The intelligent camera phone

How technology is letting your phone take some breathtaking images

brunch Updated: Nov 18, 2017 21:44 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times
Camera phone,edge-to-edge screens,Artificially Intelligent Camera
The Oppo F5 has added some Artificial Intelligence (AI) to its front camera, taking the art of clicking selfies to a new level

The camera on a phone is one of the most important features. But just how important? Judging by the billboards sprayed across the countryside, the full page advertisements in newspapers and the non-stop barrage of photographs tagged on social media with #shoton hashtags, it may be the most important one. Companies have staked their reputation and sales targets purely on the optics of their phones.

There’s a reason why the camera on a phone has acquired such a legendary status. The hardware on all phones has already achieved parity. The real difference between a top-of-the-line flagship and an economy phone is not more than 10 per cent. The biggest trend of 2017 has been the all new edge-to-edge screens, but that’s fast becoming a de facto standard. Apps have made sure that a Rs 5000 phone works exactly the same ways as a
Rs 75,000 phone. Thus the main differentiator left is the images that your phone can click. The race to have
the best camera on a phone has led to a new technology frontier being unleashed upon us. The Artificially Intelligent Camera.

The race to have the best camera on a phone has led to a new technology frontier being unleashed upon

Oppo F5

Oppo’s entire strategy to differentiate and stand out from the rest of the noise has been around the camera, and specially the selfie. And they’ve largely succeeded. But with the F5 they’ve forged a whole new path. While the rear camera is excellent and captures great details, the real magic lies up ahead. They’ve added some AI smarts to the front camera that takes the art and craft of taking selfies to a new level.

The Oppo F5 is perfect for selfie lovers

The front camera is smart enough to know the subject it is shooting (man, woman, child, pet etc.), throw out hundreds of focus points to make sure that the face symmetry is enhanced, keep the subject locked in focus even if the foreground is constantly changing or in motion, add real time beauty shot algorithms to smoothen skin tone and appearance, add filter effects in real time and even add a DSLR-like Bokeh effect with the subject in sharp focus and the background blurred. In all my tests I was pleasantly surprised to see that it did most of the things it claimed and pulled it off well. I also saw that it learnt more once it knew my face and gave even better results. If getting a perfect selfie every single time is your thing, then the Oppo F5 will deliver shockingly good results.

Google Pixel 2

Google’s Pixel 2 used AI to shoot great low-light pictures

The initial reaction to the Pixel 2 for most people has been middling, almost dismissive. But those that stayed the course and persisted have discovered that the camera on this phone is a window to the future. For quite some time now, Google’s entire portfolio of things they do has a serious amount of AI planted within, but with the Pixel 2 it is literally in your face. The hardware based optics within, sync with a serious amount of machine learning and neural network technology. While most will dismiss this as just typical technobabble; bear with me for a minute. Neural Tech learns from every picture you take. It recognises objects, shapes, people, places and things. And every time it does, it produces a way better result.

Google just went with a single camera at the back. Its Portrait mode can distinguish foreground and background, the subject to shoot and introduce a startling level of great effects due to that

The Pixel 2 also shoots 10 pictures in the background while you’re taking just that one shot. It shoots highly underexposed shots so that bright areas don’t wash out, it shoots overexposed so that dark areas come right through, and it shoots a few more to enhance colours, shadows and contrasts. Eventually it combines them all to give you a perfect shot and it does all this on its own within seconds. AI is also the reason why Google went with a single camera at the back. Its Portrait mode can distinguish foreground and background, the subject to shoot and introduce a startling level of great effects due to that. In my experience, the Pixel 2 shot some breathtaking low-light pictures, excellent portraits and fantastic night skyline pictures. And it learnt every time I shot something.

Phones like these are also the reason why the gap between professional level DSLR and the camera phone has been shortening. It is impossible to fit the hardware encased in a giant DSLR into the petite body of a phone. But sometimes it is not brute force that works, just smart intelligence.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, November 19, 2017

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First Published: Nov 18, 2017 21:44 IST