Optical zoom could be coming to HTC smartphones next year

April 18, 2014
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“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.

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.

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

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

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.

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