The iPhone 11 Pro Max camera relies on a 54mm (2x) tele lens.

Space constraints in thin smartphone bodies mean it's challenging to design and use camera lenses with long focal lengths, significantly limiting the tele capabilities of even the best smartphones when compared to conventional cameras.

In order to bridge this gap, manufacturers like Huawei, Samsung and Oppo have been using vertically installed periscope-style camera modules that use prisms to divert incoming light onto the image sensors. In its current state, this technology allows for 35mm-equivalent focal lengths of up to approximately 240mm, for example on the Huawei P40 Pro+.

The Huawei P40 Pro+ camera array includes a periscope tele with a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 240mm.

However, one manufacturer has notably not yet jumped on the periscope-bandwagon: users of Apple's current top-end iPhone 11 Pro Max still have to make do with a 2x optical tele (52mm equivalent).

This is not expected to change with the upcoming 2021 generation, but according to new reports the 2022 models are likely to feature periscope tele lenses and therefore improved zoom power.

Oppo periscope tele lens design

According to a new report by Apple analyst Ming Chi Kuo, Korean lens supplier Semco and the Chinese company Sunny Optical will be providing iPhone lenses in the coming years. They will replace the current Taiwanese supplier Genius Electronic Optical.

More interestingly Ming Chi Kuo also believes that in 2022 a large proportion of the lenses supplied by Semco will be of the periscope variant.

Apple design for a 'folded' lens with mirror

With its major competitors going down the periscope lens route it was arguably only a question of time before Apple would follow suit.

The company already filed a patent for a periscope lens design in 2016. The documents describe a design that channels light into the camera through a primary lens and bounces it off a mirror into a secondary lens that moves up and down to provide zoom functionality. Apple calls the design a 'folded telephoto camera lens system'.

This concept is quite similar to the design presented by O-Film earlier this year. Unlike the currently commercially available solutions which all combine a fixed-focal-length periscope lens with computational processing to provide zoom, the O-Film and Apple solutions offer true optical zoom which should provide a boost in zoom image quality.