“Enabling users to express emotions through images” is one of the company’s goals, according to Jimmy Hsu, the Deputy Director of TECNO Mobile’s Image R&D Center. They may not be among the most well-known smartphone brands in the world, but Tecno Mobile is one of Asia’s most prominent phone manufacturers. Slowly but steadily rising in the rankings since 2006, the brand has a very significant market share in Africa and Asia. China South Global even reported them to be the 6th most popular brand in Africa in a May 2022 report. And in November of this year, they announced the smartphone industry’s first-ever Dual-prism Periscope Tele Camera.
Aimed at making subject tracking easier when using telephoto lenses on smartphone cameras, Tecno Mobile calls it the Eagle Eye Lens. We interviewed Jimmy to understand what makes this technology groundbreaking and how he sees it revolutionizing smartphone cameras going forward.
Most smartphone users that I know always enjoy using ultra-wide lenses on their smartphones. Not me though. Whenever a new phone is launched, I always look to see what telephoto options it gives. This is one of the main reasons I moved to Android after 3 generations of iPhones. The Android phone that I got back in 2019 had a 5x tele lens. I don’t think the iPhone flagship at the time had more than 2 or 3x optical zoom. But with the increase in optical zoom comes the issue of stabilization, and this is a problem on my phone too. Tracking subjects that are considerably far away becomes a headache. You find yourself just about nailing the focus and exposure (even in videos on 5x zoom), only to find that the camera can’t track the subject efficiently. This is where Tecno Mobile and its Eagle Eye Lens technology hope to change the smartphone world.
The Phoblographer: Hi Jimmy. Please tell us about yourself and your role at Tecno Mobile. We’d also like to know a bit about your personal photography interests.
Jimmy Hsu: I have been working in the smartphone imaging industry for ten years. Currently, I am responsible for imaging product planning and design for TECNO, aiming to provide users with the ultimate imaging experience. I’m a person who loves traveling, so l like to record every place I’ve been to and every scenery I’ve seen. Ultra wide angle, wide angle, and telephoto will be my choice. Different lenses can provide different effects and emotional expressions.
The Phoblographer: What is the new Eagle Eye Lens technology by Tecno all about? Tell us how this is different from what smartphones currently have.
Jimmy Hsu: From the user’s perspective, the Eagle Eye Lens can record events with a wide-angle lens while taking a close-up shot of the objective you care about the most. Let records and art coexist, and there is no need to choose between any moment and picture. You know, it’s hard to choose between what you care about.
From the technical perspective, the Eagle Eye Lens, as its name implies, is “seeing far away like an eagle and keeping a close eye on its prey.” The overall implementation is a 120mm telephoto lens equipped with two prisms with mutually perpendicular rotation directions so as to use the prisms’ total reflection principle to achieve the purpose of viewing angle rotation. Besides the tracking function, the rotation of the two prisms can also be used for large-angle (+/-6°) stabilization with the smartphone gyroscope. TECNO’s Eagle Eye Lens technology is the first to achieve real physical tracking and the largest angle (+/-6°) in OIS, providing users with impeccable images devoid of any defects or digital chopping.
The Phoblographer: You’ve beaten out the smartphone giants like Samsung, Apple and Huawei to this technology. How many years has this been in the works?
Jimmy Hsu: The starting point of our research and development of this technology is not to compete with other companies. We have an in-depth insight into the needs of users. Starting from the needs of users, we know that we should do this. This is our mission. “Enabling users to express emotions through images” is our image goal and philosophy of product design.
The R&D inspiration comes from the fact that during the epidemic, when our engineers were taking parent-child photos, they found that the smartphone on the market could not capture the scenes of children playing and close-ups of their expressions at the same time. They have to capture the scenes and close-ups of two people with two smartphones at the same time. So we began to outline the idea of developing the Eagle Eye Lens. During this period, we took many detours and tried solutions such as a single prism for two-axis movement, but there were some problems. Finally, we came up with the Eagle Eye Lens technology, which is a dual prism solution to achieve maximum angle tracking in the limited space of the mobile phone.
The Phoblographer: Can this be integrated into existing smartphone models, or will we see a redesign of the form factor? Will this lead to newer smartphone models being bulkier in size?
Jimmy Hsu: TECNO is committed to unlocking the best of contemporary technologies for progressive individuals across global markets, inspiring them to discover a world of possibilities. For this technology we plan to use it in our future smartphones if it goes well. The current size is designed according to the maximum height of the existing smartphone periscope module, and there is room for the camera module to be upgraded. In principle, the thickness of the phone will not be increased.
The Phoblographer: Lack of image stabilization is of course, a lot more apparent when using telephoto smartphone lenses 5x and above. How does Eagle Eye aim to fix this issue?
Jimmy Hsu: Image stabilization is the flaw and the most painful point of photography. Professional photographers have professional techniques and can bring a tripod to fix the camera to take stable and satisfactory photos. However, most smartphone users do not have special training, do not carry a tripod with them. They are not even aware of the problem and impact of shaking, so we must solve the problem of shaking. The tracking angle plus the anti-shake angle of the Eagle Eye Lens is a fixed value.
For example, the maximum movable angle of the Eagle Eye Lens prism is +/-10° and +/-8°. If you want to achieve +/-3°anti-shake in walking shooting, you will assign the rotation angle of prism+/-1.5° to anti-shake. Then the prism rotation angle will be decreased, as well as the tracking angle of the imaging. The anti-shake of the Eagle Eye Lens belongs to the gimbal stabilization, and there is no relative displacement between the lens and the image sensor, so it will not cause any problems of chromatic aberration or blurred corners.
The Phoblographer: Technical parameters aside, what do smartphone photographers have to be excited about with this new technology? In what ways can it quickly improve their daily photography?
Jimmy Hsu: The Eagle Eye Lens was originally developed to shoot scenes and close-up videos at the same time so that parents can simply record their children’s growth process without missing any classic emotions. Take a recent example of my life. At my daughter’s birthday party, my daughter and her friends sang a birthday song together. I wanted to catch the scene of this party and also record a close-up picture of my daughter clearly since she is my focus.
The daily application also includes tracking photography, which can help photographers take photos with a sense of speed easily. For example, we can track and shoot racing cars in F1, bringing people a stimulating and exciting shooting experience. With the tripod, it can make a function similar to an equatorial instrument, allowing you to easily collect the starry sky. In addition, when a wide-angle camera is used to take long-range landscape photos, the valuable landscape details can be automatically identified by Al, and then the Eagle Eye Lens can be called to take the details.
The Phoblographer: Stability and tracking aside, what other benefits does this new technology bring for smartphone photographers?
Jimmy Hsu: You can shoot scenes and close-ups at the same time with the Eagle Eye Lens. This new technology can also realize the functions of starry sky photography, auto-view shooting, etc.
The starting point of our research and development of this technology is not to compete with other companies.
The Phoblographer: We’ve come a long way from the low-resolution cameras of the first iPhone to the over 100-megapixel smartphone cameras of today. But sensor sizes are still too small in phones. When might this change so that they can compete with them in low light noise?
Jimmy Hsu: Big sensor is not the purpose. The purpose is to keep the smartphones’ shape thin. There are many solutions to keep the balance of smartphone shape and image quality in low-light photography, such as telescopic sensors with higher sensitivity, thinner lens, and more cameras with new models, new forms, and new materials. Recently, we launched our latest flagship product – the PHANTOM X2 series, which features a retractable portrait lens. It re-imagines what’s possible with a pocket-sized smartphone camera and provides an exceptional night imaging experience.
The Phoblographer: Does MediaTek’s 4nm Dimensity 9000 chip Super Night mode aim to tackle the problem until larger sensors become commonplace in smartphones? Tell us more about this.
Jimmy Hsu: I would like to state that due to the size limitation of smartphones, the effect achieved by hardware is difficult to match that of SLR cameras. How to help further improve the quality of low-light images? only the coordinated development of software and hardware is the most feasible way at present. Taking TECNO as an example, we not only have a solid hardware foundation but also do deep research in computing photography. Strengthened by MediaTek’s outstanding Dimensity 9000 5G chip, TECNO’s Super Night mode algorithm has been further upgraded.
In addition, our latest flagship product, PHANTOM X2, is also equipped with a telescopic lens. With the cooperation between the high computing power of the chip and the innovative lens hardware, smartphones can greatly improve the image quality of low-light photography. It can go beyond the limitations of sensor size and provide consumers with a better shooting experience.
The Phoblographer: Where do you see smartphone cameras in the next 5 to 10 years. Will they eat more of the market share from interchangeable lens cameras, or does that depend on how quickly smartphone sensor sizes grow?
Jimmy Hsu: There are many uncertainties in the future, but we can grasp a certain part, and we will know what to do. The image sensor of the smartphone camera has reached 1″, surpassing the scope of digital cameras, but there is still a gap with the SLR camera. Due to physical limitations, it is impossible for the smartphone to catch up with the SLR camera. However, the computing power of mobile phone processors is faster and better than that of SLR cameras, so it is possible to surpass the image quality of SLR cameras with multi-camera cooperation or multi-frame processing of a single camera.
Smartphones are technological products that serve people. And people are members of society, so the mission of smartphone cameras is to serve people in society. It needs to help people socialize, share, record, work and express their feelings.
All images and videos used here were provided to us by Tecno Mobile’s PR team. Used with permission. Visit their website to learn more about their smartphones and technology.