Samsung and Xiaomi caught by surprise, Apple's 2X camera looks too good

Samsung and Xiaomi caught by surprise, Apple’s 2X camera looks too good

I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical when I first heard that Apple was going to use the iPhone 14 Pro’s main camera to give users 2X shots with a “quality telephoto lens. optical”. There were no previous rumors of such a new feature and it practically came out of nowhere.

For years digital zoom has been stigmatized, and I didn’t know if it wasn’t going to be one of those cases of too much hype for a feature we’ve had on smartphones for decades.

But after using this new 2X mode extensively over the last month and a half, I can say that it absolutely delivers on Apple’s promise. This new 2X mode sets a new standard for smartphone photography by which all future phones will be measured, and it also once again opens up the big question of what the ideal smartphone camera system should look like.

How has no one thought of this sooner?

Apple explains everything very well in one sentence on the iPhone 14 Pro page. And indeed, the technology is actually so simple that it begs the question: if it was just a case of taking the middle part of a sensor, then why the hell didn’t it do it sooner? ?! Apple is using a new 48MP sensor in the iPhone 14 Pro, but it still outputs 12MP photos by default in all modes using quad-pixel binning technology. That’s exactly what every other phone does, effectively treating their 48MP/50MP/108MP sensors as 12MP sensors and all the processing actually happens on 12MP photos grouped into pixels.

For this new 2X mode, Apple bypasses pixel binning. So from 1X to 1.9X, the iPhone would effectively be “stretch” a 12MP pixel shot, but once you hit the 2X zoom level it stops doing that and instead switches to using a crop of the center portion of the 48MP sensor. This 12-megapixel section of the sensor (without any binning) is how you have a “full resolution” 2X zoom on the iPhone 14 Pro.

It actually looks like something ANY smartphone with a 50MP main camera could have done. Scratch that: should have done this years ago!

Honestly, it’s a little surprising that this hasn’t been done before the iPhone 14 Pro.

On the Android side, we’ve had phones with 50 megapixel sensors for… a while! Last year’s Pixel 6 Pro uses a 50-megapixel primary camera, but it didn’t offer a sensor-like ‘optical grade’ 2X mode. So on this phone the zooming happens over a 12MP pixel photo, and when you zoom in the level of detail is understandably much worse compared to a full resolution sensor crop.

The Galaxy Ultra series has had a 108MP primary sensor for three years now, and still, no Galaxy phone offers an optical-grade 2X mode.

The same goes for other phone manufacturers: Xiaomi, Motorola, OnePlus. Despite years of using high resolution sensors, I haven’t seen a full resolution 2X zoom implementation.

It’s especially odd that just a month after Apple released this feature on the iPhone 14 Pro, it immediately appeared on the new Pixel 7 Pro. It’s clear that both companies have been working on it for a while, so it’s hard to say which started first, but assuming the priority should be Apple.

The good news is that now that we’ve all seen the benefits, it’s a safe bet that most Android phone makers will eventually implement a similar feature in their upcoming flagships.

The size of 2X

Apple also calls the new mode 2X “the perfect framing choice for Portrait mode”and I agree with that too.

I have written several articles in the past advocating for a proper 2X mode to be implemented on all phones.

There is a good reason for the popularity of 2X mode and that reason is… organic.

A 2X mode in the smartphone is very close to the 50mm focal length in dedicated camera jargon.

And this focal length has been called the “nifty-fifty” and has been the basis of modern cameras for years. So far, many professional cameras actually come with a 50mm lens, and the reason is that it’s an almost universal lens.

50mm is a field of view very close to how our human eyes see the world. Not too wide and not too zoomed in. It looks right.

The reason it works so well for portraits is because with it you can capture a face without it looking distorted (like it would on a 1X wide lens); you can capture a full body portrait without stepping too far behind; you can capture the so-called cowboy shot, with the upper half of the body in the frame. You can capture it all with one lens!

You just can’t do that with a 3X lens without having to walk too far for most of these shots, and in my opinion you shouldn’t even be taking portrait shots of a single person using the 1X lens (it just looks distorted and…bad).

So what is the perfect camera system?

And do we even need a 3X objective, now that we have 2x?

But there’s a bigger question this new camera poses. If we now have a 2X camera that is practically as good as a dedicated 2X lens, how does that affect the ideal smartphone camera setup?

Specifically, do we even need a 3X zoom lens on smartphones now?

A 3X zoom lens is the third most common lens on a flagship camera system these days. Galaxy S22 uses it, Galaxy Fold 4 and Flip 4 too, iPhone 14 Pro and 13 Pro series have it, Huawei P50 Pro has 3.5X zoom (close enough).

But is a 3X zoom lens really necessary when you already have an excellent 2X, which can be extended with just a bit of digital zoom to 3X?

Not to mention that zooming on other flagship phones like the Xiaomi 12 Pro now seems completely out of place. The 12 Pro has a dedicated 2X zoom lens, but that seems like a big waste of space considering you can pretty much get the same results with just the main camera.

So maybe the ideal camera of the future can rely entirely on its primary sensor for close range zoom (2X and 3X) and swap that now common 3X lens for something that lasts much longer, a lens 5X zoom for example. 5X is just perfect for animal shots and with smart processing it can deliver great shots at 10X. Or why not even play with crazier ideas: can you have two long-range zooms? A 5X and 10X lens would be absolutely amazing.

Either way, the conversation is now open and I think we need to rethink what a modern smartphone camera system will look like in 2023 and beyond.

#Samsung #Xiaomi #caught #surprise #Apples #camera #good

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