LG's days of making smartphones may be over, but LG Innotek, a major supplier of mobile camera modules, is still going strong. At CES 2023, it will show off a new telephoto zoom camera module that offers true, continuous optical zoom. The company is working with Qualcomm to speed up the use of its new technology with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 in upcoming flagship Android phones.
Most smartphone cameras use digital zoom, which degrades image quality, to reach beyond their native focal length. LG's design, on the other hand, uses moving lenses, much like a traditional DSLR camera lens, which keeps image detail. This camera module also uses a folded-optic design, also called a periscope lens, to keep the overall size small. The result is a lens that goes from 4x to 9x, with true optical zoom in between.
Sony is the only major company that has a smartphone with a true optical zoom so far, but Oppo is working on one. The 3.5-5.2x lens on Sony's Xperia 1 IV is equivalent to 85-125mm, which is quite a bit shorter than the new telephoto module LG is showing off, which may cover an equivalent range of 100mm to more than 200mm. The shorter range of the Xperia 1 IV's zoom lens made it less useful in my tests, and participants in MKBHD's annual blind smartphone camera test agreed that Sony's image quality is just behind the competition.
This new design from LG also has optical stabilization, which is a must if you want to take pictures at 200mm. The module uses a tiny, very precise actuator to move lens elements for zooming. The company says it can move in increments of 1m. LG also points out that its design would let phone makers put fewer lenses on the back of their devices. Instead of having a 4x lens and a 9x lens, this design combines the two so it takes up less space and uses less power.
LG Innotek is making a big deal about its new technology. In a press release, it says that the camera module will help the company "solidify its global No. 1 position in the smartphone camera module market." It's already in a good position, thanks in large part to its biggest customer, Apple. There are rumors that the iPhone 15 will have a folded-optic telephoto lens. While it's unlikely to have this specific model, LG seems eager to get its camera tech into a wide range of 2023 flagship phones.