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 2020, 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. Which 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 are 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 S21 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra (Review) is sensationally loaded when it comes to camera hardware. The main sensor has 108MP resolution and there are two additional cameras that support 3x and 10x optical zoom, respectively. Both of these sensors have OIS.
Digital zoom goes all the way up to 100x super-zoom. Samsung has improved AF mechanism, which significantly uplifts the experience at high magnifications. If you are particularly interested in optical zoom, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is currently the best option out there.
Galaxy S21 Ultra Specifications
Display: 6.8-inch QHD+ AMOLED (120Hz) | Processor: Exynos 2100 octa-core CPU | RAM: up to 16GB| Storage: up to 512GB | Software: One UI 3 – Android 11 | Rear camera: 108MP + 10MP(3x) + 10MP(10x) + 12MP | Front camera: 40MP | Weight: 222g | Dimensions: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm |Battery: 5000mAh, 25W fast charging
2. Samsung Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+
The 64MP zoom camera supports 3x lossless hybrid zoom (of which only 1.1x is allegedly optical). Just as the main 12MP sensor, the zoom camera is optically stabilized.
There is a lot to like about the Samsung Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+ including their excellent displays, software, and phenomenal design.
Galaxy S20+ Specifications
Display: 6.7-inch FHD+ AMOLED (120Hz) | Processor: Exynos 2100 octa-core CPU | RAM: up to 12GB| Storage: up to 256GB | Software: One UI 3 – Android 11 | Rear camera: 12MP + 64MP + 12MP | Front camera: 10 MP | Weight: 200g | Dimensions: 161.5 x 75.6 x 7.8 mm |Battery: 4800mAh
Galaxy S20 Specifications
Display: 6.2-inch FHD+ AMOLED (120Hz) | Processor: Exynos 2100 octa-core CPU | RAM: up to 8GB| Storage: up to 256GB | Software: One UI 3 – Android 11 | Rear camera: 12MP + 64MP + 12MP | Front camera: 10 MP | Weight: 169g | Dimensions: 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9 mm |Battery: 4000mAh
3. Huawei P40 Pro Plus
Huawei P30 Pro was the first periscope-style zoom camera that we tried out and back then its zoom prowess swept us off our feet. Its successors – the Huawei P40 Pro Plus and P40 Pro – further improve the camera performance but are, unfortunately, missing Google apps support.
The Huawei P40 Pro has not one but two optically stabilized telephoto cameras and you can get ‘optical zoom’ at two magnifications – 3x and 10x. Of course, the hybrid zoom takes you a lot further. The regular P40 has a single 5X telephoto camera, and almost all other features remain similar.
Huawei P40 Pro Plus
Display: 6.58-inch QHD+ AMOLED (90Hz) | Processor: Kirin 990 octa-core CPU | RAM: up to 8GB| Storage: up to 512GB | Software: Android 10 | Rear camera: 50MP + 8MP(3x) + 8MP(10x) + 40MP | Front camera: 32MP | Weight: 226g | Dimensions: 158.2 x 72.6 x 9 mm |Battery: 4200mAh
4. Pixel 4 XL
Computational photography is Google’s expertise. Pixel phones have managed to stay ahead of every other phone when it comes to portrait mode, even with a single camera sensor. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL can deliver remarkable 8X hybrid zoom using the extra telephoto camera.
The 16MP secondary sensor has a 50mm telephoto lens and can deliver 2x optical zoom. The Pixel 4 Xl goes beyond and can deliver good quality 8X hybrid zoom images.
The lackluster battery, inconsistent radar gestures, and limited availability are drawbacks that can’t be ignored, but Pixel 4 XL still has a lot to like.
Display: 6.3-inch QHD+ AMOLED (90Hz) | Processor: Snapdragon 855 octa-core CPU | RAM: 6GB| Storage: up to 128GB | Software: Android 10 | Rear camera: 12.2MP + 16MP(2x) | Front camera: 8MP | Weight: 193g | Dimensions: 160.4 x 75.1 x 8.2 mm |Battery: 3700mAh
5. OnePlus 8 Pro
OnePlus continues with its 8MP 3x hybrid zoom camera on the 8 Pro (review). The 74mm equivalent focal length doesn’t sound like much when compared to the top contenders, but the camera zoom works quite decent for medium ranges.
The 8 Pro is a power-packed phone with a premium design, elegant software, and a smooth 2k 120Hz display.
OnePlus 8 Pro Specifications
Display: 6.78-inch QHD+ AMOLED (120Hz) | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 octa-core CPU | RAM: up to 12GB| Storage: up to 256GB | Software: Oxygen OS – Android 10 | Rear camera: 48MP + 48MP + 8MP + 5MP | Front camera: 16MP | Weight: 199g | Dimensions: 165.3 x 74.4 x 8.5 mm |Battery: 4510mAh
6. iPhone 11 Pro
Apple has been adding 2x zoom sensors to its iPhones for many years now. The
Apple iPhone 11 Pro also has a 2x zoom system, but it has been superbly implemented. You can zoom out between 0.5x, 1x, and 2x zoom rather seamlessly even while shooting videos.
The software helps take the zoom to up to 10x (digitally) and images around 8x look pretty amazing as well.
Display: 5.8-inch QHD+ AMOLED | Processor: Apple A13 Bionic | RAM: 4GB| Storage: up to 512GB | Software: iOS 13 | Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP(2x) + 12MP| Front camera: 12MP | Weight: 188g | Dimensions:
144 x 71.4 x 8.1 mm |Battery: 3046mAh
7. Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro
Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro is a Snapdragon 865 powered phone that lets you switch between two optical zoom focal lengths – 50mm (2x) and 94mm (5x). Both of the telephoto cameras have OIS and so does the 108MP primary camera.
The 5x zoom is achieved without a periscope lens assembly. The phone takes a 5MP crop from the 8MP sensor for zoom and them upscales it back to 8MP. This is a bit shady and doesn’t inspire much confidence.
Combining the date from these various sensors Xiaomi’s first premium flagship can deliver decent zoom performance between 2x and 10x. The digital zoom goes up to 20x.
Mi 10 Pro specifications
Display: 6.67-inch FHD+ AMOLED (90Hz) | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 octa-core CPU | RAM: up to 12GB| Storage: up to 512GB | Software: MIUI 11 – Android 10 | Rear camera: 108MP + 8MP + 12MP + 20MP | Front camera: 20MP | Weight: 208g | Dimensions: 162.5 x 74.8 x 9 mm |Battery: 4500mAh
8. Xiaomi Mi 10 Youth
Xiaomi Mi 10 Youth Edition is the affordable phones with 5X periscope zoom camera (a first for Xiaomi). It’s powered by mid-range Snapdragon 765G and has a water-drop notch for the selfie camera.
The 8MP zoom camera has OIS and the phone supports up to 50x digital zoom.
Xiaomi Mi 10 Youth Edition specifications
Display: 6.57-inch FHD+ AMOLED (90Hz) | Processor: Snapdragon 765G octa-core CPU | RAM: up to 8GB| Storage: up to 256GB | Software: Android 10 | Rear camera: 48MP + 8MP + 8MP + 2MP | Front camera: 16MP | Weight: 192g | Dimensions: 164 x 74.8 x 7.9 mm |Battery: 4160mAh
9. Vivo X30 Pro
The Vivo X30 Pro has 4 rear cameras including a 64MP primary camera, a 13MP camera with a periscope-style telephoto lens for 5x optical zoom, a 32MP camera 2x zoom lens for shorter range and an 8MP wide-angle camera. The digital zoom goes all the way up
Display: 6.44-inch FHD+ AMOLED | Processor: Exynos 980 octa-core CPU | RAM: up to 8GB| Storage: up to 256GB | Software: Android 10 | Rear camera: 64MP + 13MP(5x) + 32MP(2x) + 8MP | Front camera: 32MP | Weight: 198.5g | Dimensions: 158.5 x 74.1 x 8.8 mm |Battery: 4350mAh
Also Check: Best Snapdragon 865 phones to buy in 2020
10. Oppo Find X2 Pro
Oppo was the first manufacturer to demonstrate a periscope-style zoom camera, but yes, the Reno 10X zoom that implemented the same technology got a bit delayed.
Oppo Find X2 Pro, the latest flagship, has a splendid zoom camera comparable to the best available options. The prism telephoto lens supports 5X optical zoom. Hybrid zoom goes up to 10x and then the Find X2 pro relies on digital crops for up to 60x.
Display: 6.7-inch QHD+ AMOLED (120Hz) | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 octa-core CPU | RAM: up to 12GB| Storage: up to 512GB | Software: Android 10 | Rear camera: 48MP + 13MP (5X) + 48MP| Front camera: 32MP | Weight: 217g | Dimensions: 165.2 x 74.4 x 8.8 mm |Battery: 4260mAh
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 lens are extremely common. However, good quality camera zoom is still very rare for phones.
List of best phones with zoom cameras to buy in 2020
|Phone name||Starting Price (in Rupees)|
|Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra||Rs. 1,05,000|
|Samsung Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S20+||Rs. 66,000|
|Huawei P40 Pro Plus||~ Rs. 115,000|
|Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL||~ Rs. 67,999|
|OnePlus 8 Pro||Rs. 54,999|
|iPhone 11 Pro||Rs. 99, 999|
|Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro||Rs. 49,990|
|Xiaomi Mi 10 Youth||Rs. 22,630|
|Vivo X30 Pro||~Rs. 41,990|
|Oppo Find X2 Pro||~ Rs. 91,000|