Galaxy S22 Ultra Periscope Camera – Creepy Threat to Your Privacy, Show Photos: Ban Long Range Zoom?

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The Huawei P30 Pro blew me away when it was released in March 2019. Of course, the Leica brand’s (then) camera system was the center of attention as Huawei quickly established itself as the leader in smartphone photography.

But one camera in particular stood out because it was nothing I’d seen before. The modern implementation of the Periscope zoom came seemingly out of nowhere and flipped the script on smartphone zoom.

Interestingly, until 2019, ultra-wide-angle cameras were “the hype”, and while cool and somewhat useful, they could never get the same (literally) overwhelming response from my friend seeing a 50x zoom shot from a good periscope camera.

Before the adoption of the modern periscope zoom, it was unthinkable to take 5-10x zoom shots, but that is no longer the case. Fast forward to today, long range zoom cameras on phones are:

  • A huge selling point on most premium flagships
  • Always a nice feature that gets a reaction from your friends
  • A reason to be more inspired, intentional and artistic with your phone camera

Street photography, architecture photography, wildlife photography, portrait photography, action/sports photography – these are just some of the incredible “point-and-shoot” sub-orders that long-range cameras on phones now enable! The fact that you always have this camera in your pocket is of course the Real game changer. You never have to think twice about catching that bird on the roof and your dog’s long run in the park.

Long-range zooming on phones can also be very practical in more “normal” usage situations, such as when you’re trying to read a sign; record your children’s school performance from a distance, or watch your favorite soccer/football star up close in the stadium, even if your cheap seat usually doesn’t allow it.

So it’s clear: the benefits of long-range cameras on phones are enormous, and they unlock a photographic potential that smartphone enthusiasts could only have dreamed of. But with great power comes great responsibility! I’m sure this is the first time you’ve heard this totally original saying.

Anyway, let’s spy on some people!

Privacy Invasion: Long Range Zoom on Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and Google Pixel 6 Pro – “Too Good” and Creepy

Yes… Like almost everything in life, long-range periscope zoom cameras on phones can also have downsides. In that case, we’re talking about the sheer ability to… spy on people. Just when you thought Siri and Alexa were the real enemy…

Before I go any further, let me show you a few camera samples taken with the Galaxy S22 Ultra with 10-100x zoom. They are courtesy of tech enthusiast and leakster Ice Universe and shared on Twitter.

This slightly invasive Twitter thread is titled “Wishing Them Good Luck!” and before you go ahead and (rightly) label this as creepy, let me say that I highly doubt the photographer’s intentions were bad. He is clearly a techie who loves his smartphone zoom. I know because I can relate to it (although I don’t tend to take unwanted wedding photos).

Anyway, regardless of the intentions behind this particular series of photos, we can’t ignore the fact that the zoom capabilities of the Galaxy S22 Ultra creepy good. Just because this particular example isn’t a violation doesn’t mean the following isn’t…

Long-range zoom on phones like the Galaxy S22 Ultra, Pixel 6 Pro, and the upcoming iPhone 15 Pro Max: Ban, Restrict, Regulate?

I want to make something clear: I love the periscope zoom camera on my Google Pixel 6 Pro (not romantic). But I think it’s my civic behavior that starts and makes me write a story that seems to put my favorite phone camera on the spot…

So I have no choice but to ask the only sensible question: should long range zooming on phones be banned or at least restricted/regulated? And the truth is that… I’m not sure. That’s why I try to approach this subject with a healthy dose of nuance…

Those of you who remember “The Huawei Ban” in detail may also recall that there were a ton of conspiracy theories surrounding why Huawei was banned from doing business with US companies (leading to the company’s demise on the western markets).

One of them suggested that “the real reason America banned Huawei was because of its ‘insane’ 50x superspy lens”. The Daily mail published the story, which was accompanied by a video of the Huawei P30 Pro zooming in on boys playing chess.

That’s definitely not the case, of course, as the Galaxy S22 Ultra is now about 3x more capable than the P30 Pro when it comes to zoom (thanks to new hardware and computational photography) and is definitely on sale in the US!

Anyway, the other example of a smartphone camera that could actually have been banned is from OnePlus. In 2020, a new 5MP sensor on the OnePlus 8 Pro was missing the usual color and IR filters that phone cameras usually have. With this camera, the OnePlus 8 Pro sees through some objects, including clothing, a bit like an X-ray. OnePlus eventually disabled the feature in China and India, but then re-enabled it after making “adjustments”.

Finally: “I want my periscope zoom camera, but I don’t want to be spied on”

Despite some conspiracy theories and cameras that can accidentally see through clothing, governments around the world don’t seem to have interfered with the smartphone camera industry, and that’s probably a good thing. Any phone manufacturer will tell you that government regulations hold back innovation. Just ask Tim Cook & Co, who may have been forced to abandon their beloved Lightning port in favor of USB-C because “Europe said so”.

But this one is a little different. We’re talking about an “in your face” privacy issue that could theoretically help “the bad guys” steal your private information, spy on you, or even eavesdrop on your conversations. Just in case long-range zoom on phones didn’t scare you enough, phones like the Pixel 6 Pro and Galaxy S22 Ultra can also zoom in on your audio.

It’s a brilliant feature that uses smart AI and the rear microphones on your phone to isolate the audio coming from a distant subject. It’s meant to come in handy when you want to record a concert, a busker, or your kids (but from a distance).
Anyway, I think it all comes down to your own perception of what is acceptable and what is not. I’m sure some “ordinary people” will find the photos in this article terrifying. I met people in a hostel in the Canary Islands who used feature phones so that “their country can’t spy on them”. And no, they didn’t come from North Korea or China, but from a progressive country in northern Europe. For the record, they also smoked marijuana (not during this conversation).

In case you identify with them, there are cameraless feature phones you can buy! And if you’re on the other end of the spectrum, you think “periscope zoom cameras are great” and you’d throw a tantrum if someone took them away…

So tell me…

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