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Slim smartphone zoom is one step closer

New technology from DynaOptics promises to deliver optical zoom to smartphones without the need for a protruding lens element.

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Is that a zoom in your pocket? CNET

Frustrated that your smartphone camera can't get you close enough to the action?

DynaOptics wants to change all that by integrating optical zoom into a phone using a new, hardware-based asymmetrical lens design.

It's compact and moves entirely within the lens module, so no extra thickness or bulk is added to the phone.

Standard mechanical zoom lenses work by moving the elements forward and backward along an axis, resulting in protrusions. The DynaOptics model moves its asymmetrical lens elements up and down, or side to side, in order to change the perspective.

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DynaOptics

The company presented a prototype of its lens design last week at StartX, a non-profit accelerator for Stanford entrepreneurs. With engineering samples available to smartphone manufacturers early next year, DynaOptics hopes to be ready for full production at the end of 2015.

Existing smartphones that integrate an optical zoom include the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom, though this design is more of a phone and camera hybrid as it still requires a physical lens protrusion.

Like a regular camera, zooming in closer to the subject requires the lens to move in and out -- resulting in a bulkier form factor than a standard smartphone.

Manufacturers have previously tried to get around the limitations of a physical zoom lens by boosting resolution. Handsets such as the Nokia Lumia 1020 have a 41-megapixel sensor that lets users crop into images to simulate the effect of zoom, without loss of quality.

A similar approach enlisted by the Oppo Find 7 involves the phone taking four separate photos and combining them into one 50-megapixel image, though the finished result isn't overly impressive.

Unfortunately at this stage there is no further technical information available on the DynaOptics system, but if it does come to fruition, it could go head-to-head with a HTC handset with optical zoom.

In a blog post earlier this year, the company said that optical zoom could be heading to its smartphones within 18 to 24 months.