Back in late February, Vivo introduced a rather intriguing feature for its APEX 2020 concept phone: a tiny "gimbal-like structure" for the main camera, which was said to provide beefed-up optical stabilization “in the front-back and left-right inclined directions.” No further explanation was given at the time, but according to Engadget Chinese, today Vivo finally decided to offer us a technical look into its micro gimbal camera, as it prepares to bring this feature to a mass-produced phone for the first time.
Vivo’s upcoming X50 Pro (PD2005), due to be launched in China on June 1st, will be the first phone to take advantage of this specially-made camera. The module apparently costs twice to three times as much as conventional ones, and it also takes up much more space to accommodate the suspension parts.
Specifically, this micro gimbal mechanism consists of a magnetic frame controlled by voice coils (similar concept to conventional OIS but further refined), along with a suspension bracket connected to the base with double ball bearings. Together, these enable X- and Y-axis tilt angles of up to 3 degrees each, which is apparently three times that of traditional OIS.
Another challenge here is that the sensor’s ribbon has to be extended and folded into a dual-S shape, in order to ease any tension from twisting during stabilization. Hence the extra surface area (363mm²) taken up by the entire module, though Vivo and its supplier managed to keep the thickness at 4.5mm.
The main benefit of this micro gimbal camera is obviously the more powerful optical stabilization, especially when shooting videos in low-light conditions — the combination of the dual-axis micro gimbal and 3-axis electronic stabilization vastly reduces shakiness. You can see for yourself in Vivo’s demo clip.
Likewise, still photos apparently work a lot better in the dark as well thanks to this technology, with Vivo claiming that with OIS disabled, a 1/50-second shutter speed here closely matches the results of a 1/8-second shot with OIS enabled. That’s a 6.25-time boost in capture speed under that test condition. Vivo added that even when extended to 1/4 seconds, the X50 Pro’s shots looked just as good as the 1/8-second shots with traditional OIS. And when pushing to 1/2-second long exposures in the same low-light condition, the X50 Pro still maintained a 64-percent performance, whatever that means.
There's no word on which sensor will be used in the X50 Pro’s micro gimbal camera, but Vivo did mention that it worked with Sony to get a custom-made color filter, so chances are it’ll be a Sony sensor. (For the nerds out there, the sample photos provided by Vivo came in at 12 megapixels each.) The company explained that this filter offers improved transmittance in all RGB channels, thus boosting the overall light sensitivity by about 10 percent when compared to traditional filters.
Vivo’s micro gimbal camera sounds promising so far, and if the real deal is anywhere close to the sample shots, then this X50 Pro could well be kicking off a new 5G smartphone war for the second half of 2020. We shall see what else the company may be hiding up its sleeve on June 1st.