Smartphones have point-and-shoot cameras (remember those?) beat in a lot of ways, but there’s one thing traditional cameras still do better than phones: zoom. The new Sony Xperia 1 IV aims to change that with a true continuous optical zoom lens. It’s a technical achievement, for sure, but at this stage, it’s more proof of concept than game-changer.
At $1599, it’s a steeply priced concept, too. To be sure, you’ll find plenty of premium specs on the device, starting with a 6.5-inch 4K (well, 1644 x 3840 but close enough) OLED with a 120Hz refresh rate. There’s also a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor, IP68 waterproofing, 512GB of storage, 12GB of RAM, a 5000mAh battery, and even a headphone jack. But $1600 matches the most expensive variants of the iPhone 13 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, both of which at least give you 1TB of storage for that kind of money.
In any case, the Xperia 1 IV has something that neither Samsung or Google offers: that continuous optical zoom lens. Sure, plenty of smartphone cameras allow you to pinch and zoom, but that’s digital rather than optical zoom. At least right now, optical zoom generally produces better results than digital since it actually uses moving lenses to magnify your subject. Digital zoom is usually just cropping in on a wider image and relying on AI to try and recreate detail it wasn’t able to capture — more like an educated guess than the ground truth.
You might also have a telephoto lens on your smartphone, like the 3x lens (or 77mm equivalent, to use the film-era terms familiar to photographers) on the iPhone 13 Pro or the 10x (230mm equivalent) on the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. They aren’t “zoom” lenses either, meaning they’re fixed and don’t allow you to move between focal lengths. The Xperia 1 IV’s telephoto lens is different because it does allow you to set the focal length at 85mm, 125mm, and anywhere in between.
Smartphone makers stick with fixed lenses because they’re smaller and less expensive. Shrinking the moving parts of a zoom lens down to smartphone size is a technical challenge few OEMs are up for, apparently. Oppo showed off a continuous optical zoom concept last year but hasn’t yet brought it to market. To be fair, the Xperia 1 IV exists only in prototype form now and won’t ship to consumers until September, so Oppo could still beat Sony to the punch. But until then, the Xperia 1 IV offers our only real, tangible proof of a true smartphone-sized zoom.
It’s a huge achievement, but it’s also… kind of a letdown.
For starters, it’s a very small zoom range: just 3.5–5.2x relative to the standard 24mm wide angle. Sony says it chose those focal lengths because they’re traditionally used for portraits, and, individually, they’re useful for that purpose. I’m just not sure how valuable the space between them is.
Before we get too far into the zoom lens, here’s a quick rundown on all three rear cameras on the Sony Xperia 1 IV:
- 16mm F2.2 ultrawide: 12-megapixel 1/2.5-inch sensor
- 24mm F1.7 standard wide: 12-megapixel 1/1.7-inch sensor with OIS
Read More News: Sony’s Xperia 1 IV is a pricey proof of concept