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Telephoto zoom cameras are awesome, but these are not as awesome as you think

telephoto cameras on smartphones

In 2016, phones with more than one rear camera were at rare. In 2019, it is hard to find one that doesn’t have at least two lenses at the back. Apple, LG, Samsung, and Huawei are just some of the companies that are equipping its best phones with dual, triple, or even quadruple set of cameras, giving their owners freedom of creativity, we could once only get out of a dedicated camera with its advanced optics.

But the thing is all of these additional cameras are not necessarily better cameras. A monochrome secondary camera is sensitive to light, but it shoots in black and white only.

A wide-angle second cam has a wider field of view, but it distorts images. And those tiny cameras that are used to collect depth information, well, we’re not even sure if they do anything.

Telephoto lens cameras can be useful in many cases, but they aren’t perfect either. Below you can find why.

What’s the purpose of a telephoto lens?

The purpose of telephoto cameras on smartphones can be categorized into things.

One is that they let you zoom in on your subject with less degradation in quality as the digital zoom would otherwise introduce.

Secondly, telephoto cameras have a narrower field of view that is ideal for portraits – their optical properties introduce less lens distortion and allow for a narrower and resulting in a less distracting background.

Telephoto cameras on phones don’t do optical zoom

Telephoto cameras

In photography, lenses usually fall under two categories: zoom lenses and prime lenses.

Zoom lenses have an actual lens element that moves physically for magnifying your subject. It is known as optical zoom. Apart from that, prime lenses are fixed and can’t help you to zoom optically.

Practically all cameras in modern smartphones, including telephoto ones, use prime lenses because they’re smaller and easier to make. Yes, you do get actual zoom with your phone’s telephoto camera relative to its main one but for a fixed point.

Telephoto cameras rarely work in low light

Mostly a bigger camera sensor is considered as a better camera sensor. It’s surface area lets it absorb more light, and having more light translates into better photos with more detail and less noise. But telephoto cameras on phones use smaller image sensors to pick up less light and are more susceptible to digital noise.

For the reason, telephoto cameras work rarely in low-light situations. When the camera software in phones detect that the light in the frame is not sufficient, it will not use its telephoto cam for the purpose of zooming. Instead, it will only do digital zoom with the help of its main camera, and you will not even notice until you later take a closer look at your suspiciously blurry photos.

Telephoto cameras can’t focus from up close

While a typical smartphone camera can focus on an object as close as 3 inches away from it, the telephoto cameras on all phones focus at least 1-2 feet away from anything. If you’re too close and zoom in, your phone will simply do digital zoom through its main camera instead of using its telephoto lens. Again, your phone will not indicate you that you’re not zooming with the telephoto lens for the shot.

Nonetheless, a telephoto lens is a valuable asset

The purpose of this brief article is to expose some important flaws in phones’ telephoto cameras.  Convincing anyone that there’s no point in having a telephoto lens not the intention behind the writing of this article. On the contrary, we favor such additional cameras – telephoto, wide-angle, whatever – as it’s one of the few realistic ways that you can opt to improve a phone’s photographic potential without ruining its appearance.

Still, I hope the limitation of such lenses can be cleared soon in both the flashy ads and in the camera apps as well.

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