The bigger picture: Oppo’s MWC announcement shows its fierce photography focus

Creating the best camera phone is what charts the way forward for the Chinese company

Oppo announced its 5x lossless zoom camera tech at the start of MWC. At 5x, it puts the iPhone 7 Plus' 2x and ZenFone 3 Zoom's 2.3x to shame. 

Oppo has managed to achieve the elusive magnified image with clear lines. It might sound simple but it's all thanks to its clever periscopic alignment within the camera module and improved OIS.

Zooming in on your smartphone camera doesn't make for a great picture as every little movement you make will be magnified. This changes things all within a 5.7mm thin camera module that won't stick awkwardly out of your smartphone's back.

However, this isn’t a full 5x optical zoom. It’s a 3x optical zoom that’s extended to what Oppo calls 5x lossless, with a little help from its Digital Fusion technology.

 

Tech testing

Oppo’s announcement wasn’t just hot air, even if this was not your average product launch.

On the show floor, Oppo had a set-up with their imaging tech next to a poorly disguised iPhone 7 Plus. It works pretty much the same way the iPhone does, tap once to make it 2x then tap it again to magnify your photography subject to 5x.

When the shots were taken using the tripod, details were noticeably clearer, text was sharper, and there was significantly less fuzziness overall on the Oppo's image on the left as compared to Apple's on the right. In this writer’s terribly trembly hands, it performed just as well, although we can't say for sure that it's 40% better as Oppo claims. 

The difference showed the most clearly in text. What a godsent this would be for making out signs far away without you having to walk up to them - a very real problem for everyone who has experienced the vastness of CES. Your ageing eyes might let you down, but technology will never fail you.

The camera connection

Oppo wants to connect with people through its camera tech. There’s a lot more the company could be known for like its VOOC fast-charging tech, but photography is in its blood. Remember the N3? It was a gutsy smartphone with the crazy rotating camera design for its time. How about the R9 with its 16MP front snapper that set the bar for selfie-taking? 

Throughout our session with Dr. King, Oppo's Technical Director, the idea of focusing on people’s core photography needs came up repeatedly. While the extended idea of AR could very well be explored in the future, Oppo made it clear that their priority is working on what people actually need right now. But as long as it falls in line with their "Now, It’s Clear" messaging, Oppo will explore the tech it needs to get there. 

Instead of having image stabilisation on wide-angle lens like other makers, Oppo has chosen to go with the telephoto lens because of the increased reach of the zoom. So why not have it on both then? The answer is simple - to keep the camera module compact. Besides, they have the software know-how to keep the wide-angle lens stable. It's a matter of making the right compromises for the best results. 

But the real question is when this 5x zoom tech will reach people’s hands. We had to ask why Oppo didn't just wait to release the tech in a real phone instead of announcing just the technology at a event where physical phones are customarily launched. A spokesperson explained that they didn’t want a new product launch to be drowned out in the noise of all the other launches happening simultaneously. Well, if this is a teaser, consider us intrigued. 

Oppo had better hurry up and get this into a real phone soon. With smartphone makers like Huawei, Apple, and LG putting dual cameras into their flagships, it's only a matter of time before the company loses its lead in this competitive market and the attention of the fickle consumer.

Although they were reluctant to commit to a specific date in their comments, what we experienced in our hands-on felt ready. So if Oppo plays it right, it might propel them to the global leagues of the major players. Bryan Ma, analyst at IDC, shares:

“Oppo has always moved quickly in implementing new technologies faster than the competition, and this 5X zoom is a shot across the bow of Apple and Huawei. The challenge of course is that Apple usually gets the credit for such things, while Oppo is not as well known in most of the Western world.” 

Well, that might just be for now. Oppo's camera strategy has clearly had some impact since we spotted this booth at MWC. 

There’s nothing that suggests success quite like being aped at MWC, right down to marketing material style.

Welcome to the big time, Oppo. Now, get working on the phone that will house this tech before you lose your lead.