital zoom.
I want to clarify something – I love my Google Pixel 6 Pro’s periscope zoom camera (not romantically). But I guess that’s my civic behavior which kicks in and has me writing a story that seems to put my favorite phone’s camera in place…
So, I have no choice but to raise the only sensible question: should long-range zoom on phones be banned or at least limited/regulated? And the truth is… I’m not sure. That’s why I try to approach this subject with a good dose of nuance…
One suggested that “the real reason America banned Huawei was because of its ‘crazy’ 50x super spy lens.” The Daily Mail published the story, which was accompanied by a video of the Huawei P30 Pro zooming in on boys playing chess.
Of course, that’s definitely not the case, as the Galaxy S22 Ultra is now about 3x better than the P30 Pro when it comes to zoom (thanks to new hardware and computational photography) and it’s definitely on sale at United States !
Anyway, the other example of a smartphone camera that could have been banned comes from OnePlus. In 2020, a new 5MP sensor found on the OnePlus 8 Pro lacked the usual color and IR filters that phone cameras usually have. This camera allowed the OnePlus 8 Pro sees through certain objects, including clothing, much like an x-ray. OnePlus ended up disabling the feature in China and India, but then re-enabled it after “tweaks”.
In the end: “I want my periscope zoom camera, but I don’t want to be spied on”
My favorite Pixel 6 Pro photos are taken at 4-8x zoom
Despite some conspiracy theories and cameras that could accidentally see through clothes, governments around the world don’t seem to have meddled in the smartphone camera business, and that’s probably a good thing. Any phone maker will tell you that government regulations stifle innovation. Ask Tim Cook & Co, who might be forced to ditch their beloved Lightning port in favor of USB-C because “Europe said so.”
But this one is a little different. We’re talking about an “in the face” privacy issue that could theoretically help “the bad guys” steal your private information, spy on you, or even eavesdrop on your conversations. In case long-range zoom on phones doesn’t scare you enough, phones like the Pixel 6 Pro and Galaxy S22 Ultra can also zoom in on your audio.
If you identify with them, there are feature phones without cameras you can buy! And in case you’re on the other end of the spectrum, then you think “periscope zoom cameras are awesome” and you’d throw a tantrum if someone were to take them away…
So tell me…