Zoom technology is the hottest trend for smartphone cameras in 2020. Companies like Huawei, Samsung and others have pushed the zoom quality to its limits and promise 5x, 10x and even 100x zoom functions. Though it’s much easier to spit out high x-factors than it is to actually produce great looking enlarged images.
The problem with high quality zoom in a smartphone form factor is with lenses. Compact and DSLR cameras can provide high quality, flexible optical zoom via moving lenses to adjust their focal length. The compactness of smartphones requires fixed lenses and therefore a fixed zoom. Because of this, some phones ship with multiple zoom lenses to give photographers the flexibility they want.
Continue reading: Oppo’s new zoom technology has moving lenses
However, Samsung has previously tried to combine the compact camera with a smartphone. The formula didn’t catch on in the long run, but the 2013 Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom and 2014 Galaxy K Zoom gave today’s smartphones 10x optical zoom capabilities.
Get to know the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom
Despite the moniker Galaxy S4, the Zoom model handled more like a compact camera than a smartphone, complete with a handle and a round shutter button. Its successor, the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom, was slimmer and could almost pass as a phone. Though quite thick.
The Galaxy K Zoom has made some hardware compromises to accommodate the large camera setup. It had a mid-range hexa-core SoC, Exynos 5260 SoC, an AMOLED display at 720p when 1080p was mainstream, and only 8 GB of internal storage. Not ideal for a phone prepared for mass media capture, even though it has a microSD card slot. The 2,430 mAh battery didn’t last long either, especially if you shoot all day.
The Galaxy K Zoom has a large 1 / 2.3-inch sensor with 20.7 megapixels. That’s larger than the 1 / 1.33-inch sensor in the 2020 Galaxy S20 Ultra and the 1 / 1.28-inch sensor in the Huawei P40 Pro. Hence, the K Zoom was a fat phone with a big camera bump. The sensor size was pretty impressive, but the real accomplishment was 10x optical zoom due to the compact, camera-style lens setup. The focal length was between 24 mm and 240 mm and offered a 10x zoom.
A large 1 / 2.3-inch sensor and a focal length of up to 240 mm produced good images from a distance.
For comparison: the Huawei P40 Pro Plus, one of today’s better camera phones, has four sensors: a main sensor with a focal length of 23 mm, 3x zoom at 80 mm, 10x zoom at 240 mm and an 18 mm -Wide angle lens. This is comparable to the flexibility that the Galaxy K Zoom 2014 offers, albeit at set intervals and not in a smooth, consistent zoom transition.
Overall, the image quality of the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom was pretty good. Our rating at the time praised the phone for clean, sharp images with solid colors and lots of detail. No wonder considering the large sensor. The zoom quality was also very good, but since the zoom was also tied to the lens aperture, zoom images with a longer range could appear underexposed. This is something we don’t have to worry about with modern fixed aperture zoom telephoto and periscope cameras.
Time for the idea to come back?
The tech industry is no stranger to recycling previous ideas, and it is possible that the Galaxy K Zoom was simply ahead of its time. Good quality zoom is clearly in great demand. Just check out the trend with three and four cameras!
A smooth mechanical zoom would give superior results for today’s multi-camera setups. Could the idea make a comeback in a more modern smartphone? We are certainly used to seeing bigger camera bumps and slightly thicker phones to improve camera quality. Modern smartphones are also much larger than the 4.8-inch K-Zoom, so the design doesn’t seem so out of place. Implementation would be more practical. Lenses and image sensors have also improved over the years, making it more practical to build a great compact phone camera than ever before.
A single, high quality sensor could take better images, but it’s not the best aesthetic design.
There are obvious problems with the compact camera / smartphone hybrid, however. The form factor to start with. Mechanical parts take up a lot of space and can at least affect battery life. As good as large sensors are, they are also not suitable for good-looking phones. It is hard to imagine fashionable guys buying such a phone regardless of the quality of the camera. Ultimately, it’s a design that is likely to always struggle with mass market appeal.
See also: The best budget camera phones you can buy
If we ever see any other compact camera / smartphone design, it’s likely a niche product. Instead, advances in periscope cameras, perhaps even moving lenses, seem to strike the right balance between compactness and quality for modern smartphones.
I would certainly love to try a more modern Samsung Galaxy K Zoom. How about you guys
This is the ninth entry in our Did You Know That series, where we dive into the history books of Android and consumer technology to uncover important and interesting facts or events that have been forgotten over time. What would you like to see from us next? Let us know in the comments.