The Huawei P30 Pro offers unprecedented zoom capability for a smartphone camera thanks to a simple periscope — and now we’re getting our first glimpse inside. As seen in a thorough teardown by YouTube channel JerryRigEverything, Huawei’s 5x optical zoom camera module has been cracked open, proving that a telephoto lens and mirror really can fit inside an extremely thin phone. That helps it achieve better zoom than any smartphone we’ve seen to date.
The periscope lens pictured above might not look very big, but to fit it inside of the phone, Huawei had to lay it sideways, as also revealed in an earlier teardown by iFixit. Traditionally, phone manufacturers position a sensor directly behind a lens, but there’s often a tradeoff.
Depending on the thickness of your phone, the thickness of the camera stack determines whether that camera sits flush with the chassis, like the LG G8 ThinQ, or is raised in a camera bump, like the iPhone XS, Google Pixel 3, and even the Huawei P30 Pro each have. A periscope lens is a clever way to zoom because it allows for a much larger canvas with which to implement hardware like this — and it’s likely just the beginning for this idea.
Theoretically, you could get an even longer zoom: periscope lenses could extend deeper into a phone’s internals if manufacturers make room. Should Huawei (or other companies) run with this idea, the main challenge is figuring out what else they’re willing to sacrifice (say, some of the battery capacity) to lay a longer lens inside. Such a change might require the internal architecture of phones to be remapped.
One of our main gripes with the P30 Pro’s camera performance is that you can only enjoy its two best tricks independent of each other: the 5x optical zoom is limited to the periscope lens, while its excellent low-light photography is limited to its standard two-lens array. The two don’t mix. Here’s hoping future phones try out even longer telephoto lenses — and pair them with more capable sensors to match.