Interview: Sony reveals the secrets behind Xperia 1 IV’s continuous zoom

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Earlier this month, Sony has announced its next generation of Xperia phones – the Xperia 1 IV and Xperia 10 IV. Aside from the hefty $1,600 price tag, the flagship model has a really cool trick in its camera system: continuous optical zoom.
The Japanese company introduced the concept of physically moving the lenses in the camera system with the Xperia 1 III, but it was only able to switch between two fixed focal lengths. With the Xperia 1 IV, Sony has finally achieved true continuous zoom – all the way between 85mm and 125mm.

It’s a milestone for mobile photography and no small feat in and of itself – purely from a technical point of view, but also as a bold commercial statement. Sony continues to go against the grain and try to prove its own point in the smartphone universe, and for that we have to respect the company.

We took our Xperia 1 IV questions all the way to Japan and Sony was kind enough to give us answers. Today we are talking with Hiroshi Takano – Product Marketing Planning and Marketing Department, Mobile Communications Business Group, Sony Corporation, and Hiroki Takizawa – Planning and Marketing Department, Mobile Communications Business Group, Sony Corporation.

Q: First of all, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions! When the Xperia 1 III was announced, Mr Takano Kouji said it was not impossible to provide that system with a continuous zoom across the entire focal range. It seems that you have achieved that in the Xperia 1 IV with its 85-125mm zoom camera system. Was this the plan from the start?A: We definitely had a plan to include continuous zoom in Xperia. In our future planning, we aim to find solutions to customer pain points and having a continuous zoom is something we know will be appreciated by our customers. This time for Xperia 1 IV we achieved a continuous zoom with high AF performance at all focal lengths in the telephoto lens.

Q: What was the biggest challenge with the 85-125mm system and transforming the Xperia 1 III’s fixed zoom system into a continuous zoom camera, capable of covering all focal lengths between 85 and 125mm? And second, why did you choose this exact focal range?

A: In general, with the optical zoom lens system, depending on the position of the zoom lens unit (85-125 in the case of Xperia 1 IV), optical characteristics are different, such as lens shading, distortion, aberration, etc. So as a total camera system, it applying the correct compensation for those parameters is necessary for each zoom lens position.

To make this possible, two things have been implemented in Xperia 1 IV: 1) measurement of optical characteristics in the production of camera modules and 2) compensation in the processing of camera signals. These are quite complex procedures as you can imagine.

In addition to optical zoom, Xperia 1 IV achieved the seamless zoom that can continuously zoom from 16mm to 24, to 375mm during video recording. This also requires a complex process in the production of smartphones. 3 different lenses are used for this. The white point of each lens is calibrated when the camera module is manufactured, but they may have a slight deviation.

If that deviation remains, the color will change when the lenses are switched while zooming between lenses. To avoid this phenomenon, Xperia 1 IV applies white point calibration for 3 cameras together at the factory to remove the aberration. With this, Xperia 1 IV achieves consistent colors across all lenses and it is also possible to set the white balance in Kelvin in Photography Pro and Cinematography Pro.

The focal length of about 85mm-125mm is commonly used in portrait videography and photography on ILCs. The power of Xperia is to tune AF to people and animals and it suits such focal lengths very well. It extends the telephoto range for portrait and pet photography.

Q: Can you give us some insight into exactly how the system works (if possible). Do you use mechanical actuators to move the lens elements inward or is it some kind of electrostatic system? How will this affect the Xperia 1 IV’s battery life?

A: Yes, it uses mechanical actuators to move the zoom lens unit, focus lens unit and optical image stabilization unit. It doesn’t affect battery life as much as it doesn’t move all the time.

Q: As with all moving parts systems, long term wear can be an issue. How many cycles of zooming (or hours of work) can the Xperia 1 IV 85-125mm camera system handle?

A: We have evaluated it against Sony standards, but we do not comment on the number of cycles.Q: Will we see this system in other Xperia smartphones in the future, for example the second generation Xperia PRO-I?

A: Sony will create products that connect creators and users, and will continue to evolve as their most trusted and loved brand.

Q: Do you plan to add other features from Sony’s Cyber-shot and Alpha cameras to the Xperia range in the future?

A: Our strategy is to take full advantage of the technology expertise within the Sony Group, from consumer to professional.

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