Should you buy a telephoto for your smartphone? by Jose Antunes

Should you buy a telephoto for your smartphone?

One of the first lenses I bought for your Redmi Note 4 smartphone, a model from 2017, was a macro lens, which allowed me to get close to some subjects with this entry-level model. The second lens I imagined I needed was telephoto. I was wrong…

Everything I read everywhere praises how telephoto (or telephoto converters…), which usually double the focal length of the primary lens, allows for more creative work when using a smartphone. Since many entry-level smartphones rarely offer a true optical lens beyond the normal wide angle, you may be tempted to purchase an external “telephoto” to expand your creative options. Trust me, you probably won’t need it. But keep reading.

There are many telephoto lenses available for smartphones, some offering up to 35x “zoom” over the primary lens, but I don’t think these lenses work as suggested by marketing. All I needed was a 3x telephoto, which would take a 24mm wide angle to cover a comfortable 72mm field of view (compared to the 35mm format, which is always a reference here), but looking at what the market had to offer, I found that 2x was the most common adapter available. In my opinion, having a macro lens (more on this in another article, another day) and zoom – up to 2x – would broaden my creative options when using a smartphone.

If I had gotten the 2x telephoto lens back in 2017, for the Redmi Note 4 smartphone I would probably be happy with it, but when I moved on to better smartphone models my perception of usability changed, the recent move to Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra (used as a camera), with its 70mm and 230mm optical lenses, has radically changed what I think about external lenses for smartphones. Still, I also keep Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro As my regular smartphone, which has a limited selection of lenses – ultra-wide angle, wide angle and macro – I decided to explore what a 2x telephoto could do for me.

Should you buy a telephoto for your smartphone?When the 2x telephoto is less than you promise

Among the dozens of options available I decided to choose ApexilAnd, because the company had a 5-in-1 kit with five different lenses, from fisheye to macro for +/- $50, I decided to order it, and test out the different lenses, although the 2x telephoto were the ones I really enjoyed. I wrote an entire article on fisheye, ultra-wide-angle, wide-angle, and 10x macro, and as I indicated then, I decided to write another article focusing on the 2x telephoto.

For this article, I decided to test the Apexel 2x telephoto with both Xiaomi smartphones, Redmi Note 4, from 2017, and Redmi Note 10 Pro, from 2021, which remains one of the best affordable solutions for photographers. Apexel makes a series of claims about this lens, which I won’t mention here, because most of them are pure marketing hype and nothing else. One thing I need to highlight, though, is that the 2x whose zoom offerings the company claims is nowhere to be seen. From the comparisons made during testing, I’d say it’s about 1.5x, so if you’re hoping to get close to a “nifty fifty” – a 24mm focus multiplier gives you about 48mm, or 50mm if we round up the numbers… – Apexel telephoto 2x is not the option to choose.

Lenses from other brands may offer a 2x increase in focal length (I haven’t had a chance to try them), but Apexel doesn’t. Having tried to contact the company several times, on various topics regarding their products, without any success, I don’t feel very confident in suggesting Apexel 2x telephoto as a good purchase.

Having determined that the effective focal length of the Apexel telephoto shooting is around 1.5x and not 2x, I decided to create a batch of photos with the Redmi Note 4 showing the coverage of the primary lens and going from there to show the photo captured using the 2x telephoto and … surprise, using digital zoom 2x for smartphone.

Should you buy a telephoto for your smartphone?2x yield is probably the best choice

The image taken using the smartphone’s cropping ability shows the reality of 2x… and confirms that Apexel’s claim is incorrect. Moreover, a simple visual comparison confirms that the smartphone live image is usable and competes favorably with Apexel capture … without having to worry about using an adapter and adjusting the lens in position before taking the photo. So, even with the Redmi Note 4’s limited sensor, it’s best to just use digital cropping – up to two times it works fine – and take pictures. No contraceptive needed…

Well, what applies to a 2017 smartphone is even more so when you try to use the lens with the Redmi Note 10 Pro, which shows the same kind of results: a primary image using the 26mm lens, a second image using the Apexel telephoto and finally, the digital crop – 2x – shows What is 2x really? Again, it’s best to forget about that 2x telephoto and simply use crop – or digital zoom, if you want to call it that – especially with modern smartphones, which have better sensors.

The Redmi Note 10 Pro is a good example of this modern generation of smartphones. Not only does it allow you to shoot a 12MP file (3000 x 4000 pixels) with 2x cropping, but it also gives you the option to shoot with all the pixels in the sensor without stacking, i.e. 108 MP, at a 9000 x 12000 pixel file, using the same 2x cropping. And just to make things clear for you, when shooting at 108MP, the Digital Zoom is limited to 2x, which is the same amount the Apexel telephoto promises but never reaches.

When it comes to video, the Redmi Note 10 Pro also works with 2x cropping, which can be selected directly in the screen, making it easy to change between Ultra Wide, Wide and Telephoto, which you can find useful for a faster video workflow. It is also possible to exceed 2x but remember that quality will suffer.

To cut a long story short, I think with modern smartphones you rarely need to use them external lensesAnd the so-called 2x telephotos for smartphones, which once seemed so important, could be forgotten by most people. Just crop to your heart’s content … but remember that too much cropping can reduce image quality: 2x, 3x within the range of what is possible, like Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra turns out. In fact, the S22 Ultra can get past that, although the quality at 100x Samsung claims isn’t a thing for photographers, it’s more of a solution for painters…

Leave a Comment