Is Xiaomi’s telescopic lens a gimmick or an innovation?

"Two are not enough, come four. 40 million is not enough, it may cost 100 million."

This is neither buying food nor buying a house, but the two major development trends of smartphone cameras today, increasing the number of cameras and increasing the number of pixels.

While everyone was still arguing about whether the number of high pixels or the number of cameras is better, Xiaomi pointed to a "new" road, a telescopic lens with a large aperture, and demonstrated a prototype equipped with a telescopic lens.

Looking at this rough prototype telescopic form, netizens have mixed opinions. Some said, "One mirror walks the world", "Finally there is no need to put four or five cameras on mobile phones", and some said "Renaissance", "Don't be optimistic. It’s getting heavier and deeper", "Crazy crazy."

In addition to showing the prototype, Xiaomi also introduced the advantages of "lens telescopic technology" to mobile phone cameras. It has a larger aperture and can use a larger size sensor to obtain better optical effects, but it did not mention " optical zoom".

Mobile phone equipped with "retractable camera" is not new

In fact, in the early years, many manufacturers tried to use "retractable lens technology" on smartphones, basically for two purposes, one is a wide-range optical zoom, and the other is to insert an outsole sensor.

Samsung's Galaxy K Zoom and S4 Zoom, Motorola's Hasselblad camera module are the former, and Panasonic's CM1 and CM10 are the latter.

▲Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, picture from: allthingsd.com

The Samsung Zoom series is basically a Galaxy phone with a Samsung DC card camera lens, the specifications are the same as the card camera, equivalent to 24-240mm focal length, F3.1~6.3 aperture, equipped with OIS anti-shake. (Motorola's Hasselblad module is similar.)

Panasonic’s DMC-CM1 and DMC-CM10 use a 1-inch sensor. The appearance is similar to "We have added a phone function to the camera." The lens is retractable, the maximum aperture is F2.8, and the optical structure is 6 elements in 5 groups. Under the Leica logo, there is something inside.

From the perspective of the camera alone, the two have their own advantages and disadvantages. The size and weight of the ten times large zoom telescopic lens solution is even greater, but it is better than the outsole in terms of practicality and flexibility; the outsole solution is better than the imaging quality and lens. Quality.

However, as a whole, the Zoom series products at that time were not perfect, the imaging quality did not reach the leapfrog effect, the battery life of the mobile phone was weak, and the camera experience was relatively ordinary. The superposition of the two functions did not achieve a win-win result, resulting in poor market performance. Good, it's finally nothing.

▲ Panasonic DMC-CM1.

Panasonic's CM series are of the nature of "playing tickets". CM1 and CM10 are probably "the best camera in Android devices, and the best Android phones in the camera industry". Resources tend to be cameras. In order to control the cost (the final price is eight thousand), the hardware configuration of Android can only be reduced, returning to the experience, with a sense of fragmentation.

Xiaomi "retractable large aperture lens": bigger and clearer

After reviewing the short-lived "retractable lens", let's look at Xiaomi's.

There are not many details announced by Xiaomi, only two:

  • Large aperture, increase the amount of light by 300%;
  • The clarity is increased by 20%.

Without "optical zoom", it can be basically concluded that it is the direction of the large sensor, and the size may reach one inch (the same as the Panasonic CM1). Large aperture means that the optical design of the lens will be more complicated, and it is logical to use a telescopic lens to reduce the volume. When the sharpness is improved, the material, polishing process and structure of the lens inside the lens must be selected.

Then, to what extent the size, weight and durability of the Xiaomi telescopic lens can be achieved, may still have to wait for the final mass production version. However, it is a bit gratifying that the prototype announced by Xiaomi is still much lighter and thinner than the Panasonic CM1 and Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom.

The telescopic lens of the camera is still in use today

The telescopic lens first appeared on the film camera, the purpose is still to zoom and reduce the size, the design of the telescopic lens has also continued to the current mirrorless and card cameras.

▲ Sony RX100 VI. Picture from: amateurphotographer

Regardless of fixed-lens camera, mirrorless or SLR, the telescopic lens of the camera can be roughly divided into two types, zoom and fixed focus.

  • Zoom:

Such as Sony RX100 series, Panasonic LX10 series, built-in one-inch sensor, supports a wide range of optical zoom (10x upwards). It is the goal that smart phones have been catching up with. The multi-camera relay hybrid zoom is also simulating a wide range of optical zoom.

Excellent: Small size, wide-range optical zoom.
Poor: The aperture is not constant, the longer the focal length, the smaller the aperture.

  • focus:

For example, the Ricoh GR series and Nikon COOLPIX A series have built-in APS-C frame and combined volume and weight. The aperture of these outsole cards basically falls at F2.8. Xiaomi's telescopic lens should be attributed to this type of product.

Excellent: The quality of the lens is excellent, and the aperture is fully opened to the peak.
Inferior: Fixed focal length, single use scene.

▲Ricoh GR3. Picture from: dpreview.com

From the perspective of the definition of different products, the products with large light change are mostly for ordinary consumers and have a wider audience; while the products with fixed focus (outdoor) are more inclined to professional players and have more specific uses.

From the camera point of view, Daguangchang has a stronger tolerance and a wider range of applications. It can even be said that the Sony RX100 is easier to control than the Ricoh GR and is more suitable for the general public.

Expectations for Xiaomi's retractable lens

Xiaomi didn't announce too many details. What can be confirmed is the use of a retractable structure, a large aperture, and three points of improved clarity.

As for how large the aperture can reach, how large the sensor can cover, the material used for the lens module, whether it has optical zoom, how tight it is, and whether it can solve the "big bottom coma" and other issues are unpredictable.

▲ The telescopic camera shown by Xiaomi seems to respond very quickly.

From cameras to mobile phones, telescopic lenses are not new, what is new is how much they can do. If it is just a simple function stacking and stacking, and it is not much different from the telescopic lens that appeared earlier, it is really a "Renaissance."

The form of the telescopic lens is indeed "revived", adding a movable part to the mobile phone, which is somewhat similar to the lift camera. However, it is always better to have innovation, it is better to make up the number of cameras and arrange the cameras in a fancy way.

The liftable camera cuts down on the screen, bringing a full screen. The retractable camera cuts down on the chaotic multi-camera system of the smartphone, and a clean and tidy "back".

▲ The lifting camera is a "true full screen" curve to save the country.

In order to accomplish this task, the telescopic camera should be able to cover the focal length from ultra-wide to telephoto to ensure the high quality of the lens (the material will be piled up, the money will be spent, and the cost will be paid). Finally, the stability and sealing of the structure must be considered. .

In short, Xiaomi's telescopic large-aperture lens technology has achieved mass production and commercial use, and the road is obstructed and long. It should not be seen that mass production version is so early. Some have to wait, just don't stop like MIX Alpha.

Why does the phone have to be on the camera?

Recording, sharing life, discovering and recording beauty has always been one of our major needs, and smartphones are precisely the most convenient recording sharing device around us. In view of this, mobile phone manufacturers are willing to work hard on this track, and naturally see that manufacturers have been pondering new camera functions and exploring new camera technologies.

Because of the limitation of the size of mobile phones, it is actually difficult to break through, but we still see the efforts of manufacturers, dual cameras to four cameras, macro, black and white, periscope, and ToF are all launched. Functionally, it has also been stuffed into a hundred times zoom, analog aperture, "magic changing sky", AI image recognition, 8K video and so on.

▲ The 100-megapixel main camera of Mi CC9 Pro.

The camera module on the back of the current mobile phone will probably be equipped with three "main lenses": ultra-wide-angle, wide-angle, and telephoto. Most products only have anti-shake and outsole sensors on the wide-angle (that is, the main camera), and ultra-wide and telephoto lenses. In low light, it is difficult to obtain an effect similar to the main camera, and the experience is a 20% discount.

The lens of the mobile phone camera is limited by the volume, and the aperture is not large. The equivalent is basically the same as the full-frame F8~F11. It is difficult to achieve the physical-level blur effect. Most of them rely on algorithm simulation, and the experience is 20% off.

In addition, some products will be equipped with special lenses such as macro lenses, depth-of-field lenses, black-and-white lenses, etc., bringing richer camera functions. However, the functions of these lenses are mostly the icing on the cake, and the effect is very general. After the freshness, it is likely to be left unused. This experience is barely a 50% discount.

On the whole, there are actually many shortcomings in the current popular multi-camera system. Having said that, in recent years, the software and hardware of mobile phone photography have made great progress, constantly refreshing our understanding, but even so, it is far from the most perfect state. The multi-camera relay zoom will eventually evolve into a single-camera optical zoom, which is the ultimate solution for the evolution of mobile phone cameras, but how to go this road may still need someone to try.

Xiaomi's telescopic large-aperture lens is an "aggressive" attempt. It attempts to break the "multi-camera system", just like the previous elevating camera. Although adding movable parts to the fuselage is not an "absolutely correct" direction, it is a very good motivation to actively explore and open up a new track for the product.

Whether the retractable camera that was brought to the table again is "retro" or "innovative" is still unclear. We can only wait for the party and hope that the result of waiting is not "next time."

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