Does a camera phone need a periscope lens to be worthy of flagship status?

Realme periscope camera teaser
(Image credit: Realme)

It seems 2023 was the year of the periscope camera lens, with many of the best camera phones incorporating just such a module. And judging by a recent teaser Tweet for a new Realme flagship phone, that trend looks set to continue. The teaser from Realme's Indian division gives little away, except for a close-up of a periscope camera lens, flanked by the strapline: "No Periscope. No Flagship".

Read more: what is a periscope lens?

(Image credit: Twitter, Realme)

We're unable to verify which model of phone is being teased here, but the most plausible guess is the Realme GT5 Pro. This was launched exclusively in China in December 2023, so it's ripe for a global release. The phone's triple-camera array includes a 50MP, 23mm wide-angle primary module, an 8MP 16mm ultrawide camera, and crucially here, a 50MP 65mm periscope telephoto camera module, giving 2.7x effective optical zoom.

(Image credit: Realme)

As far as periscope lenses go, this level of zoom is relatively conservative. We're used to seeing conventional (non-periscope) telephoto lenses in camera phones reaching this kind of focal length, like the 70mm telephoto module in the Galaxy S23 Ultra, which offers 3x optical zoom (relative to that phone's 24mm wide-angle camera). It makes us wonder whether the GT5 Pro truly needed to incorporate a periscope lens for a sub-70mm focal length, or whether this hardware choice was made more for marketing purposes than real-world utility.

Also up for debate is whether a camera phone must now have a periscope module to qualify as a flagship device. With Apple now in the periscope game with the iPhone 15 Pro Max, you could argue this means the periscope lens has truly 'arrived'. Google may still disagree, but the prospect of big zoom in a slim phone body has long been elusive, until the arrival of the periscope camera lens. That said, the periscope lens, at least in a phone implementation, isn't quite the ideal, no-compromise solution that it's often made out to be - more on that in our full periscope lens guide.

(Image credit: Future, www.vecteezy.com)

Of course all this is still speculation, and there's always a chance this latest Realme teaser could be for an entirely different phone, unrelated to the GT5 Pro. Could such a phone be packing a periscope module with a longer focal length, more befitting of a periscope design?

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Ben Andrews

Ben is the Imaging Labs manager, responsible for all the testing on Digital Camera World and across the entire photography portfolio at Future. Whether he's in the lab testing the sharpness of new lenses, the resolution of the latest image sensors, the zoom range of monster bridge cameras or even the latest camera phones, Ben is our go-to guy for technical insight. He's also the team's man-at-arms when it comes to camera bags, filters, memory cards, and all manner of camera accessories – his lab is a bit like the Batcave of photography! With years of experience trialling and testing kit, he's a human encyclopedia of benchmarks when it comes to recommending the best buys.