Sunday debate – Telephoto vs Ultra-wide secondary camera


This time in our Sunday Debate we discuss what makes an optimal dual camera – a wide-angle camera or a telephoto secondary lens. Of course, we would love to have both, but those are yet to be found on a single phone.

Yordan: “Wide-angle for all your friends, scenes and memories”

Dual cameras have been around since 2011 thanks to Sharp and LG, HTC but they were used for 3D back then. In 2013 HTC tried a different approach and made a One flagship with a dual camera for depth info, but it wasn’t until 2015 that the tech went mainstream with the LG G5, Huawei P9, followed by the Mate 9 and Apple iPhone 7 Plus.

What baffled me back then was that no two makers used their secondary camera for the same thing. Huawei had a B&W sensor, LG went for the ultra-wide-angle lens while iPhone 7 Plus had a telephoto lens. But which one do we need the most? I’m going for wide-angle, because this the solution to cover the most use cases.

The LG G5 was quite a controversial device in the smartphone world with the idea of being a modular phone and its visual appearance that was appealing for some and repulsive for others. But its camera with 135-degree secondary snapper gave you the cool ability to snap a panoramic shot in an instant. Yes, the things in the frame were smaller, the edges were distorted, but this got fixed with the LG G6 and then with the V30.

Sunday Debate

Cameras in phones are built to capture memories. If you are into photography surely you’d go for a proper camera and not rely on your smartphone with its tiny sensor. By shooting with a wide-angle camera you get more of the surrounding in a single frame.

Imagine the best place you have ever been to – the Empire State Building in New York, Tower Bridge in London, an AC/DC concert in your hometown with all your buddies or just the local hospital when your kid was born. What do you remember exactly? Do you remember the sign on the wall or the dress of the nurse? Most likely you don’t. Memories bring you warm feelings and a smile on your face.

In the grand scheme of things details a telephoto lens usually bring are a nuisance and do not matter. After several years you might look back at your proposal photo in front of Taj Mahal and everything you’ll need is the warm feeling of hearing the word “Yes”. So, until we have both, I stand with wide-angle lenses.

George: “Telephoto makes your phone more versatile”

Ultra-wide lenses are often misunderstood, and therefore misused. They’re not meant for fitting everything in the frame – they exist to bring a distorted perspective, stick the viewer’s nose into the subject (it probably says so in photography textbooks). If you can educate the average phone user to use them as intended, I’m all for it. But you can’t.

So, telephoto it is then. A longer focal length means a narrower angle of view and with a narrower angle of view messing up your framing is tougher – you just take a photo of that one thing you want to take a photo of, without including all the trash cans in the neighborhood.

And, in all fairness, the usual 24-28mm ‘normal’ smartphone camera is plenty wide enough. A telephoto camera in addition to that makes for a much more versatile setup than an even wider 13 or something millimeter.

Another point in favor of telephoto cameras is working distance. You don’t take portraits with a 24mm lens, much less with an ultra-wide (in principle; you can do anything for creative purposes), and the mobile industry has a deep fixation with portraits now.

That’s why the Huawei P20 Pro is a revelation with its 80mm-equivalent telephoto cam – it lets you stand back, putting your subject (well, the person) at ease. Plus, it gives portraits the right perspective and some natural blur in the background before the software starts doing its computational thing.

Oh, and when you visit the Acropolis, you’ll certainly appreciate the ‘zoom’ capabilities of smartphones with 2x and 3x tele lenses that will bring the detail in the column capitals closer. Because who doesn’t love capitals.

Cast your votes

Time to cast your votes – which secondary camera do you prefer?

Which secondary camera is better?

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