Take better photos on your smartphone with computational photography

If you take a picture with your smartphone, it could perform over a trillion operations just for that one image.

Yes, you expect it to do the usual auto-focus/auto-exposure functions that are the hallmark of point-and-shoot photography.

Your phone can also stack and capture multiple frames, capture the brightest or darkest areas of the scene, merge and average exposures, and render the composition as a three-dimensional image to blur the background artificially.

Read more: Robots can learn a lot from nature if they want to ‘see’ the world.

The term for this is computational photography, which basically means that image capture is via a series of digital processes rather than purely optical ones. Image adjustment and manipulation take place in real time and in the camera, rather than in post-production using any editing software.

Computational photography is a way to streamline image production so that everything from capture, editing, and delivery can be done on the phone.

What’s better, a smartphone or a digital camera?

This means that for the average user, your smartphone can rival, and in some cases, surpass, expensive DSLR cameras. You can create photos that look professional with your smartphone.

Low-light photography on iPhone 8 Plus. Rob Layton

I began my photography career more than 30 years ago with film, a darkroom, a bag of cameras, and lenses. Later, the inevitable transition to DSLRs occurred (with digital single lens reflex, the light travels to a reflex mirror that sends an image to the camera’s viewfinder, and flips upwards when the shutter is pressed to allow the image sensor capture the image).

I do all my photography on an iPhone because it is cheaper and more convenient. I own two accessory lenses, a tripod, two rigs, one for under water and the other for land, as well as two underwater rigs.

Apps are often the driving force behind computational smartphone photography. Imagine it as a car that’s been boosted. Apps are custom-made add-ons which harness and improve existing engine performance. As with car racing, the best additions are usually mass produced.

Apple’s iPhoneXs seems to confirm this. This phone is the best on the market for computational photography. Its advances in low light performance, HDR (High Dynamic range), and artificial depth of field have supercharged the technology.

In an image-obsessed culture, manufacturers are racing to have the best smartphone camera. ).

This image shows that astrophotography can be done on a smartphone. Rob Layton

Phone manufacturers are stealing the rug out from under traditional camera makers. The dynamic is similar to that between newspapers and digital mediums: Newspapers have a legacy of trust and quality, but digital media respond better and faster. Smartphone manufacturers are also doing the same.

Currently, you can use smartphone computational photography to take better photos in the following areas: Portrait mode, smart HDR, low-light, and long exposure.

Portrait mode

The background is blurred by conventional cameras using long lenses with large apertures. The problem is that smartphones have fixed apertures and small focal lengths. If your smartphone has multiple rear cameras (some devices, like the Huawei, include three), the solution will be computational.

A portrait image that shows the 3D depth maps generated to control the blur (bokeh). Rob Layton

The two cameras are used to capture images (one wide-angle, the other telephoto), which are then merged. The phone uses both images to create a depth map, which is the distance between the objects in the picture. The depth map can be used to blur objects and areas.

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