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HTC camera expert teases optical zoom and improved UltraPixel camera for future phones

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March 25, 2014: HTC CEO Peter Chou shows the new HTC One M8 phone during a launch event in New York. (AP)

HTC’s imaging specialist has teased an exciting future for fans of the company’s camera phones, saying we should expect “huge advances” over the next year or so, including the possible introduction of optical zoom capabilities. Symon Whitehorn is quoted in an interview with Vodafone UK, where he primarily discussed the HTC One M8’s Duo Camera, but was also happy to chat about some future advancements too.

Optical zoom is one of the key separating features between camera phones and standalone cameras. Samsung has attempted to integrate optical zoom into one of its smartphones, the Galaxy S4 Zoom, but the result was a bulky, niche device. Whitehorn says the tech still needs to be refined before it makes it into mainstream camera phones, but adds the feature “is not too far off at all for HTC.” 

He adds that in the coming 12 to 18 months “we’ll see huge advances in phone optics,” saying this is one of the reasons it didn’t drastically alter the UltraPixel camera from the HTC One to the HTC One M8. On that subject, he justifies the decision not to increase the camera’s megapixel count above four, saying that it’s all to do with the gradual introduction of 4K displays.

“If you look at 4K quality, it really is only about 8-megapixels,” he says, continuing “that’s a pretty good level to hold at, because over and above that, we’re not sure what benefit you’d be getting.” This could be seen as a hint the next major update to the One series could include an 8-megapixel version of the UltraPixel camera.

Whitehorn also talks about front cameras and the selfie phenomenon. He questions the decision to put the same camera on both the front and rear of a smartphone, because a good selfie camera is a very different prospect. The front cam needs to be “tuned to help you give the best selfies,” he says, “It’s no longer the afterthought camera that is has been for so long.”

So does Whitehorn see camera phones becoming a threat to DSLRs, in the same way they have started to replace compact cameras for many people? “Two years ago, I would have said phone will never replace DSLRs. Now I’m not so sure.” We’re excited to see what HTC will do to bring about this feat.