OPPO Retractable Camera wants to fix wobbly phones

Camera bumps have become a point of distinction for smartphones these days rather than just a functional part of the design. A mobile camera's design is defined and constrained by the sensors and lenses they hold inside, which often results in bulky constructions that jut out from a phone's body. That, in turn, gives the phone an uneven back that presents certain usability problems. While work continues on shrinking those hardware components, OPPO is presenting an interesting solution that makes at least one of those big cameras move in and out of the body like a '90s point-and-shoot camera.

Sensor size and lenses are the two primary things that affect how large the phone's camera modules have to be. While sensors often grow in area (width and length), the lenses that are used also dictate how thick that camera bump will be. This is especially true with telephoto cameras or those with optical zoom capabilities because the number of lenses is significantly greater than that of a normal wide camera.

Recent innovations in smartphone camera technologies have given rise to what is now dubbed the periscope-style telephoto camera — one that spreads its lenses horizontally rather than vertically, hence the name. That still might not be enough, especially since it puts hard limits on the range that the camera can go. OPPO's solution seems to do away with periscopes completely and implements a telescopic mechanism instead.

This new "pop-up" camera idea from OPPO mimics the retractable lenses of old point-and-shoot cameras. With a single tap of the camera button, the seemingly flat camera rises from the surface of the phone, most likely to provide some telephoto capabilities to the camera by extending its focal length. Based on the teaser, this camera has a 1/1.56-inch sensor, an f/2.4 aperture lens, and a focal point equivalent to 50mm.

This unique design solves at least two things. The most obvious is that manufacturers can offer better mobile telephoto capabilities without increasing the size of the handset's camera bump or using up a lot of space inside the phone's body. The other significant advantage is that manufacturers can use the same sensor for both the main camera and the telephoto camera without compromising on quality.

OPPO's teaser suggests that, despite the moving parts, its Retractable Camera still has a good amount of water resistance. And just like with the pop-up selfie cameras, this model fall detection so that the camera retracts automatically when the phone is accidentally dropped. This retractable camera will be making a splash next week at the company's annual OPPO INNO DAY, where it might be part of the new flagship phone that it will launch on the 15th of December.