Here, we're testing the best of the best, so we're taking zoom capabilities to the extreme. 10x Zoom was chosen because all the tested phones were capable of this zoom range, and it's great for revealing any zoom flaws in the camera system. Anything beyond is quite frankly, just a party trick at this stage that requires proper stabilisation and just isn't practical for day-to-day use.
The same sky garden from before provided an excellent vantage point to start zooming into things, so let's begin with what the overall scene was like.
For the 10x Zoom comparison, we singled out an interesting area to focus on that was vibrant, had plenty of details for comparing, and was a worthy testing ground for all the little things like stability, rendering, colours, and the like. Below is an example of what the 10x Zoom comparison is, using the vantage point pictured above.
So without further ado, here are the shots with their respective actual pixel size crops, and the winner(s) at 10x Zoom right at the bottom.
Can't say we were surprised by this - of the five contenders, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has 2.5x optical zoom in, and 2.5x optical zoom out, which means its 10x zoom pictured here is a digital one. Despite the dip in sharpness and increased noise, the iPhone's dominant dynamic range, contrast handling, and colourisation are all decent. However, its sharpness and detail handling are eclipsed by its competition as you'll see in the below shots.
Huawei P40 Pro+'s 8MP zoom camera comes with 10x optical zoom by default, so 10x zoom plays right into their hands. In its attempt, the P40 Pro+ offers a crisp image with above-average detail retention (perhaps not including the overexposed roof tiles on the left), excellent colourisation (on the darker side), and amazing contrast handling (check out the area nearer to the clothing shop under shelter). We commend the P40 Pro+ for its ability to bring out the trees, although we wished it could've offered more of the details around the altar.
Quite clearly, the Oppo Find X2 Pro is better than the Apple phone at this zoom range, but it's nowhere as impressive as Huawei's take on it. We believe it's the phone's second-generation 10x hybrid zoom doing its best. Certain details do stand out, like the Oppo logo (yeah we know) and the shopper outside the clothing store. But it seems Oppo neglected colourisation. Here are some ways to be sure that Huawei did a better job - in both images, you could try and count the number of mini-oranges on the trees, see the details on the incense altar, or even make out what the signboards above the roof tiles say.
Is it too early to say Huawei is the best performer here?
Yes, actually. Here's why the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra pulled ahead of Huawei. Excellent detail handling and better colourisation aside, it was able to snag that 'soft studio light' of sorts in the darkness next to the clothing shop. The other handsets were also able to capture that same detail with varying degrees of success. Huawei's too dark, iPhone really brought it out (but it's too grainy to be a credible contender), and it's barely noticeable in Oppo's version. Samsung was also able to bring out the scuff marks on the grey rooftop in the foreground, plus the incense-urn-altar object had a much better definition here. Truly, Samsung's S21 Ultra offering 10x optical zoom within one of its two telephoto lenses isn't just for show.
Yes, we know it's quite a leap from Samsung to Xiaomi's attempt, but let's not detract from its efforts. As the cheapest contender among the five, Xiaomi still delivered an image that can give Apple's 10x digital zoom a run for its money. That in itself is an achievement, considering Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro doesn't pack a zoom lens on the rear, let alone have optical zoom. Oppo had 10x hybrid zoom, so depending on how you look at it, the Mi 10T Pro is a worthy competitor despite having none of the tools for the job.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra leads by a huge margin in the zoom department due to its superior quality in every conceivable aspect of imaging. Huawei came in second in this section, showing everyone else how it's done with excellent detail retention and good colourisation (though a tad too intense).