Massive lenses on smartphones: Silly thought or a stroke of genius?

Out of the blue, Xiaomi introduced a prototype model of its flagship 12S Extremely smartphone with an outlandish M-Mount fitted to a $,6000 Leica lens. The Chinese language model isn’t the primary to strive the idea, which looks as if an incredible thought at first, however failed on multiple event as we’ll seein this text.

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Eureka second (or not)

Again when smartphones had been nonetheless kinda new, and most smartphones nonetheless had sub-10 megapixels sensors—and really small ones at that—with out all of the AI that we discover these days. A few digicam manufacturers determined that one of the best ways to enhance cell pictures was to slap an everyday digicam system lens right into a smartphone.

Though it’s (VERY) area of interest, most likely the best-known instance of this transient fad was the Sony Alpha QX1. Because the title implied, it was a part of the Japanese model Alpha line of cameras with interchangeable lenses. In QX1’s case, it was the E-mount system, nonetheless used as we speak on each APS-C and full-frame digicam our bodies.

Sony Alpha QX1
The QX1 may very well be connected to an iPhone or Android cell with a clip-on mount (Xperia Z1 pictured) / © Sony

The truth is, the QX1 digicam may even be used with previous A-mount (Minolta) lenses with an adapter, and possibly may use an enormous assortment of different lenses with unofficial adapters. For these with no suitable lens, Sony supplied a equipment with the SELP1650 compact energy zoom lens, nonetheless offered with some cameras nowadays.

Launched in September 2014, the ILCE-QX1 may very well be probably used as a stand-alone digicam, because it included a battery (the identical NP-FW50 mannequin utilized in dozens of Sony cameras), shutter button, reminiscence card slot (microSD and Reminiscence Stick Micro suitable), and tripod thread.

Because it did not characteristic a display, nonetheless, customers would use the included clip-on accent to mount the QX1 to an iPhone or Android system and management it utilizing the PlayMemories/Imaging Edge app. Communication duties had been dealt with by a Wi-Fi connection that may very well be established utilizing NFC.

Anybody who has used Imaging Edge with any supported Sony digicam might already see why it did not survive for too lengthy, regardless of preliminary gross sales surpassing expectations. The pairing course of isn’t at all times seamless, and the connection was nonetheless unreliable. Even so, the fixed-lens fashions DSC-QX managed to final some time longer out there.

A brand new challenger seems

Sony’s fundamental rival within the early mirrorless cameras days, Olympus, didn’t wait to see if the QX idea would catch and shortly launched its Air 01. Launched in February 2015, Olympus clip-on digicam adopted the identical general design because the Sony Alpha digicam lens, with a battery, microSD slot, shutter, and tripod thread.

The principle variations between the Air 01 and the QX1 are how the Olympus mannequin makes use of the micro four-thirds lens system—on the time with a much bigger number of lenses— as an alternative of the E-mount, and that it additionally included Bluetooth for faster pairing.

Olympus Air 01
Each Sony and Olympus highlighted the inventive potentialities of separating the show from the digicam physique / © Olympus

Again to the similarities, similar to the Sony QX1, the Olympus Air line did not see a second mannequin. However the Japanese firms’ lack of success did not cease different firms from toying with the thought.

The assault of the residing lifeless

A few different related fashions had been introduced however apparently stayed within the vaporware class. One was the Yongnuo YN43, which because the title suggests, has a four-thirds-sized sensor, however paired to what appears to be like prefer to be a Canon SLR mount.

The opposite one was a vaporware combo from Sakar Worldwide, which concerned not one, however two historic “zombie manufacturers”. After failing to launch the proprietary mount iM1836 digicam beneath the Polaroid model resulting from putting similarities to the Nikon 1 J1 mannequin which led to a lawsuit, the corporate introduced the IU680 clip-on digicam system beneath the Vivitar model utilizing the identical lens mount (and flash module).

Polaroid iM1836, Vivicam IU680
Plenty of logos: After being banned from promoting the Polaroid iM1836 (left), the holding firm recycled the lens mount for the Vivitar IU860 (do not thoughts the Zeiss branding there) / © Sakar Worldwide

As with the Polaroid digicam, the Vivicam IU680 quietly disappeared after being proven off at commerce conferences…

A brand new hope

In 2020, a British startup determined that it was time to revamp the formulation. Though utilizing a tried and true micro four-thirds mount, the Alice Digital camera tried to convey one thing new to the desk: AI & computational pictures options. Initially deliberate for October 2021, the Alice Digital camera—like all optimistic crowdfunded initiatives—is late.

General, the accent works in an identical method to the clip-on cameras from Sony and Olympus, however with a beefier hand grip which ought to assist with ergonomics whereas shedding a few of the inventive potentialities by having to clip the digicam to the smartphone.

As with all crowdfunded initiatives crammed with buzzwords, it’s most likely finest to attend for critiques and the primary manufacturing batch to roll out earlier than putting a pre-order for one…


Although Xiaomi introduced its mannequin as an idea telephone, the prototype Xiaomi 12S Extremely would face related challenges to those confronted by Sony and Olympus—and even different unique fashions just like the Panasonic DMC-GM1, the Samsung Galaxy Digital camera, or the Hasselblad module for the Moto G line.

The primary one is the ergonomics, with lovers (particularly these with M-mount lenses) that most likely worth issues present in rangefinder cameras such because the 2-stage shutter button, dials, and that candy candy crimson dot that (for them) is value greater than any bitten fruit.

The second is the burden, even when M-mount lenses are compact by default, having to make use of an adapter for the flange focal distance (FFD) provides bulk to the system, regardless of having to cowl a smaller sensor space as an alternative of the unique full body/35mm the lenses had been designed for. And that exacerbates the ergonomics subject.

The QX cameras, the Air 01, and even the fixed-lens Kodak Pixpro SL line had tripod threads to make it simpler to succeed in (non-tactile) buttons, one thing that the M-mount adapter would not appear to supply.

Leica M System
All of the lenses above may most likely purchase you a ticket to house. / © Leica

And worse, if it got here to cabinets, the Xiaomi 12S Extremely would face an much more area of interest market, working with a smaller choice of way more costly lenses than those discovered within the micro four-thirds and E mounts.

Anyway, regardless of all this pessimism, it’s nice to see smartphone firms nonetheless considering outdoors the field. particularly once we are seeing fewer and fewer improvements annually. And with the present alternate options being restricted to low-quality lenses mounted on prime of the common cameras present in our mobiles.

What about you? Are you happy with the present progress in computational pictures or additionally get excited when an outlandish prototype is revealed? Share your favourite ideas and fashions within the feedback under!


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