Stacking multiple wide-angle, depth, and zoom cameras on phones is in trend, but unless we are talking about premium flagships, these ancillary shooters are often more of an afterthought.
The good thing is that the quality has been consistently improving, thanks to smarter image processing algorithms and capable chipsets that can deftly handle these computational needs.
Of the different types of extra lenses that we have on phones in 2022, the telephoto lens or zoom camera is what we love the most and tend to use most frequently. The ability to peek at distant objects is not only exhilarating but also quite useful in a number of practical scenarios. In fact, with most phones using wide-angle lenses on primary cameras, a bit of zoom or crop is needed for the captured image to match what your eyes naturally see.
Before we proceed to the list of best Zoom camera phones, let’s talk a bit about types of camera zoom and the limitations of optical zoom on cameras.
Digital vs Optical vs Hybrid Zoom: Which one is better?
There are basically three types of zoom technologies on phones that you as a consumer would come across: Digital, Optical, and Hybrid.
Digital Zoom: Digital Zoom cuts out the sides and stretches a certain image portion across the full frame in order to magnify it, and this naturally results in some loss of quality. Some phones like Pixel 3 can deliver digitally zoomed images without compromising on resolution. To do so, the software adds extra in-between pixels to maintain the resolution but quality still take a hit.
Optical Zoom: Optical zoom is generally considered to be the best since it is lossless. But, Optical Zoom on phones is not at all the same as the optical zoom on DSLR cameras.
Optical zoom on phones is actually multi-camera zoom. For real optical zoom, lens assembly needs to move back and forth to change the field of view. Our phones, however, switch to a second, different focal length camera to get an optically zoomed image.
This means, if your phone has 5X zoom, you will get optical or lossless zoom only at 5X. All other zooms say, 3x, 3.5x, 4.5x, will still be merely digital zoom.
To achieve higher magnification for optical zoom is very tricky. The lens will need to have a larger focal length. This is to say that the space between your camera sensor and lens assembly has to be increased, thus resulting in a bigger bump.
Manufacturers have been able to go as high as 5X, but that mandates the use of a periscope-style lens that helps increase the spacing horizontally rather than vertically.
Zoom isn’t all that the Telephoto lens on our phones is used for. Due to the wider field of view, telephoto lenses are also better for portrait shots with blurred backdrops. That also explains why certain phones zoom in on the subject while transitioning from Auto to Portrait mode.
Hybrid zoom: Hybrid zoom is what we are essentially pinning our hopes on.
It is a combination of optical zoom, digital zoom, and software magic. Judging by the hybrid zoom performance on Pixel 4 and Samsung Galaxy S20, and advancements in AI, we are optimistic that someday manufacturers will be able to go beyond constraints set by Physics and deliver magnificent zoom.
Limitations of optical zoom in phone cameras
Here is what you need to know before you get too excited.
- Optical zoom on phones works only for a single focal length. If your phone supports 5X zoom, only 5X will be lossless. Lower and higher magnifications like 3x, 4x, 4.5X, or 6x will only be digital zoom.
- Most manufacturers don’t use the same sensor under the Telephoto lens and primary lens, and hence what you will experience is not the same as zooming in on an image. just a closer image from a different sensor.
- The focal lengths mentioned for telephoto lens on phones are “Equivalent” focal lengths (actually, this is true for all lenses on phones). In reality, the focal length of the 2x telephoto lens is never 2X the focal length of the primary camera.
- In low light and indoors, most phones do not use their telephoto lens but switch to digital zoom using the primary camera.
- You won’t be able to use it to zoom in on close-ups. The telephoto lens on phone cameras have fixed focal length and are not ideal for shooting closeups. So, if you are planning on zooming in further on those macro objects – not happening!
List of best zoom camera phones
Let’s now list phones with impressive zoom cameras.
1. Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra (Review) is sensationally loaded when it comes to camera hardware. It features a 108MP main camera with OIS along with a 10MP periscope telephoto camera with OIS and 10x optical zoom, another 10MP telephoto sensor with OIS, and 3x optical zoom. There is also a 12MP ultrawide camera with dual pixel PDAF and Super Steady Video support.
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra starts at Rs. 1,09,999 for the 12GB RAM and 256GB storage variant in India. It is available in Burgundy, Phantom Black, and Phantom White colors.
Galaxy S22 Ultra Specifications
Display: 6.8-inch QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED (120Hz) | Processor: Snapdragon 8 Gen 1| RAM: up to 12GB| Storage: up to 512GB | Software: One UI 4.1 – Android 12 | Rear camera: 108MP + 12MP + 10MP + 10MP | Front camera: 40MP | Weight: 228g | Dimensions: 163.3 x 77.9 x 8.9 mm |Battery: 5000mAh, 45W fast charging
Other Samsung smartphones with the telephoto lens are Samsung Galaxy S22, S22+, S21 FE 5G, Samsung Galaxy A72, Samsung Galaxy Note 20, Samsung Galaxy S20 series, Samsung Galaxy Note 10, Samsung Galaxy S10 series, Samsung Galaxy A9, Samsung Galaxy Note 9, Samsung Galaxy S9, etc.
2. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 (review) is another phone that offers excellent zooming capabilities thanks to its telephoto camera. The phone features a 12MP f1/8 primary camera with Dual Pixel Auto-focus and optical image stabilization (OIS), a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide camera with a 123-degree field of view, and a 12MP f/2.4 telephoto camera with PDAF, Dual OIS, 2x optical zoom, and 10x digital zoom. It has two selfie cameras, a 10MP f/2.2 selfie shooter, and a 4MP f/1.8 sensor on the inside.
It comes in two colors (Phantom Black and Phantom Green) and is lighter, thinner, and narrower than its predecessor. It has a comfortable grip for small hands and better portability too. The fingerprint scanner is mounted at the point where the thumb touches the device, which makes use even more convenient. It is made up of Armor Aluminium which is the strongest aluminum used on any Galaxy phone. It is verified by Bureau Veritas to withstand folding 200,000 times.
Galaxy Z Fold 3 Specifications
Display: 7.6-inch DYNAMIC AMOLED (120Hz) | Processor: Snapdragon 888 | RAM: up to 12GB| Storage: Up to 512GB | Software: One UI– Android v11 | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP (10x digital & 2x optical zoom) + 12MP + 12MP | Front camera: 10MP+4MP | Weight: 271g | Dimensions: 158.2 x 128.1 x 6.4 mm | Battery: 4400mAh, 25W fast charging
3. iPhone 13 Pro Max
Apple’s latest iPhone 13 pro max has a triple camera setup too with 3X optical zoom capability. It comes with a 12MP wide-angle primary camera and a 12MP ultra-wide-angle camera. It has a 12MP telephoto camera that offers up to 15x digital and 3x optical zoom. It also has a 12MP wide-angle front camera along with Retina flash.
iPhone 13 Pro Max this time comes with 1TB options for storage and a cinematic mode. This mode relies on machine learning algorithms to automate the focus shift while shooting a video. It runs on an A15 bionic chip and will be available in a new Sierra blue color.
iPhone 13 Pro Max Specifications
Display: 6.7-inch OLED (120Hz) | Processor: Apple A15 Bionic| RAM: up to 8GB| Storage: 128GB internal | Software: iOS| Rear camera: 12MP +12MP+ 12MP (3x optical zoom) | Front camera: 12MP| Weight: 238g | Dimensions: 160.8 x 78.1 x 7.6mm | Battery: lithium-ion battery with 20W fast charging
Other apple smartphones with the telephoto lens are iPhone 12 series, iPhone 11 series, Apple iPhone X
4. iQOO 9 Pro
The iQOO 9 Pro comes with a racetrack-inspired design. It packs a triple camera setup on the rear consisting of a 50MP main camera, a 50MP ultrawide lens, and a 16MP 2.5x telephoto lens. The main camera is a Samsung GN5 sensor which is built on Vivo’s gimbal system. This gimbal supports the main camera and the result is one of the best OIS found in any phone at the moment. There is a 16MP selfie camera as well.
The iQOO 9 Pro starts at Rs. 64,990 for the 8GB RAM and 128GB storage variant. It comes in Orange, White with BMW stripes color variants.
iQOO 9 Pro Specifications
Display: 6.78-inch QHD+AMOLED (120Hz) | Processor: Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 | RAM: up to 12GB| Storage: 512GB | Software: Origin OS– Android 12 | Rear camera: 50MP + 50MP +16MP | Front camera: 16MP | Weight: 210g | Dimensions: 164.8 x 75.2 x 8.8 mm | Battery: 4700mAh, 120W fast charging
5. Vivo X70 Pro
The Vivo X70 Pro boasts of a quad-camera setup on the rear. It includes a 50MP main IMX766V sensor with OIS, Ultra Sensing Gimbal Stabilization 3.0, and Zeiss optics. It also has a 12MP ultrawide lens with OIS support and a 12MP portrait lens and an 8MP 5x periscope camera with laser autofocus and LED flash. At the front is a 32MP camera to take good selfies and support video calls.
X70 Pro starts at a price of Rs. 46,999 going up to Rs. 52,990 in India. It comes in 2 color options- Aurora Dawn and Cosmic Black.
Vivo X70 Pro Specifications
Display: 6.56-inch FHD+AMOLED (120Hz) | Processor: MediaTek Dimensity MT 6893| RAM: up to 12GB| Storage: 512GB | Software: Fun touch OS– Android v11 | Rear camera: 50MP + 12MP+12MP+8MP| Front camera: 32MP | Weight: 186g | Dimensions: 158.3 x 73.2 x 8mm | Battery: 4500mAh, 44W fast charging
6. Oneplus 9 Pro
Oneplus 9 Pro comes with a Quad camera setup. It has a 48MP wide angle primary camera along with a 50MP ultra-wide-angle camera and an 8MP telephoto lens and a 2MP monochrome sensor. It improves everyday photos with the help of a Natural color calibration with Hasselblad.
Oneplus 9 Pro comes in three colors- morning mist, pine green, and stellar black. It comes with features like hyper touch, reading mode, night mode, vibrant color effect pro, motion graphics smoothing, and adaptive display.
It also features Face unlock, HDR, Screen Flash, and Face Retouching along with having 5G connectivity.
Oneplus 9 Pro Specifications
Display: 6.7-inch Fluid AMOLED (120Hz) | Processor: Snapdragon 888| RAM: up to 8GB| Storage: 128GB | Software: Oxygen OS– Android v11 | Rear camera: 48MP +50MP+ 8MP+2MP| Front camera: 16MP | Weight: 197g | Dimensions: 163.2 x 73.6 x 8.7 mm | Battery: 4500mAh, 65W fast charging
Other Oneplus smartphones with optical zoom lenses are Oneplus 8 and 7 series phones.
7. Google Pixel 6 Pro
Google’s Pixel 6 Pro comes with a triple camera setup with a 50MP primary camera, 12MP ultra-wide angle camera, and 48MP telephoto camera. It also has a 12MP front camera.
Google Pixel 6 Pro Specifications
Display: 6.71-inch P-OLED (120Hz) | Processor: Google Tensor| RAM: up to 12GB| Storage: 128GB internal | Software: Android v11| Rear camera: 50MP +12MP+ 48MP (4x optical zoom) | Front camera: 12MP| Battery: 5000mAh battery with 33W fast charging
8. OnePlus 9 RT
OnePlus 9RT has upgraded its camera system compared to the OnePlus 9R. It has a 50MP Sony IMX766 sensor which is the main one. Accompanying it are the 16MP ultrawide camera and 2MP macro camera. The main 50MP camera comes with Optical Image Stabilization. There is a 16MP selfie camera too. The camera app has an AI enhancement toggle, dual video recording, and a Hi-Res mode that combines multiple frames shot by the main camera to give you a 108MP photo. It can shoot up to 4K 60fps videos.
It is priced at Rs. 42,999 in India for 8GB RAM and 128GB storage variant and Rs. 46,999 for 12GB RAM and 256GB storage variant. It comes in stealthy Hacker black and nanosilver colors.
OnePlus 9RT Specs
Display: 6.62-inch FHD+ E4AMOLED (120Hz) | Processor: Snapdragon 888| RAM: up to 12GB| Storage: 256GB | Software: Oxygen OS– Android v11 | Rear camera: 50MP+ 16MP+2MP| Front camera: 16MP | Weight: 197g | Dimensions: 163.2 x 73.6 x 8.7 mm | Battery: 4500mAh, 65W fast charging
9. Realme 9 Pro Plus
Realme 9 Pro+ has a triple camera setup on its rear. It consists of a 50MP primary camera with phase-detection autofocus and OIS, an 8MP ultrawide lens, and a 2MP macro camera. The Primary and ultrawide cameras can record 4k 30fps videos. At the front, the phone has a 16MP selfie camera with Full HD video recording. Due to OIS and bigger pixel size, the main camera gives the highest quality photos and videos. The images come out sharp and have pleasing colors. the autofocus mechanism is reliable in low light and the dynamic range is good too.
The Realme 9 Pro Plus starts at Rs. 24,999 in India for the 6GB RAM and 128Gb storage variant. It comes in Sunrise Blue, Aurora Green, and Midnight Black colors.
Realme 9 Pro+ Specs
Display: 6.4-inch FHD+ AMOLED (120Hz) | Processor: MediaTek Dimensity 920| RAM: up to 8GB| Storage: 256GB | Software: Realme UI 3.0– Android 12| Rear camera: 50MP+ 8MP+2MP| Front camera: 16MP | Weight: 182g | Dimensions: 160.2 x 73.3 x 8mm | Battery: 4500mAh, 60W fast charging
10. Vivo V21 5G
The Vivo V21 has a triple camera setup with a 64MP main camera, 8MP ultrawide camera, and a 2MP macro camera. The main 64MP camera is capable of good photos and has OIS which helps with sharpness in low light. There is no telephoto lens and the quality of ultrawide and macro lenses is just about average. The 44MP Selfie camera is a highlight as it produces sharp, detailed photos indoors as well as outdoors. OIS is applicable on 720p and 1080p videos too.
The Vivo V21 5G starts at Rs. 24,700 in India. It comes in Arctic White, Dusk Blue, and Sunset Dazzle colors.
Vivo V21 5G Specs
Display: 6.44-inch FHD+ AMOLED (120Hz) | Processor: MediaTek Dimensity 800U| RAM: up to 8GB| Storage: 256GB | Software: Funtouch OS 11.1– Android v11 | Rear camera: 64MP+ 8MP+2MP| Front camera: 44MP | Weight: 176g | Dimensions: 159.68 x 73.90 x 7.29 mm | Battery: 4000mAh, 33W fast charging
10 Best phones with Optical Zoom Cameras
These are some of the phones that go the extra mile when it comes to zoom experience. Optical zoom is now a staple feature for mid-range and flagship phones and 2x telephoto lenses are extremely common. However, good quality camera zoom is still very rare for phones.
List of best phones with zoom cameras to buy in 2022:
- Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
- Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G
- iPhone 13 Pro Max
- iQOO 9 Pro
- Vivo X70 Pro
- OnePlus 9 Pro
- Google Pixel 6 Pro
- OnePlus 9RT
- Realme 9 Pro+
- Vivo V21 5G