Computational Photography at KSC

You may know that I’m very interested in computational photography (image capture and processing techniques that use computer processing instead of / or in addition to optical processes). My last post on this was about a year ago (https://edrosack.com/2017/11/26/more-computational-photography/), and things are still changing very fast!

Lynn and I went over to Kennedy Space Center a few weeks ago with MaryKate and our nephew Ted.  I thought I’d try out the new iPhone XS and use some of the resulting photos as examples to discuss updated capabilities.  So this post isn’t really about KSC – if you’re not interested in computational photography, feel free to just look at the photos or go on to something else.  Or if you’d like to see some other posts about KSC, please look at the links   on this search page:  https://edrosack.com/?s=Kennedy+space+center.

Mercury-Atlas rocketMercury-Atlas rocket: John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on February 20, 1962 when he launched in his Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft on an Atlas rocket.  Smart HDR  mode, ISO 25, f/1.8, 1/22000 sec

In this first photo, I deliberately shot into the sun.   I wanted to see how it handles very high contrast situations.  I have the camera’s “Smart HDR” mode enabled in settings and I used the Lightroom CC iPhone app to shoot in RAW mode.  The file it generates is a .dng file that includes the Smart HDR processing.  I waited for the photos to sync to my desktop computer and processed them there.  I think the colors and exposure in both the sky and shadows look excellent.  I’m amazed that even the writing on the capsule in the shadows looks good.

Here’s another example that shows the amount of flexibility and recoverable detail that’s present in these RAW files.  This next image is the default capture with no editing.  You can see that with even with Smart HDR on, the extreme contrast causes loss of detail in the highlights and shadows.

This next one is the same image after editing the RAW file – there’s much more of the scene visible in this version.  In situations such as this, the secret is to shoot and process RAW files!

Here’s what Apple says about Smart HDR:

Leveraging multiple technologies — like faster sensors, an enhanced ISP, and advanced algorithms — Smart HDR brings more highlight and shadow detail to your photos.” Apple

I’d say it does that!

I’d also like to comment on the enhanced bokeh effects (blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image) and adjustable depth of field.  DPReview has a good article comparing iPhone bokeh to a high end portrait lens.  You can read the article yourself, but the bottom line is it compares very favorably.  And these capabilities aren’t just for people portraits.  Some examples:

Atlantis shuttle rear viewAtlantis shuttle rear view.  iPhone XS rear camera, Portrait mode, ISO 640, f/2.4, 1/30 sec

Shuttle robot arm close upShuttle robot arm close up.  iPhone XS rear camera, Portrait mode, ISO 640, f/2.4, 1/30 sec

In these images, I adjusted the simulated aperture after the images were taken to focus viewers’ eyes on the subjects.  It’s very easy to vary the amount of blur in the background to get the effect I wanted.  I’ve also used the “portrait mode” for actual portraits, and while it’s improved from earlier versions, you can still see issues if you look for them.  For example, the depth map and processing has occasional (but fewer?) problems with stray hair around faces (blurs them when they should be sharp).

I use an iPhone, but Android users also benefit from developments in computational photography.   For instance the Pixel 3 phone has a “Night Sight” feature that is reportedly amazing.  See this article for details:  https://www.engadget.com/2018/11/14/google-pixel-night-sight-launch-sample-photos-comparison/

I hope Apple can add a similar algorithm!

Should you give away your non-phone cameras?  No, not yet.  Phones are still at a disadvantage in some ways:  Lens selection and sensor size are two important ones.  And the interfaces on dedicated cameras are better and allow quicker control.  But in some (many?) cases, your phone is an excellent photo (and video!) tool.  And they’re going to get better.  Just make sure you’re up to date on how to use the latest functions.

You can read more about this at the Apple iPhone XS Camera specifications web page.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2018, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

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