Telephoto Camera VS Periscope Camera: Why Do Smartphones Have Two Zoom Cameras?
Ever wondered why our smartphones come with two zoom cameras? Their purposes sound the same on paper, so why do we need two separate modules for it? In this article, we’re going to dissect both the telephoto camera and the periscope camera; understanding what they are exactly, what makes them different, and why is there a difference in image quality.
What is a Telephoto Camera?
A telephoto camera in a smartphone is a type of camera that has a longer focal length than the phone’s primary camera. This allows it to capture images of objects that are farther away, without losing detail or image quality. Telephoto lenses use a narrow angle of view to magnify the subject and make it appear closer, even from a distance. They typically have a focal length that is longer than the standard or wide-angle lens on a smartphone, usually around 50mm or higher.
Many modern smartphones now come equipped with telephoto lenses, which can be useful for capturing portrait shots or for zooming in on distant subjects without losing image quality. Using the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra as an example, this one has a 70mm focal length and is capable of 3x optical zoom. Some smartphones even feature multiple telephoto lenses, allowing for even greater zoom capabilities, which brings us to the next part; the periscope camera.
What is a Periscope Camera?
A periscope camera, otherwise known as a periscope telephoto camera, is a specialized type of telephoto camera that uses a periscope-like arrangement of lenses and mirrors to achieve a longer focal length without increasing the thickness of the phone. Instead of using a long lens that extends out from the phone, the periscope telephoto camera uses a set of small lenses and mirrors arranged perpendicular to the main camera sensor. This allows the camera to achieve a longer focal length and greater zoom capabilities, without adding bulk to the smartphone.
Periscope telephoto cameras are commonly found in high-end smartphones that require advanced camera features. In the case of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, it has a 230mm focal length and can zoom in on distant subjects with 10x optical zoom. Of course, it can go further than that but it will come at the cost of image quality as it would have relied on digital zoom to go up to 100x magnification.
Why Do I Need Two Different Zoom Cameras in a Smartphone?
The main difference between a periscope camera and a regular telephoto camera in a smartphone is in their physical design and their zoom capabilities. As I mentioned earlier, a regular telephoto camera has a longer focal length than the primary camera and can capture images of objects that are farther away without losing detail or image quality. It achieves this by using a longer lens, which can extend out from the phone, or by using a shorter lens with a higher magnification factor.
In contrast, a periscope telephoto camera achieves a longer focal length and greater zoom capabilities by using a periscope-like arrangement of lenses and mirrors. This allows the camera to achieve a longer focal length and greater zoom capabilities without adding bulk to the device.
So while both regular telephoto cameras and periscope telephoto cameras can help you capture better images of distant subjects, the periscope telephoto camera is designed for much more powerful zoom capabilities.
Which Camera is Better?
In terms of imaging quality, it’s difficult to say whether a periscope camera or a regular telephoto camera is better, as it ultimately depends on the specific implementation of each camera. Generally speaking, a regular telephoto camera is likely to produce higher quality images than a periscope telephoto camera when zooming in only a small amount, as it can use a larger lens with fewer optical compromises.
However, when zooming in beyond a certain point, a periscope telephoto camera can outperform a regular telephoto camera in terms of image quality, as it can achieve a longer focal length without losing image quality. While this can be hard to tell with smartphones as it automatically switches between the camera modules, it still does ring true for the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra as well. We’ve included some sample shots here to demonstrate and give you a clearer idea.
That said, both types of cameras are capable of producing excellent image quality when used correctly, and other factors such as sensor quality, image processing, and software algorithms can also play a significant role in determining the overall image quality. So while the periscope camera may offer greater zoom capabilities, the regular telephoto camera may still be a better choice for some users depending on their needs and usage scenarios.