Rita El Khoury / Android Authority
Whenever we talk about telescopic lenses on smartphones, we tend to focus (hah) on their ability to grab clear and noise-less pictures from afar. That’s what they’re made for, right? But in the past few months, I’ve found myself reaching out for my Pixel 6 Pro not just to snap a picture but also to simply just zoom. And zoom some more. And a bit more. Then just back out of the camera app without tapping the shutter button. Why?
Well, because the world is full of situations where you want to discern something from a distance but can’t. I’m human, I have 20/20 vision, and yet, I can’t read the airport departure board from 50m away, or spot a bus’ number when it’s still at the far end of the street, or see the menu behind a long queue of people waiting to place their order.
Related: Pixel 6 Pro camera shootout
The first time it occurred to me to pick up the Pixel 6 Pro’s zoom lens as make-do digital binoculars, I was sitting in the airport’s lounge far, very far from the departure board. I was finishing some work before my flight and I kept getting up, leaving my Pixelbook and backpack behind, and walking to the board to see if my plane’s gate number had been posted. It wasn’t the smartest move, but the details were nowhere to be found online. After the third trip to the board, it occurred to me that I had a powerful zoom machine in my pocket. From then on, I picked up my Pixel 6 Pro, opened the camera app, and zoomed 20x to read the board. Simple, ingenious, awesome.
It felt like being a superhero with extraordinary vision — SuperBinoculars if you will.
It felt like one of those criminal investigation scenes where a detective says “Enhance!” and the techie in front of the computer keeps zooming in to reveal more and more unbelievable detail from a small, blurry photo. It also felt like being a superhero with extraordinary vision — SuperBinoculars if you will.
Since then, I’ve used this trick in airports, for bus numbers, menus, when spotting people in a crowd, and on countless other occasions. My colleagues here at Android Authority have also used the tele lens on their various phones to double-check out-of-place elements during hikes before reaching them (hey, you don’t want to run into a bear, do you?), to see tiny-font phone numbers on store signs, or to simply read anything far away without walking up to it.
It’s not the most glamourous feature, but it’s certainly useful, and the best part is that you don’t need the absolute best telescopic lens or camera phone to benefit from it. A good hybrid zoom lens with decent stabilization should do the trick. After all, you only care about discerning something in these instances, not taking a fantastic picture of it.
Dig deeper: How optical, digital, and hybrid camera zoom work
Have you used your phone’s tele lens just to zoom without taking a pic?