How 2023 Android smartphones can get a big advantage over the iPhone

A groundbreaking new optical zoom camera module, scheduled to debut at CES in January 2023, could revolutionize future smartphone cameras for photos and especially video.

Offering smooth optical zoom between 4x and 9x, the newly announced zoom camera module promises improved clarity throughout the zoom range, without uncomfortable “jumps” in picture quality. The module also includes optical image stabilization (OIS), and its compact size allows for high magnifications without ugly camera shake. The camera is expected to be introduced in smartphones with Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 platform next year.

Manufactured by LG Innotek, the camera module uses a “true” optical zoom lens that uses mechanical moving parts to seamlessly adjust its zoom from near to far, similar to zoom lenses commonly used with DSLR or mirrorless cameras.

This technique is in contrast to conventional smartphone “optical zoom” cameras, which use only “prime” or fixed zoom lenses. In this case, the illusion of optical zoom is achieved by using digital zoom to transition between these fixed zoom levels as smoothly as possible. Using digital zoom, however, always results in a drop in quality, which is often quite noticeable for such cameras.

True optical zoom can be especially beneficial when shooting video, as any unexpected changes in image quality will stick out like a sore thumb when zooming in or out on a constantly moving image.

LG claims it has “unrivaled” technology in this field and hopes the new camera module will strengthen its position in the global market for smartphone camera modules, according to a recent press release. The company is also working with Qualcomm to optimize software that supports true optical zoom for the flagship Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 platform that powers high-end Android phones.

However, the new camera module won’t be the first to provide a true optical zoom camera in a smartphone. That honor, aside from some early attempts that looked more like pocket zoom cameras with phones attached, goes to Sony’s Xperia 1 IV flagship, which launched earlier this year.

Apple is also said to be working on its own optical zoom camera, though there’s no word on whether LG’s latest module could find its way into future iPhones. The iPhone 14 Pro Max is currently believed to offer the best smartphone camera for video, but a true optical zoom lens could give Android flagships a powerful weapon against Apple if it doesn’t release its own solution next year.

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