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Apple’s iPhone beaten by Sony’s radical new smartphone tech

Sony’s new Xperia 1 IV has leapfrogged Apple by bringing powerful new smartphone technology to market that Apple is still working on behind the scenes.

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The innovation is in the phone’s camera which features three rear-facing lenses, including an ultra-wide 16mm, a wide 24mm and, most importantly, an all-new 85 true optical zoom lens. -125mm, unlike anything found in any other smartphone. Sony claims it’s the “world’s first true 85-125mm optical zoom lens” in a smartphone.

Why a “true” optical zoom

Sony’s true optical zoom is different because, until now, almost all “optical zoom” capabilities in a smartphone would be more accurately described as “false optical zoom.”

Although these fake optical zoom techniques use real telephoto lenses to enlarge the subject, the effect of smooth zooming between different magnifications is still achieved digitally. This results in a gradual reduction in quality as you zoom in, often with an abrupt change in quality when the camera finally switches to the next lens.

Any form of digital zoom invariably results in compromised image quality as the image falling on the sensor has to be cropped and enlarged via image processing techniques. As clever as these techniques are, they can’t match the quality of a true optical zoom, which is able to use the entire sensor area without cropping or additional processing.

In contrast, Sony’s lens works much like a zoom lens on a professional camera where you can physically adjust the lens to any desired magnification without any behind-the-scenes digital shenanigans.

As impressive as it is, Sony’s new lens isn’t the first true optical zoom lens ever found in a smartphone. Think back to 2013 and you might remember Samsung’s Galaxy S4 Zoom, which featured an even more powerful 24-240mm optical zoom. To be fair, the significant difference here is that Sony’s periscope lens fits entirely inside the body of the smartphone, while the Galaxy S4 Zoom’s protruding motorized lens makes it feel more like a compact camera than a smartphone.

So should Apple be worried about Sony’s new flagship? Absolutely not. The Xperia 1 IV is designed specifically for serious photographers, particularly users of Sony’s high-end camera range, and will have limited mass-market appeal. State-of-the-art “optical” zoom has never been a priority feature for the iPhone, so I don’t expect Apple to be in a rush to release its own version of this technology. But now, thanks to Sony, we at least know it’s possible.

Full specs of the Xperia 1 IV can be found in Sony’s recent press release and you can read a full review of the smartphone here at Forbes.

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