ASUS recently launched the world’s thinnest 3x optical zoom smartphone, the ZenFone Zoom, here in Malaysia and the first question on everyone’s mind is: Whats the big deal? Now the word “optical zoom” may not be a term everyone recognises. Some of you might be thinking that your current smartphones can zoom jolly well, so why would you bother about this device?
You see, the zoom commonly found on your smartphone camera is what people call “digital zoom” which essentially crops the image to a smaller frame and enlarges to make it seem like you’re bringing the subject closer to you. No lens movement happens within the camera module. On the other hand, conventional DSLRs and their respective lenses use “optical zoom” which works when the different elements that make up a lens move around to refract light differently, bringing the image closer to you.
The biggest difference though is that when you use digital zoom to zoom in on a subject, you lose quality, because you are no longer using the full image — rather you’re only using a cropped fraction of it. Optical zoom then is the way to go if you want to zoom (but not with your feet) and you don’t want to lose image quality at the same time.
If the benefits are so great, why don’t more manufacturers equip their smartphones with optical zoom? The biggest reason is size. With more than one element in your lens, the whole camera module tends to get pretty ginormous. Think Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom or the Galaxy K Zoom. However, with ASUS’s 13-megapixel camera on the ZenFone Zoom, they have used a special dual-periscope design to mount the camera horizontally across the back of the smartphone, letting them hide the camera bump with the ZenFone’s signature curved back.
But, to say that this tiny lens array strapped to the back of a smartphone is on par with those on a DSLR’s lens might be pushing it. In fact, we weren’t even that convinced this whole “optical zoom smartphone” thing would work very well. So, while we were at the launch event, we came up with the brilliant idea of pitting ASUS’s camera-centric ZenFone Zoom against some of the best cameras in the market right now. And whaddya know, we conveniently had a Nexus 6P, a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ and an Apple iPhone 6s Plus with us at the time. Here’s the camera zoom shootout you’ve been waiting for.
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The ZenFone Zoom has a 10-element f/2.7-4.8 aperture lens that feeds light into a 13-megapixel Panasonic SmartFSI sensor mounted on the back of the phone. This 13MP camera also sports many of ASUS’s signature camera features like their magical low light PixelMaster 2.0 technology, HDR, as well as a Super Resolution mode. A 13-megapixel shot may not be impressive, but with Super Resolution, the camera stitches four 13MP pictures together to form a single 52-megapixel photo that is probably as rich with detail as you can get out of a smartphone camera.
Do note that the lighting in the launch venue was abysmal and there was a peculiar tint on the windows that seems to drive our smartphone’s auto white balance insane. Our advice would be to focus more on the detail and clarity of the images that follow, rather than the colour accuracy of each shot. You can click on each image to view the original image that came straight out of the camera.
3x Optical Zoom
12x Total Zoom (optical + digital)
Now that we’ve seen what this camera can do, lets find out how well it does against the big boys.
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ASUS boasts a 5cm macro distance on their ZenFone Zoom, something we were impressed with when we first heard about it. Our flagship devices’ cameras often had poor macro focus distances so we were curious about just how well this device could really do macro shots.
Besides that, we shot two separate scenes — one of a demo microwave toy ASUS had on display and another landscape shot captured through the venue’s windows — to find out how this optical zoom stacked up against high-end smartphone digital zooms. We won’t give an opinion on what we think of the shots because we believe that the images can easily speak for themselves. Plus beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. You can click on each comparison collage to view a larger version of it, or click on the individual source links to each image in the comparison at the bottom of every scene. Enjoy!
Scene 1 – Macro shot
Scene 2 – No Zoom
Scene 2 – Full Zoom
Scene 3 – No Zoom
Scene 3 – Full Zoom
If you’d like to know more about the ASUS ZenFone Zoom, we have a short little hands-on and first-impressions post on the device that might just get you the information you need. What do you guys think? Would you pick up this phone and its optical zoom lens for RM2,099?