Smartphone cameras are digital and work by capturing light onto a sensor, which is then interpreted by one or more processor chips and bundled computer code. Over the years, we’ve seen many new technologies applied to these camera modules designed to improve image quality, from increasing the size of the pixels, which increases sensitivity, combining multiple exposures into one image for the best color reproduction, optical stabilization and improvements in the post-photo processing. We have also seen a few attempts to introduce a mechanical, optical zoom to cameras, which solves one of the fundamental problems with all photography: getting close enough to the subject to take a meaningful image. We’re seeing a new entry into the “smartphones with optical zoom” camp in the shape of the Asus ZenFone Zoom, which was teased at the end of Asus’ CES, Consumer Electronics Show, press conference back in January 2015.
The Asus ZenFone Zoom is in some respects similar to the ZenFone 2 model, but has a completely different camera module. You’ll still get the quad core Intel Atom processor, 2 GB or 4 GB of memory, MicroSD card, 5.5-inch 1080p display and it’ll be running Android 5.0 Lollipop, but the key difference is in the dimensions and the camera: the ZenFone Zoom is slightly thicker but replaces the straightforward 13MP rear camera with a more capable 13 MP sensor, a 10-element rear lense that includes optical stabilization and a 3X optical zoom. For the lens, Asus is using a HOYA Group assembly called the CUBE (the HOYA site notes that this is a tentative name, so it might change). The lens assembly unit is currently the smallest at the world at just 6mm deep.
Asus’ focus on cameras is interesting because it’s one way that their smartphones can be differentiated from the competition: there are few Android smartphones with an optical zoom that don’t give rise to awkward pocket bump moments. And before you recoil in horror at the thought of carrying around a 12mm thick smartphone, not only is this barely thicker than flagships from a few years ago, but Asus are cooking up some special camera features for the device: they’re aiming to replace your digital compact camera with your smartphone in the same way that Nokia tried with the Lumia 1020, which was a decent device hobbled by Windows Phone.
I’m interested to see how things pan out with the ZenFone Zoom for two reasons. One is because I liked the original ZenFone model and I hope that the newer generation version is even better. And second, because the HOYA lens assembly is exactly the sort of product that will lend itself to Project Ara smartphones very well. Let us know your comments below in the usual way.