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Home / Brunch / Techilicious by Rajiv Makhni: The camera phone innovation to watch out for

Techilicious by Rajiv Makhni: The camera phone innovation to watch out for

It’s thrilling when companies carry forward innovation and don’t just resort to marketing gimmicks

brunch Updated: Aug 02, 2020 08:01 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times
Gimbal has motors that move in the opposite direction of the shake, thus countering it
Gimbal has motors that move in the opposite direction of the shake, thus countering it

Cameras on phones have come a long way. But you may be surprised to know how far the tech has improved. The first integrated commercially available camera phone was the Sharp J-SH04, released in 2000. It had a sparse resolution of 0.11 megapixel (compare that to the 108-megapixel camera phones of today) and a 256-colour (not million, just 256 colours) display.

In just 20 years we’ve taken quantum leaps forward. Megapixels have dramatically improved (unfortunately it’s an overkill now), the number of cameras has exponentially risen (also an overkill), pop up and motorised front cameras have appeared, 3D cameras were tried out (and thankfully flopped), video has gone to 4K, sensors have become bigger, zoom lenses have made photography easier and optical image stabilisation has now become a much-needed feature.

Critical feature

If I was to actually choose one innovation that stands out and has made the most difference in our photography and video shooting, it has to be optical image stabilisation. It’s a complete game changer because it nullifies the biggest weakness in camera phone optics: its form factor. It’s practically impossible to shoot a good, steady, rock solid image or video with a thin, light slab of tech – which is what a phone is. By default our hands shake and the thin little phone shakes when we press the shutter button, leading to blurry shots.

The biggest problem while shooting a video is that when we move (our body naturally moves) and shoot, the results are terrible. That’s why optical image stabilisation is key.

But in the world of professional photography, there is another major innovation. The Gimbal.

Fluid magic

Slow-motion shot, hero running in the rain to rescue the heroine, camera moves with the hero, rock steady shot, fluid motion. How do they do it when they shoot these action movies? How do they defy the laws of physics? It’s almost always a camera mounted on a Gimbal. This very interesting piece of equipment has motors that move in the opposite direction of the shake, thus countering it. And that piece of technology has now been built into a phone.

A view of the Gimbal built inside the Vivo X50 Pro
A view of the Gimbal built inside the Vivo X50 Pro

Impossible

Let me be very candid. When I heard about the Vivo X50 Pro, and the fact that its camera was mounted on a Gimbal, I dismissed it as a typical marketing gimmick. After all, Gimbal tech is serious stuff and miniaturising it to fit inside a phone sounded impossible. Then I got the phone, tried it out and was blown. So blown that I was inspired to write this column. I tested it against three other phones that all have optical image stabilisation built in. I shot a video, where I was moving at a brisk pace, I shot pictures from a moving car, I shot a video on a cycle and then for my ultimate test, I held the phone and ran as fast as I could with the video being recorded in front of me.

While shooting a video when we move, the results are terrible. So, optical image stabilisation is key. 

In every test, the Vivo X50 Pro blew the other three phones out of the water. Shots were buttery-smooth, photos had no shakes and the video of me running with the phone in my hand looked like I was fluidly skating on a level surface. Vivo claims a 300 per cent better performance over just optical stabilisation and the results more than vouched for it. The Gimbal inside the X50 Pro is a double-ball structure that gives it a triple axis rotation. Think of the camera inside the phone literally floating in space and countering every movement by moving in the opposite direction. Vivo also adds on optical and electronic image stabilisation.

Gimbal for all

What about all the other optics? You may get super smooth footage, but what does it look like? Four cameras at the back, one with a periscope lens, 60X zoom, and a sensor that does well in dim lighting conditions. I’m super thrilled that companies like Vivo carry forward innovation and don’t just resort to marketing gimmicks. My hope is that Gimbal technology becomes a standard and the competition has to catch up, and soon it will be available even in phones under 10K.

Future wish list

My current list of innovations from the professional camera world I’d like to see come into camera phones? A real optical zoom that zooms out of the camera, a proper dial that controls all aspects of the camera on a phone, a real shutter button and much larger sensors. After seeing the Gimbal make its way to a phone, I’m hoping these aren’t difficult to incorporate.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

Techilicious appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, August 2, 2020

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