ASUS ZenFone Zoom camera comparison: Does optical zoom really make a difference?

Intro

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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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