Optical zoom could be coming to HTC smartphones next year

by: Bogdan PetrovanApril 18, 2014

htc one m8 outdoors aa (4 of 14)

“Huge advances” in camera optics are coming to HTC devices within 12-18 months, said the company’s top camera specialist.

In an interview with Vodafone’s UK blog, Symon Whitehorn, Director of Special Projects at HTC, said optical zoom on smartphones is within reach for the Taiwanese company. Formerly with Kodak, Whitehorn is known as HTC’s resident imaging guru, having supervised the development of the HTC One (M8)’s UltraPixel sensor and Duo Camera setup.

The exec claims smartphones could even rival expensive DSLR cameras in the close future, an achievement that has long been considered impossible.

[quote qtext=”I think we’re looking at about 18 months to two years until that lens barrier begins breaking down and it becomes much harder to justify buying a dedicated camera outside of specialist or nostalgia reasons. ” qperson=”” qsource=”” qposition=”center”]

Whitehorn is bullish about HTC’s medium-term camera roadmap:

[quote qtext=”Optical zooming in a smartphone is not too far off at all for HTC. I can’t give too much away, but within 12-18 months we’ll see huge advances in phone optics. Everyone wants optical zooming, and that’s on the horizon. We’re trying to match the performance of dedicated cameras where one piece of glass inside it costs £3000 alone. We’re never going to match that in the short term but we are getting towards those effects” qperson=”” qsource=”” qposition=”center”]

HTC is about to crack one of the hardest problems in smartphone imaging, if Whitehorn is to be believed. While advanced sensors and powerful software has enabled some smartphones to beat point and shoot cameras in image quality, the lack of optical zoom has so far prevented smartphones from posing any threats to DSLR cameras. Attempts to put optical zoom on smartphones have resulted in clunky hybrids that failed in the market, with the Galaxy S4 Zoom coming to mind as an example.

Whitehorn went on to defend HTC’s choice of a 4MP sensor on the M7 and M8, and said 4K video recording would only make sense on a 8MP sensor or higher. “That kind of ballpark is where we’ll be very happy to be in the future, as long as we can maintain the large pixel model,” he said, suggesting that HTC may double the resolution of its third generation UltraPixel sensor coming in 2015.

  • When I read “huge advancements”, I thought they’d make their back camera 8 MP.

  • pinkitone

    I guess he haven’t heard of Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, Galaxy Camera or Galaxy NX DSLR series.

    • MasterMuffin

      Did you read the article?

    • Henri

      Nope, because all the devices you named are Samsung. And I barely see people with “Galaxy Cameras”; because it’s a clunky camera which runs android.

      Android is a very UN-optimised OS for camera shootouts. Android will need improving before they make these DSLR camera like phones; even so it will be clunky unless a revolution has arrived. Though on the contrary, Sony’s so-called “Superior Auto” or “Automatic Scene Recognition” is too optimized that picture’s are blurred!

      However, HTC stick to making phones and stop with the camera approach; just give us a normal camera for day to day photos – your ultrapixel camera proved me useless has I had to change the exposure all of the time when taking picture involving the sky. Though this is easy to do on sense 6.

      If you wanted a DSLR camera on a phone I would have bought a QX-10 or a QX-100 or even a real DSLR camera!

      • Woe, Is [S]unjay

        ‘Android is a very UN-optimised OS for camera shootouts.”

        ” Sony’s so-called “Superior Auto” or “Automatic Scene Recognition” is too optimized that picture’s are blurred!”

        You contradict yourself.

  • Shark Bait

    Hopefully their going down the route of dual lenses rather than a mechanical zoom. Dual lenses look like the future to me, their are loads of possibilities. 3d, zoom, low light, depth, over sampling, low light and possibly more

  • flex360

    I will wait till next year to get an HTC phone then

  • George Av

    And like ultrapixel, this will suck :(

  • George Av

    “The exec claims smartphones could even rival expensive DSLR cameras” Have fun with that.. That isn’t going to happen. No phone, even the 1020 (which is light years ahead of HTC lamepixel) can’t rival a DSLR. You simply can’t get the quality out of a phone that you can out of even a cheap entry level DSLR.

    There is NOT enough space in current phones to put bigger sensors. The sensor in a DSLR can be up to the size of the iphone 4s screen. getting that quality into a phone that is no more that 10mm thick is very optimistic. If HTC do come out with optical zoom, it’s going to be bulky and make the phone thicker than the 1020. I’ll give it ten years before smartphones can begin to compare to DSLR cameras today.

    • JujuFTW

      I had a class in optical engineering, whos teacher is CTO at LensVector in Silicon Valley. I think it’s this kind of product HTC is talking about. Basically no moving parts but you can modify the focus and the zoom with liquid cristal adaptative lens. Check it out!

      • George Av

        Wow.. thanks for that mate! Liquid crystal adaptive lens.. hmm that sounds far to interesting for HTC to bother using.
        But damn, if they can give me 4x zoom with a 12mp camera..

  • Tjoe

    As a fan of the HTC one series…i really find this hard to believe….especially from the guy that supervised the development of the Ultrapixel and refused to bump up the resolution this year to at least 8mp. If they can continue claiming that their Ultrapixel camera is one of the best…i really find it hard to believe that they can bring something huge….But we’ll see what happens next year.

    • William

      Obviously, the technology isn’t there to bump up the mp without sacrificing the the sensor size. If you’re capable of reading, it says that right in the article. Ultra pixel technology is the future if you know anything about photography other than what you read in these Internet sites.

  • Andrew White

    The definition of ‘optical zoom’ seems to have changed (somehow modified to suit smartphones), firstly with Nokia’s pureview 808 then the 1020.
    Just recently Oppo has announced its 50mp camera tech ( Sony based ) which apparently combines the best 4 ×13mp images out of 10, each taken milliseconds apart, which translates into less hassle about keeping the sensor perfectly still while shooting. Something that is virtually impossible to do on a normal DSLR or quality compact digital when zooming in on a subject while you are moving.
    From the images many of us have been shown on this site and others, it is like looking at macro image detail taken from a distance.
    Impressive tech on a smartphone and it just keeps getting better.

  • kirakira

    i think they’d be tapping the corephotonics technology. it uses the dual lens setup that simulates optical zoom. it uses 2 sony BSI sensors.