LG’s smartphone-making days may be over, but LG Innotek — a major supplier of mobile camera modules — is alive and well. It’s introducing a new telephoto zoom camera module at CES 2023, offering true, continuous optical zoom. The company is partnering with Qualcomm to fast-track adoption of its new tech alongside the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 in upcoming flagship Android phones.
While most other long smartphone cameras use image-quality-degrading digital zoom to reach beyond their native focal length, LG’s design uses moving lenses — much like a traditional DSLR camera lens — which preserves image detail. This camera module also uses a folded-optic design, also referred to as a periscope lens, keeping the overall size down. The result is a lens that covers a 4-9x range, with true optical zoom in between.
Sony is the only major manufacturer to offer a smartphone with true optical zoom thus far, though Oppo is working on one too. The 3.5-5.2x lens on Sony’s Xperia 1 IV is equivalent to 85-125mm, which is quite a bit shorter than the new telephoto module LG is showcasing — it may cover an equivalent range from 100mm to more than 200mm. The shorter zoom range on the Xperia 1 IV limited that zoom lens’ usefulness quite a bit in my testing, and participants in MKBHD’s annual blind smartphone camera test agreed that Sony’s image quality is just behind the competition.
This new design from LG also includes optical stabilization, which is a must-have if you’re trying to take pictures at 200mm. The module uses a tiny, extremely precise actuator to move lens elements for zooming; the company says it can move in increments of 1μm. LG also points out that its design would allow phone manufacturers to include fewer total lenses on the back of their devices. Rather than including a 4x and a 9x lens, this design combines the two to take up less space and reduce power consumption.
LG Innotek is making no small deal about its new tech: its press release says the camera module will help the company “solidify the global No. 1 position in the smartphone camera module market.” It’s already in a strong position, thanks in large part to its biggest customer: Apple. The iPhone 15 is rumored to include a folded-optic telephoto lens, and while it’s unlikely to include this particular model, LG looks like it’s eager to get its camera tech into a wide range of 2023 flagship phones.