Archive for September 29, 2018

Saturday, September 29, 2018 [Tweets] [Favorites]

iPhone XS Users Complain About Skin-Smoothing Selfie Camera

Juli Clover (via Dominik Wagner):

Over the course of the last week, the front-facing camera in the iPhone XS and XS Max has been receiving a lot of attention because the selfies captured on the new devices are drastically different from those captured with the iPhone X or earlier iPhone models.

In a MacRumors forum thread and on Reddit, Apple has been accused of using a skin-smoothing feature or a “beauty filter” for prettier selfies from the front-facing camera.

This looks exactly like what HDR does to some pictures of faces. It’s why I have HDR enabled but set to keep both the HDR and non-HDR versions. Sometimes HDR really helps, and sometimes it produces unnatural, plasticky results like this. I frequently have to choose between the photo where the background looks detailed instead of blown out and the one where the face looks detailed and natural.

I was initially willing to give Apple the benefit of the doubt that Smart HDR was smart enough to prevent this from happening. Clearly, it is not, so there needs to be an option to turn off Smart HDR. There are reports that Apple is working on a software fix. I don’t want to see just a tweak to the Smart HDR algorithm. I want a way to disable it entirely.

The camera is one of the most important features of iPhone. If it’s not trustworthy, I will have to look into switching to Android. I don’t say this lightly, as I have little interest in Android, otherwise, and depend on some excellent iOS-only apps.

Previously: The iPhone XS and Its Camera.

Update (2018-09-29): I rarely use the front-facing camera, but I’m concerned because there are reports that the rear-facing camera is also affected (which would make sense if it’s a Smart HDR software issue.)

Update (2018-09-29): I do not have access to an iPhone XS to test this. I was writing based on reports like John Gruber’s:

The way I understand it, Smart HDR is basically applied to all images from the iPhone XS.

and Juli Clover’s:

Turning off HDR does not remove the smoothing effect, nor does tweaking any other camera setting, so if the ultra skin smoothing is a result of something like unintentional excessive noise reduction, it needs to be tweaked on Apple’s end through a software update.

However commenters below say that there is a switch in Settings to turn off Smart HDR. Christian Zibreg makes it sound like Smart HDR is on by default but can be disabled, though he also writes that it “is always on.”

So it’s not clear to me (a) whether one can fully turn off Smart HDR, or (b) whether the smoothing is in fact related to HDR.


iPhone XS does not apply a skin smoothing or beautification filter. What people see is an artifact of how differently the XS camera takes photos. We’re working on a detailed article explaining it in depth which will be out soon.

Update (2018-10-02): John Gruber and Nilay Patel talk about how Apple and Google’s phones shoot more natural looking photos.

Matthew Panzarino:

I apparently totally missed that there was a conspiracy theory about iPhone XS smoothing skin tones. That’s not what’s happening.

I explained it a bit in my review and to other people that have asked, but Apple is using a new (for the last couple of generations) type of noise reduction. I MUCH prefer this to the last iteration which I felt was too ham fisted.

Sebastiaan de With (MacRumors):

The only way to circumvent the laws of physics is with something known as ‘computational photography’. With the powerful chips in modern iPhones, Apple can take a whole bunch of photos—some of them before you even pressed the shutter—and merge them into one perfect shot.


People feel the iPhone XS ‘smoothens’ things for two reasons:

  • Better and more aggressive noise reduction due to merged exposures, and
  • Merged exposures reducing sharpness by eliminating sharp light/dark contrasts where light hits parts of the skin


The iPhone XS merges exposures and reduces the brightness of the bright areas and reduces the darkness of the shadows. The detail remains, but we can perceive it as less sharp because it lost local contrast. In the photo above, the skin looks smoother simply because the light isn’t as harsh.

Still unexplained: why the skin color looks so unnatural (as with HDR, sometimes) and what exactly happens when you turn off Smart HDR.

Nick Heer:

The rear cameras have large enough sensors and lenses that they are able to compensate for the higher noise created by faster shutter speeds through more intense noise reduction while preserving detail. When it comes to the front-facing camera’s much smaller sensor, though, it appears that the noise reduction is tuned to be a little more aggressive than expected, and it sounds like Apple is tweaking it.

Update (2018-10-03): John Gruber:

One fascinating development: RAW images are way noisier than they are on an iPhone X. Halide has a pretty good solution they’re calling “Smart RAW”.

Update (2018-10-09): Mitchel Broussard:

In an effort to combat the BeautyGate claims, YouTuber Jonathan Morrison posted a series of selfies on Instagram and Twitter over the weekend. In captions, Morrison said these were captured on the Google Pixel 2’s Portrait Mode, and asked his fans their thoughts on how the images came out, particularly if they were better than the iPhone XS.

Commenters said that the images rivaled DSLR shots and that the Pixel 2 was still among the best smartphone cameras, based on the pictures. Some even commended Google for producing high-quality selfies without the need for having a so-called make-up effect, and argued that the Pixel 2 had the best Portrait Mode of any smartphone.

After all of this, Morrison on Sunday revealed that both images were not taken on a Pixel 2, but instead captured on an iPhone XS Max.

Matt Birchler:

First, I prefer Apple’s handling of dynamic range. Even last year when the iPhone wasn’t as good at this, I liked how shots taken with the iPhone camera maintained more shadow detail than the Pixel 2. As I’ve said many times at this point, the Pixel 2 camera optimizes for drama, which means it often loses detail in the lower end.

And the second reason I stick with the iPhone camera is that the RAW performance is just worlds better than the Pixel 2’s.

Update (2018-10-10): Nilay Patel:

The iPhone XS camera is the rookie tailback who flashes tons of potential but fumbles the handoff and falls down a little too often

The weird thing is that it saw the face, but then apparently decided to prioritize exposing the windows? Look at the printer on the shelf, this is an HDR merge gone totally sideways

Dan Masters:

I’ve heard from several people on here that the iPhone X camera software actually produces superior photos, with some considering switching back.

Update (2018-10-16): Jason Snell:

This animation may give you some idea of the difference in detail between Smart HDR and non-HDR shooting on the iPhone XS.