Forget Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra — Oppo could make the rear camera disappear

oppo pop up camera patent
(Image credit: LetsGoDigital)

These days it seems camera modules are getting bigger and bigger. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is a great example of that in action, with its chunky quad-lens camera that really stands out. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Oppo has just been awarded a patent (via LetsGoDigital) detailing a new kind of pop-up camera. One that would actually hide a phone’s rear camera lenses until they’re actually needed.

Pop-up cameras typically involve hiding the front camera, enabling a full-screen display without any sort of notches of cut-outs. See the OnePlus 7T Pro as a good example of this in action. 

The difference here is that the dual camera lenses are inside the phone and facing upwards, instead of facing out as a normal camera would. The phone then has a series of mirrors and prisms that lets it see what’s going on in front of, and behind, the phone.

The design appears similar to the periscope lenses employed by several phone makers in their telephoto lenses. Because building a lens vertically means there’s a lot more space to work with and lets a camera system feature much higher optical zoom magnification.

In this instance, it also means that the pop-up functions as both a front and rear camera at the same time. In other words, there’s no need for a visible camera module on the back of the phone. That’s certainly one way to beat Samsung’s newly patented rotating camera, which spins the rear camera round to photo your face.

oppo patent

(Image credit: LetsGoDigital)

LetsGoDigital noted that the system also lets the camera capture images to the left and right of the phone, which means users could capture panoramic shots much more easily. In fact, you’d only need to move 180-degrees to capture a 360-degree photo.

There are some questions to be asked about this system, though. The main one is how the phone plans to switch between front and rear cameras, because you don’t want to have to take photos from both directions all the time. One method Oppo's patent suggests includes a dedicated button that can be pressed once to shoot from the front and twice to shoot from the back.

So the goal is for the camera to shoot in one direction at a time, though the patent doesn’t discount the option to shoot from both. Assuming the lenses can capture both images simultaneously, there’s no reason why that couldn’t happen.

Patenting a feature doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ever going to be put in a phone, and it’s possible we may never be able to use this multi-directional camera for ourselves. If it ever does, it doesn’t discount the possibility of visible rear camera lenses either. After all, most phones have three or four lenses these days, and this design only hides two.

Still, it would be a very cool feature to have, even if it only means the rear camera module doesn’t vanish completely and just gets smaller.

Oppo is tipped to release the Find X3 Pro around springtime, but we don't expect it to come with this kind of pop-up camera system. Rather, we're expecting to see a refined take on the Find X2 Pro, with boosted specs and camera. But this patent proves Oppo is very much a smartphone maker to watch when it comes to doing something new with phone design. 

Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.