Kicking off 2024 with the Oppo Find X7 Ultra
We're doing two periscopes
Happy new year, and welcome back to Multicore.
I’ve been mostly away from computers and news over the past few weeks, spending time with family in the UK and hopping over to snowy Budapest for a while. The whole trip felt suitably Christmassy, which is not one of Japan’s strong points.
Now it’s time to catch up, and as far as I can tell I didn’t miss much tech stories of note. Apple had to stop selling the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 in the US due to patent litigation, but they’re already back on sale. Microsoft announced it’s killing its Windows Mixed Reality VR platform, which was the first I’ve thought about Windows Mixed Reality in a few years. That’s about it for hardware drama.
But as with every year, the news cycle is spinning up right away with this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. CES technically begins on Tuesday, which is to say that’s when the show floor opens and a bunch of people and companies give keynotes, but most of the actual announcements happen in the preceding days.
I’ll cover all of that in a bumper Instruction Set soon. For now, we have the first big phone launch of the year: the Oppo Find X7 Ultra.
This is the successor to last year’s excellent Find X6 Pro, which came in at runner-up in my list of the best phones of 2023. The X7 Ultra has Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 processor and a refined design, as you’d expect — there’s even an alert slider now — but the specs are otherwise mostly unchanged. This update is really all about the camera system.
Last year the Find X6 Pro went all-in on sensor size with a 1” main camera, a 1/1.56” ultrawide, and a unique 1/1.56” 3x periscope telephoto that compromised on pure optical reach to achieve class-leading image quality. It was a great system that made smart tradeoffs and delivered arguably the best all-around results of any phone in 2023.
Here’s what you get with the X7 Ultra.
Main camera: 50-megapixel 1” Sony LYT-900
Ultrawide: 50-megapixel 1/1.95” Sony LYT-600
3x periscope telephoto: 50-megapixel 1/1.56” Sony IMX890
6x periscope telephoto: 50-megapixel 1/2.51” Sony IMX858
The key addition here is that last 6x telephoto, which makes the X7 Ultra the first phone in the world with two periscope cameras. The IMX858 is the same sensor that Xiaomi used for its ultrawide and both its telephotos in the 13 Ultra, the inaugural Multicore Phone of the Year. It’s large by telephoto standards and should give the X7 Ultra more reach than its predecessor.
The thinking with the Find X6 Pro was that using a higher-quality, shorter periscope camera with a larger sensor would give better results than many competing 5x cameras. That was true at the time, and is still usually true in low light, but by the end of the year phones like the Pixel 8 Pro and Xiaomi 13 Ultra were generally producing better results from long distance.
This new 6x lens should close that gap. The 3x hardware is the same as before, so you’ll still get the benefits of the bigger sensor between 3x and 5.9x, but the 6x will make for a more versatile package when you need to shoot from further out.
The X7 Ultra’s main camera uses a new 1” sensor from Sony, the LYT-900. This falls under the company’s Lytia branding for stacked CMOS sensor technology, which you may recall Oppo deploying in the Find N3 last year with the 1/1.43” LYT-800.
The ultrawide, meanwhile, uses Sony’s new LYT-600, which at 1/1.95” is actually a little smaller than the IMX890 used by the Find X6 Pro. I can see why Oppo would want the ultrawide to be on the same generation of sensor as the main camera, and the company has historically been very good at maintaining consistent quality across all of the cameras in its systems. Then again, the X7 Ultra still has the IMX890 on board for its telephoto.
The Find X6 Pro had by far the best ultrawide available on any phone, so I’m curious to see how this affects the output. For what it’s worth, Oppo’s head of product management Arne Herkelmann told me in a briefing that the company expects the X7 Ultra’s results to be “very much the same” as the Find X6 Pro in terms of ultrawide image quality.
In that briefing, Herkelmann also strongly pushed what Oppo is calling the Hypertone Image Engine, its new computational photography pipeline. To hear Oppo tell it, the Hypertone Image Engine is all about leveraging computational techniques for more natural results, rather than the over-processed HDR effects that many phones fall victim to. I thought the Find X6 Pro was better than a lot of competitors in that regard, but personally I still tended to prefer the Xiaomi 13 Ultra’s output for reasons that Oppo now says it’s addressing.
If Oppo really has revamped its image processing to produce more traditionally attractive photography, and if the extra periscope telephoto camera works well, the X7 Ultra should represent a strong counter to Xiaomi’s 13 Ultra — the one phone I ranked above the X6 Pro last year. Zoom versatility and image processing were the two main reasons I preferred the 13 Ultra as a go-to camera system, so I’m looking forward to finding out whether Oppo has pulled it off. And I plan to get the answers very soon; parcel tracking tells me that my X7 Ultra review unit is sitting in a Tokyo sorting centre right now.
There is, of course, a catch. Like the X6 Pro and unlike the Find N3, the X7 Ultra will be limited to China at first and is likely to stay that way. That’s not necessarily surprising, but it’s still disappointing considering the broader release of the Find N3.
Regardless, the X7 Ultra is looking like a strong way to start a new year in smartphones. Stay tuned for a full review.