Tuesday, January 10, 2023

iPhone Camera Over Processing

Federico Viticci:

In his latest video, MKBHD eloquently summarized and explained something that I’ve personally felt for the past few years: pictures taken on modern iPhones often look sort-of washed out and samey, like much of the contrast and highlights from real life were lost somewhere along the way during HDR processing, Deep Fusion, or whatever Apple is calling their photography engine these days. From the video (which I’m embedding below), in the part where Marques notes how the iPhone completely ignored a light source that was pointing at one side of his face[…]

I, too, have been disappointed with a lot of the photos since upgrading to an iPhone 12 mini. Overall, they look better than with previous iPhones, and overall they look better with Smart HDR enabled. But sometimes Smart HDR does a bad job, making things look artificial and over processed, and there’s no way to “undo” that and get an unprocessed photo.

I wish Apple would offer a way to adjust how aggressive the processing is and/or bring back the Keep Normal Photo option.

Maybe I should be using a third-party camera app, but I haven’t seen this particular option in Halide—I don’t want to save huge RAW files—and there’s still no true way to change the default camera app.

Filipe Espósito:

Before the results of the 2022 Smartphone Awards, MKBHD also shared the results of its blind camera test. In this one, Google’s Pixel 6A took first place, while the Pixel 7 Pro came in second. This led the YouTuber and many people to wonder what’s going on with the photos taken with the iPhone.


In the iPhone 14 Pro camera review by Sebastiaan de With, developer of the popular camera app Halide, he also pointed out multiple flaws in Smart HDR. For example, every time there’s a very bright background, the iPhone also tries to boost the brightness of the people in the photo, making them look very white. “I have honestly never seen it make for a better photo. The result is simply jarring,” he said.


In another example, the iPhone camera applies a lot of “bizarre artifacts” to selfies taken in really low-light environments to try to save the image, but this ends up resulting in an “absurd watercolor-like mess” instead of a regular dark photo with a lot of noise.


Update (2023-01-13): Nick Heer:

I tested the effects of this setting by taking two photos on my iPhone 12 Pro in Halide: one with the “Smartest Processing” toggle on, and another of the same scene with it switched off. I found turning it off creates a situation that is the worst of both worlds: the dynamic range and detail of photos is noticeably compromised, but photos are still passed through the same overly aggressive noise reduction system as any other image.


The problems do not appear to be a form of overprocessing as much as they are unnatural or unexpected results of processing. Deep Fusion is great; Portrait Mode, as an option, is often excellent as well. But some of the selective enhancements made by the iPhone — the way it slices a scene into individual components for separate adjustments — sometimes fail to resolve in a satisfying final photo.


There is a vast middle ground between the completely unprocessed RAW images nerds like me enjoy working with and the photos produced by the default Camera app. There is room to create images with more character that are better representations of the scene. Sometimes, the imperfections in a photo — the grain, some slightly blown-out highlights, white balance that is way too warm — are what gives it an emotional quality, and trying to smooth those things out can make it feel sterile and inhuman.

Update (2023-01-18): Charlie Sorrel:

Things have gotten so bad that I only use my iPhone camera for quick memo-type shots or for snapping stuff to sell on eBay. If I want photos to keep, I take them with a regular digital or even film camera.


“Bottom line: While HDR can make your photos look garish and even cartoonish, you can still use it to your advantage. Avoid HDR when you’re taking pictures of colorful things on the move, but use it to your advantage when your subjects are in harsh sunlight or in low-light conditions,” says Davis.

Update (2024-06-12): Tanner Bennett:

The picture on the left is how the scene looks to my naked eye, taken by aiming the camera at the floor and pressing capture quickly after pointing it to the subjects (🐈‍⬛🐈‍⬛).

The picture on the right is the default image you get if you let it sit on the subject for a second and “adjust” the image.


This happens with faces too. It makes selfies so overly warm tinted and washed out. The last good iPhone camera I remember using was my iPhone X.

2 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

[…] “[I have] buvo nusivylęs daugybe nuotraukų po to, kai atnaujinote į iPhone 12 mini. Apskritai jie atrodo geriau nei su ankstesniais „iPhone“ ir apskritai jie atrodo geriau, kai įjungtas „Smart HDR“. Tačiau kartais „Smart HDR“ atlieka blogą darbą, todėl viskas atrodo dirbtinai ir per daug apdorota, ir nėra galimybės to „anuliuoti“ ir gauti neapdorotą nuotrauką. Michaelas Tsaitechnologijų kritikas, sakė savo tinklaraštyje. […]

[…] lot of reviewers have talked about the over-processing done by the phone on photos, and it is indeed not the best, particularly in low-light scenarios. […]

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