The Xperia 1 IV from Sony is an expensive proof of the concept

The Xperia 1 IV from Sony is an expensive proof of the concept

In many ways, smartphones outperform point-and-shoot cameras (remember those?) but there is one thing that traditional cameras still excel at: zoom. With a real continuous optical zoom lens, the new Sony Xperia 1 IV hopes to change that. Sure, it’s a technological feat, but it’s more proof of concept than game-changer at this point.

The Xperia 1 IV from Sony is an expensive proof of the concept

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.

It’s also a high-priced concept, at $1599. To be fair, the tablet has lots of high-end features, starting with a 6.5-inch 4K (actually, 1644 x 3840 but near enough) OLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate. A Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor, IP68 water resistance, 512GB of storage, 12GB of RAM, a 5000mAh battery, and even a headphone jack are all included. 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.

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.

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