Chipset ability can help phone imaging greatness, it seems
There's a fascinating (if understandably promotional) post over on Qualcomm's site, in which the imaging capabilities of the upcoming smartphone chipset, the Snapdragon 835, are discussed. See below for a few quotes.
In summary, it's becoming increasingly evident that great smartphone imaging is just as much about processing power as it is about the raw optics and sensor size. The Nokia 808 PureView arguably started the trend, with a custom image processor, but with the likes of the modern Snapdragon 820/821 and now 835, we have even faster image processing and implemented so generically that it can be part of a great many devices and not just the one it was designed for.
From the Qualcomm blog post:
With traditional digital cameras, your photos and videos are only ever as good as the camera’s image sensor and lens, and whether the environment is just right. Often, what you get are shaky clips and blurry images due to low light, grainy zoom, and slow autofocus, among other factors.
The way to overcome these limitations is through a technique called computational photography — clever computing algorithms and technologies designed to enhance image quality, ensure speedy performance, and add new imaging capabilities that previously weren’t possible.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor is packed with technologies engineered to turn your smartphone’s camera into a brilliant computational camera that delivers gorgeous photos and video. The Snapdragon 835 integrates more than just a CPU and GPU; there are many technologies working together. Here are some of the camera enhancements you’ll experience when your device is powered by a Snapdragon 835.
The post then goes on to list the various ways in which a really powerful chipset can help, starting with better digital zoom:
One of the biggest complaints about smartphone cameras is the ineffectiveness of the zoom. That’s because most phones use a digital zoom, which electronically crops and interpolates images. This is effective up to a certain point, but zoom too far and you’ll get too much digital noise (grainy or blurry images as a result of the loss in resolution and color). An optical zoom enhances details as you get closer, which means you have a better shot at capturing hi-res photos from far away.
The Snapdragon 835 processor is designed to address the graininess problem by intelligently combining optical and digital zooms, so photos can be smooth, seamless, and lossless. The integrated Qualcomm Spectra 180 ISP (Image Signal Processor) is made to support up to a 32MP resolution at 30 fps with zero shutter lag on a single camera. In order to support dual cameras, one ISP per camera is required. In the case of optical zoom, Snapdragon 835 is engineered to support one for a wide angle lens and a second for a telephoto lens. And the processor’s heterogeneous computing capabilities are engineered to effortlessly bridge the different lenses to deliver both digital and optical zoom — a radical upgrade from the digital-only zoom.
Ah, ok, so you do need two camera lenses then, but these set-ups do seem to becoming more common, albeit only Apple (with some ex-Nokia expertise!) has actually mastered it yet in my opinion.
Then there's video stabilisation, I'm a fan of hardware OIS, as you know, though adding EIS on top does produce stunningly smooth results. Here's Qualcomm again:
As with still photography, there are frustrations associated with capturing video on a smartphone. Shaky video can be literally sickening. Qualcomm Technologies is a leader in Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) technology, which is integrated in earlier generations of Snapdragon processors, to counteract this unwanted motion. Version 3.0 takes it to the next level, with support for 4K resolution as well as gyro-based pitch, yaw, and roll correction to help stabilize zoom while shooting video.
EIS 3.0 also introduces trajectory smoothing algorithms to further assist in stabilization. The algorithms are tuned for peak heterogeneous computing efficiency between the Snapdragon 835’s integrated components (the Spectra 180 ISP, Qualcomm Adreno 540, and Hexagon DSP, for example).
In summary then, better digital stabilisation, though I still think OIS to give a better starting point would help.
Then there's whole sensor auto-focus:
Who among us hasn’t missed that all-important shot because autofocus didn’t work fast enough or wasn’t capable enough? This was a priority for engineers as they developed the Snapdragon 835. The goal: Build a truly effective autofocus and help shutterbugs capture even the fastest moving moments.
The result is the groundbreaking Dual Photodiode (2PD), an autofocus mechanism designed to use paired photodiodes on every pixel. While most modern camera phones use photodiode autofocus, Qualcomm Technologies supports granularity at the pixel level rather than at only having them at a fraction of the total diodes. This means that every single pixel is now capable of phase detection and image capture, making autofocus lightning fast and effective.
There's more in the full article. Take it with a slight pinch of salt, as Qualcomm is clearly promoting its own hardware, but the trend towards computational photography (and videography) doesn't seem to be slowing anytime soon!
Published by Steve Litchfield at 14:02 UTC, February 7th