The future of photography

How computational photography has allowed smartphones to compete with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras

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Written by: Freeda Alcala

“You are seeing a redefinition of what camera is” 


– ISAAC REYNOLDS, Google’s Pixel camera product manager

There is more to a smartphone camera than what meets the eye. It is breath-taking, revolutionary and slowly commands the world of photography. 

Not too long ago, people would have needed expensive photography equipment to take images of the caliber that you can easily snap with a smartphone. I am not surprised as to why people without DSLRs can now produce high-quality photos, aesthetic Instagram feed, and shoot good video footage in just seconds. 

Technology has truly evolved and has conquered humans’ lives. According to CIPA, a Japan-based industry group with members such as Olympus, Canon, and Nikon, the shipments of camera worldwide dropped by 84 percent between 2010 and 2018. Yep, the steep decline is caused by the popularity smartphones are receiving in terms of producing better images. I suppose, no one will question this fact. 

The Paradigm Shift

Back then, bigger meant better. A bigger camera offered more detail to what you’re taking. Likewise, a bigger frame of film could give your subject more quality. 

But then, there occurred a paradigm shift when computational photography was introduced. It is computational photography that enabled our pocket-sized smartphones to perform as a professional photography equipment.

Computational Photography

Computational photography uses computing technology to improve photos, vaults over the limits of smartphone camera hardware to produce impressive shots. Generally, it takes a swarm of data from images and combines it to be able to produce a photo that would be impossible to capture with digital photography.

Even if the person taking the photo is not a photographer nor an expert, this technology processes the image to look stunning and visually appealing. As Allen Murabayashi, co-founder of PhotoShelter, shared “You no longer have to get it right in camera. The camera is smart enough to get it right for you.”

Computational photography has made memories precious, timeless, and documented. 

Exactly 7 years ago, I dreamt of having my own DSLR (Digital single-lens reflex) camera and being able to take professional photos. My phone is the only closest device I can get in relation to photography. I am a testament of how smartphone cameras are taking the game to a whole new level through the years.

At the moment, my phone carries the Huawei brand and no, this is not an endorsement nor a promotion of the said brand. I’m amazed as to how I can now take exceptional photos to capture memories, and precious moments using just a single phone.

Here are some techniques to take great photos using your smartphone’s computational photography.

High Dynamic Range (HDR)

One technique in this photography is the High Dynamic Range or commonly abbreviated as HDR. This requires taking multiple exposures of the same scene and combining them to bring the details to actuality using the software. The whole process could take 20 minutes to an hour if performed manually.

With newer technologies like smartphones, the process can be shortened to seconds. The software is intelligent enough to know what to do and how to produce the best photo. HDR modes are common in sky, outdoor, and nature photography. It is also used for better night shots. 

Portrait Modes

Another technique is using portrait lighting modes. Portrait mode stacks multiple images with short exposure times and taking an average value of the pixels to create the final image. Short exposure times means no blown highlights so the software can enhance the image by increasing the highlights and crush the shadow, thus showing more detail.

This can also be applied in photo-stitching, hole filling, and object removal.

Portrait mode primarily describes the bokeh effect it gives to the photo. Bokeh causes photos to have a sharp foreground subject and a blurred background. 

Light Exposures

Sometimes, we take pictures even when there isn’t enough light, and this results in your smartphone bumping up the ISO levels so it is more sensitive to light. This technique allows you to capture a good photograph but it also increases the noise in your photo.

Most smartphones have noise reduction features but it can be strong oftentimes and may, in fact, ruin the photo. The phone will let you take control of the picture by looking into your smartphone’s advanced camera settings and control the ISO levels.

In situations of low-light settings, our phones still have another feature called the aperture. Aperture refers to how wide a camera lens opens to allow more light. More light means more detailed, more accurate, and more vibrant photo. This helps to capture better shots in this kind of setting.

Bottomline

To put it simply, thanks to computational photography, we can now combine up to nine frames into a single shot with the help of HDR+ that captures details in both dark shadows and bright highlights. It can also brighten the parts of the image where it detects humans and slightly smooths skin to make subjects look better.

The reason why computational photography is used in smartphones because these gadgets have excellent software that makes use of advanced AI techniques and capacities to stabilize images, and process digital pictures. 

Google is the leader in this race as of the current standings. Google has trained its AI on a huge dataset of labeled photos, and this aids the camera with exposure. Pixel 3 stitches long exposures together and uses an algorithm to calculate accurate white balance and colors. 

If you will ask me, I prefer computational photography since it gives way to new applications. Holding a smartphone in this generation is synonymous with holding a camera in my hand. It is the convenience that we are talking about.

Computational photography is not created for traditional photography to be phased out. It was created to cater to non-photographers, and those who couldn’t afford purchasing a DSLR. I still believe, however, that a smartphone camera will not yet surpass traditional photography.

This is not the peak yet of smartphones. This is just the beginning. Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. are pushing this concept further and researchers hint to leverage innovative imaging techniques. This will be powerful and dynamic as smartphones become equipped with newer and versatile cameras and processors.

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