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The best portrait camera is attached to a quirky smartphone

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It shouldn’t surprise you that we’re big photography fans at GSMArena. Most of us had a dedicated camera with a so-called portrait lens attached that we’d lug around on trips. But as smartphone cameras got better and their photos got better, those dedicated cameras slowly faded into the background, and we stopped carrying them around.

Then, circa 2016, Apple made something called Portrait Mode mainstream with the announcement of the iPhone 7 Plus and suddenly every phone was now making portrait photos with software-assisted bokeh. That was over six years ago, and those portrait mode shots have gotten better, and inadvertently, the camera hardware got better as well (we even ventured to find the best phone camera for natural bokeh).

But today, we decided to see whether the retractable portrait camera on a Tecno smartphone is the best portrait camera we’ve seen yet.

This is NOT a sponsored article. Like all smartphones, the Tecno Phantom X2 Pro has both its positive and negative sides, and we invite you to check out our full review to read about those. Here, we’re focusing on one small but very intriguing aspect of the phone’s camera system.

You may have heard of Tecno, especially if you’re a GSMArena regular, but chances are you’ve never seen one in the flesh or had the opportunity to get one in your home market because they are largely a regional player – big in Africa, substantial in the Middle East and Russia, but little active on Western or Far Eastern markets. That’s about to change as Tecno aims to release the Phantom X2 Pro more widely.

The Phantom X2 Pro is a capable flagship phone with a Dimensity 9000 chipset, a 6.78-inch 120Hz AMOLED, and a premium design. It has a triple camera system with a unique retractable portrait lens.

It’s the world’s first such camera on a production phone (Oppo, Xiaomi, and Tecno itself have had prototypes), and it’s powerful. It’s a 50MP type 1/2.7-inch sensor with 0.64µm pre-binned pixels that shoot up to 1.2µm after binning at 12MP. The lens is a high-end 7P element optic with a 65mm equivalent focal length and a wide f/1.49 aperture. That’s an ideal focal length for both portraiture and zoom shots.

When you open the camera app and choose the 2.5x lens option, the lens physically pops out from the camera module. You can both feel the movement through the phone and get a soft sound. It evokes feelings of nostalgia for a time when phones had moving parts.

When you combine the relatively large sensor size with the bright lens and the 65mm focal length, you have a camera that has some naturally-shallow depth of field and can isolate subjects from the background (and foreground) without the software-based portrait mode. At 65mm or around 2.5x, this is also a reasonable zoom camera for non-human subjects.

This is the best portrait zoom camera and it's not on a mainstream flagship

We captured a few sample images to show you just how good the Phantom X2 Pro’s portrait camera is, and we’ve compared it to the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s 3x camera and the ZTE Axon 40 Ultra’s main camera. We chose to use the Galaxy because at about 70mm, its middle zoom is very comparable to the Phantom’s 65mm camera. The Axon has a unique 35mm main camera that brings a bigger sensor than the portrait camera on the Phantom X2 Pro. But because it’s a shorter lens, it’s evident that it lacks Tecno’s background compression. But let’s look at photos before we get overly technical.

The 65mm portrait camera on the Tecno Phantom X2 Pro and the 70mm zoom lens on the Galaxy S22 Ultra have almost identical fields of view, but the Phantom can isolate the subject better thanks to its bigger sensor and brighter lens.

The larger sensor inherently brings advantages like better detail and nicely-defined textures. Also, the background is blurrier, and the quality of the bokeh is superior.


Tecno Phantom X2 Pro f/1.5, ISO 659, 1/100s
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra f/2.4, ISO 64, 1/50s

Phantom X2 Pro 2.5x vs Galaxy S22 Ultra 3x

Moving on to an outside portrait sample where the trend continues. Our subjects stand out thanks to the portrait camera’s better isolation. The Axon’s wide camera has an edge in fine detail (it is a larger sensor), but at 35mm, it’s much too wide to deliver the same portrait look. Our subject’s features are distorted, and the background appears to be more in focus.


Tecno Phantom X2 Pro f/1.5, ISO 50, 1/335s
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra f/2.4, ISO 50, 1/658s
ZTE Axon 40 Ultra f/1.6, ISO 129, 1/863s

Phantom X2 2.5x vs Galaxy S22 Ultra 3x vs Axon 40 Ultra 1x

All three cameras benefit from a closer composition. Our subject is even better isolated from the background. The Tecno has a textbook portrait look – the facial features aren’t distorted like in the Axon shot, and the background is further away and blurrier.


Tecno Phantom X2 Pro f/1.5, ISO 50, 1/351s
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra f/2.4, ISO 50, 1/644s
ZTE Axon 40 Ultra f/1.6, ISO 129, 1/850s

Phantom X2 2.5x vs Galaxy S22 Ultra 3x vs Axon 40 Ultra 1x

Foreground separation is also superior on the Tecno, compared to the two other phone cameras. Just look at the yellow triangle and the texture on the floor at the bottom of the images below.


Tecno Phantom X2 Pro f/1.5, ISO 57, 1/100s
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra f/2.4, ISO 50, 1/272s
ZTE Axon 40 Ultra f/1.6, ISO 585, 1/640s

Phantom X2 2.5x vs Galaxy S22 Ultra 3x vs Axon 40 Ultra 1x

But the Tecno’s retractable camera can do more than just portrait shots – it’s a close-focusing zoom. The benefits of the camera’s bigger sensor and longer focal reach are emphasized in closeup shots or macro. In this example, the lens and sensor combine to capture a “dedicated camera look” with ample foreground and background defocusing, which neither Galaxy nor Axon can match.


Tecno Phantom X2 Pro f/1.5, ISO 491, 1/100s
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra f/2.4, ISO 100, 1/50s
ZTE Axon 40 Ultra f/1.6, ISO 227, 1/50s

Phantom X2 2.5x vs Galaxy S22 Ultra 3x vs Axon 40 Ultra 1x

That dedicated camera look is noticeable in other examples. Tecno has tuned the 2.5x camera to be a bit heavy-handed with sharpening, but the fact remains that it can get better texture detail than bigger sensor cameras like the Axon 40 Ultra’s main one. Just look at the detail in the beer glass below.


Tecno Phantom X2 Pro f/1.5, ISO 1487, 1/25s
ZTE Axon 40 Ultra f/1.6, ISO 2381, 1/25s

Phantom X2 2.5x vs Axon 40 Ultra 1x

Tecno chose a great focal length to pair with a large sensor. The 65mm field of view is ideal for human faces, objects, landscapes, and just about anything else you might think of. This focal length doesn’t suffer from distortion and can produce lovely images with naturally blurry backgrounds when paired with a large imager. That is a nice base for the software-assisted Portrait mode, which the Phantom X2 Pro also offers. It brings the already good bokeh to another level.

This is the best portrait zoom camera and it's not on a mainstream flagship

Let’s see if more phones add a big-sensor zoom camera. Maybe that will be the next big thing. We hope so!


It shouldn’t surprise you that we’re big photography fans at GSMArena. Most of us had a dedicated camera with a so-called portrait lens attached that we’d lug around on trips. But as smartphone cameras got better and their photos got better, those dedicated cameras slowly faded into the background, and we stopped carrying them around.

Then, circa 2016, Apple made something called Portrait Mode mainstream with the announcement of the iPhone 7 Plus and suddenly every phone was now making portrait photos with software-assisted bokeh. That was over six years ago, and those portrait mode shots have gotten better, and inadvertently, the camera hardware got better as well (we even ventured to find the best phone camera for natural bokeh).

But today, we decided to see whether the retractable portrait camera on a Tecno smartphone is the best portrait camera we’ve seen yet.

This is NOT a sponsored article. Like all smartphones, the Tecno Phantom X2 Pro has both its positive and negative sides, and we invite you to check out our full review to read about those. Here, we’re focusing on one small but very intriguing aspect of the phone’s camera system.

You may have heard of Tecno, especially if you’re a GSMArena regular, but chances are you’ve never seen one in the flesh or had the opportunity to get one in your home market because they are largely a regional player – big in Africa, substantial in the Middle East and Russia, but little active on Western or Far Eastern markets. That’s about to change as Tecno aims to release the Phantom X2 Pro more widely.

The Phantom X2 Pro is a capable flagship phone with a Dimensity 9000 chipset, a 6.78-inch 120Hz AMOLED, and a premium design. It has a triple camera system with a unique retractable portrait lens.

It’s the world’s first such camera on a production phone (Oppo, Xiaomi, and Tecno itself have had prototypes), and it’s powerful. It’s a 50MP type 1/2.7-inch sensor with 0.64µm pre-binned pixels that shoot up to 1.2µm after binning at 12MP. The lens is a high-end 7P element optic with a 65mm equivalent focal length and a wide f/1.49 aperture. That’s an ideal focal length for both portraiture and zoom shots.

This is the best portrait zoom camera and it's not on a mainstream flagship

When you open the camera app and choose the 2.5x lens option, the lens physically pops out from the camera module. You can both feel the movement through the phone and get a soft sound. It evokes feelings of nostalgia for a time when phones had moving parts.

When you combine the relatively large sensor size with the bright lens and the 65mm focal length, you have a camera that has some naturally-shallow depth of field and can isolate subjects from the background (and foreground) without the software-based portrait mode. At 65mm or around 2.5x, this is also a reasonable zoom camera for non-human subjects.

This is the best portrait zoom camera and it's not on a mainstream flagship

We captured a few sample images to show you just how good the Phantom X2 Pro’s portrait camera is, and we’ve compared it to the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s 3x camera and the ZTE Axon 40 Ultra’s main camera. We chose to use the Galaxy because at about 70mm, its middle zoom is very comparable to the Phantom’s 65mm camera. The Axon has a unique 35mm main camera that brings a bigger sensor than the portrait camera on the Phantom X2 Pro. But because it’s a shorter lens, it’s evident that it lacks Tecno’s background compression. But let’s look at photos before we get overly technical.

The 65mm portrait camera on the Tecno Phantom X2 Pro and the 70mm zoom lens on the Galaxy S22 Ultra have almost identical fields of view, but the Phantom can isolate the subject better thanks to its bigger sensor and brighter lens.

The larger sensor inherently brings advantages like better detail and nicely-defined textures. Also, the background is blurrier, and the quality of the bokeh is superior.


Tecno Phantom X2 Pro f/1.5, ISO 659, 1/100s
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra f/2.4, ISO 64, 1/50s

Phantom X2 Pro 2.5x vs Galaxy S22 Ultra 3x

Moving on to an outside portrait sample where the trend continues. Our subjects stand out thanks to the portrait camera’s better isolation. The Axon’s wide camera has an edge in fine detail (it is a larger sensor), but at 35mm, it’s much too wide to deliver the same portrait look. Our subject’s features are distorted, and the background appears to be more in focus.


Tecno Phantom X2 Pro f/1.5, ISO 50, 1/335s
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra f/2.4, ISO 50, 1/658s
ZTE Axon 40 Ultra f/1.6, ISO 129, 1/863s

Phantom X2 2.5x vs Galaxy S22 Ultra 3x vs Axon 40 Ultra 1x

All three cameras benefit from a closer composition. Our subject is even better isolated from the background. The Tecno has a textbook portrait look – the facial features aren’t distorted like in the Axon shot, and the background is further away and blurrier.


Tecno Phantom X2 Pro f/1.5, ISO 50, 1/351s
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra f/2.4, ISO 50, 1/644s
ZTE Axon 40 Ultra f/1.6, ISO 129, 1/850s

Phantom X2 2.5x vs Galaxy S22 Ultra 3x vs Axon 40 Ultra 1x

Foreground separation is also superior on the Tecno, compared to the two other phone cameras. Just look at the yellow triangle and the texture on the floor at the bottom of the images below.


Tecno Phantom X2 Pro f/1.5, ISO 57, 1/100s
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra f/2.4, ISO 50, 1/272s
ZTE Axon 40 Ultra f/1.6, ISO 585, 1/640s

Phantom X2 2.5x vs Galaxy S22 Ultra 3x vs Axon 40 Ultra 1x

But the Tecno’s retractable camera can do more than just portrait shots – it’s a close-focusing zoom. The benefits of the camera’s bigger sensor and longer focal reach are emphasized in closeup shots or macro. In this example, the lens and sensor combine to capture a “dedicated camera look” with ample foreground and background defocusing, which neither Galaxy nor Axon can match.


Tecno Phantom X2 Pro f/1.5, ISO 491, 1/100s
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra f/2.4, ISO 100, 1/50s
ZTE Axon 40 Ultra f/1.6, ISO 227, 1/50s

Phantom X2 2.5x vs Galaxy S22 Ultra 3x vs Axon 40 Ultra 1x

That dedicated camera look is noticeable in other examples. Tecno has tuned the 2.5x camera to be a bit heavy-handed with sharpening, but the fact remains that it can get better texture detail than bigger sensor cameras like the Axon 40 Ultra’s main one. Just look at the detail in the beer glass below.


Tecno Phantom X2 Pro f/1.5, ISO 1487, 1/25s
ZTE Axon 40 Ultra f/1.6, ISO 2381, 1/25s

Phantom X2 2.5x vs Axon 40 Ultra 1x

Tecno chose a great focal length to pair with a large sensor. The 65mm field of view is ideal for human faces, objects, landscapes, and just about anything else you might think of. This focal length doesn’t suffer from distortion and can produce lovely images with naturally blurry backgrounds when paired with a large imager. That is a nice base for the software-assisted Portrait mode, which the Phantom X2 Pro also offers. It brings the already good bokeh to another level.

This is the best portrait zoom camera and it's not on a mainstream flagship

Let’s see if more phones add a big-sensor zoom camera. Maybe that will be the next big thing. We hope so!

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