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  • Writer's pictureSteve Gemmell

The Rise of Computational Smartphone Photography

What will we see next in Computational Photography?

So what about computational photography? Is that going to appear in larger mainstream cameras in the near future? Digital cameras in phones have plenty of processing power, and many are just great at taking photos. I think these processes work pretty well with smaller sensors like smartphones as opposed to current professional systems. There is no doubt that smartphones have revolutionised the way people take and share photos. Smartphones are great for capturing quick snapshots, but they can also be used to take much more sophisticated photographs with advanced software. Computational photography is a relatively new field that involves using computers to process images instead of relying on humans. This allows photographers to create detailed images and videos that would otherwise be impossible or very time-consuming to achieve manually. This technology is used in smartphones to overcome the limitations of the very small sensors used. However sensors in larger cameras are getting much faster and although stacked sensors are found in some of the latest smartphones they are also appearing in high end cameras too. Stacked sensors are capable of processing images at amazing high speeds, even if the sensor includes higher megapixel counts. So could there be possibities to build in more in camera processing? This already happens when shooting jpegs but could it be taken further? Smartphones have become an integral part of our lives, and for good reason! They are small and compact enough to be carried around with us at all times, and they offer great functionality for taking pictures and videos. Whether you want to capture a beautiful sunset or snap a selfie in a fun setting, smartphones offer versatile tools that can help you capture your memories in the most beautiful way.

Smartphone Photography for the casual user

For the average casual user there are many advantages to using a smartphone for photography, Smartphones are much smaller than DSLR, bridge, and compact cameras, making them the ideal companion whenever you go. Planning a long-range trip or a vacation? Or just want to capture some great images in your everyday life? Then you need a smartphone camera, which is small and portable. Another benefit of smartphone photography is the ability to add third-party apps to enhance your photography skills. Smartphone photography has advantages over other cameras because it is the best photography device that is small and can be carried everywhere. Plus of course it’s a phone, calendar, web browser and a whole host of other things too. You also have the advantage of being able to post content directly from your phone to social media, plus there is the convenience of cloud backup of all your images without having to deal with memory cards etc.ds etc. Smartphones have revolutionized the way we capture and share our photos. With a few simple tools and a little creativity, you can take great photos without spending a fortune. Sure, you can always invest in better equipment, but there are a great many smartphone cameras on the market that will get the job done just fine. In fact, many professional photographers use smartphones for their photography, and there’s no reason why you can’t do the same! So, whatever your photography dreams might be, make sure to start planning them with a smartphone!

Smartphone Photography for the serious user

As a serious photographer, either for pleasure or as a professional what do think of smartphone cameras and computational photography? Do you use them as part of your photographic arsenal? There is no doubt they can produce amazing imagery, especially with the right application. Has Apple ProRAW changed the game as far as smartphone image processing is concerned? I believe it has, but there is certainly an abundance of options out there for those interested in experimenting. What do you think?

Putting Apple ProRaw to the test

I put Apple ProRaw to the test and here is what I discovered. In my first example of an image captured in Apple ProRaw on my iPhone 13 pro my eye was attracted by this colourful composition you see below. There are several options of editing software to use on Apple ProRAW files from the iPhone.The files are large, more in line with the size you would see from lager sensor cameras. They range from about 20 MB right up into the upper 30 MBs occasionally. But if you export them as unedited DNG files they are always seem to be12 MB exactly. However the clever thing with these raw files is that the computational calculations have already been added to the output before you begin any further editing. It takes a while to get your head around this, but it means that you could spend less time tweaking a file to get a good end result. It’s a bit like using the new AI editing software that is appearing now, such as Luminar AI. I found the most productive method was to use Apple’s native Photo application, especially if you use the desktop version. It hasn’t got all the bells and whistles that can be found in the traditional Adobe applications but it is quick and easy to use. Plus the current version has a surprising amount of adjustment tools. So here we see the ProRAW without any further edits, i.e straight out of the iPhone 13 Pro

Fairground image taken in Apple ProRaw
Image straight from the iPhone in ProRaw exported as jpeg

Next up is the same image adjusted using Desktop version of the Apple Photos application. I have brightened the image slightly but I also wanted to emphasis the sky more against the red truck.

ProRaw Fairground image edited in Apple Photos
ProRaw image with simple quick edit in Apple Photos App

For the third image I have now brought the DNG file into Lightroom Classic and used the selection tools to make the further adjustments to the edit. The only thing missing in the Apple Photos app is the ability to perform selective edits. For that a trip into Adobe Lightroom is necessary as shown here. By bringing the DNG file into Lightroom I have been able to easily select the sky to darken only the sky and enhance the wispy clouds near the top of the image.

Fairground image late sunny March afternoon
DNG image from Apple ProRaw edited in Lightroom

For the last few months I have been using the Apple iPhone 13 pro which has ProRaw processing on board. There is no doubt that pro raw processing on smartphones can result in some incredible images. However, there are also many other great applications and software out there for smartphone photography. What I find most interesting is the way that smartphone cameras have allowed people to experiment with new techniques and concepts. This creativity is pushing the boundaries of what we think possible with photography, and I believe it will only continue to grow in popularity.

I love using my Fujifilm GFX camera for the beautiful large renditions that the camera is capable of producing. However I am beginning to think that the iPhone is now edging into territory previously owned by my APS-C camera, like my the Fujifilm XE4. When you consider that most pictures taken today end up on the internet in one form or another, high resolution isn’t the primary requirement. It’s just so much easier to use a phone if you know you are going to get a good useable image of decent quality. The main consideration is using the camera phone creatively in terms of composition and angle of view etc. The limitations are still the focal range of the lenses on the phone. However a smartphone is the best camera for a beginner because of its ease of use. A smartphone camera has a fixed lens, or currently two or three lenses and is a point-and-shoot camera. It also tends to have a wider angle of view when compared to a typical camera with a standard lens.

If I take the XE4 out with me with the general purpose zoom, the Fujifilm XF16-80mm I often find the edited files from the iPhone are almost as good as the Fujifilm. The iPhone covers a range of 13mm through to 77mm in old full frame 35mm equivalent. The Fuji covers roughly 24mm to 120mm. I like using a wide angle of view so for me the iPhone 13 Pro is often preferred. In the mid range the results are overall very similar with the XE4 giving the option of a longer telephoto view. Of course with the Fujifilm camera there are a huge range of interchangeable lenses available which is a major advantage.

See if you can guess which is the Fujifilm XE4 and which is the iPhone from the following examples. I have tried match the focal length in each scenario as best I could.

Here is a screenshot of the Apple Photos application whilst editing an Apple ProRaw file from the iPhone on a Mac. I have made a few very quick edits and below the screenshot I show the before and after results of the edit.

Editing an Apple ProRaw image in Apple Photos application
Using the Apple Photos to edit Apple ProRaw

Finally below a few of the Apple ProRaw images taken with my iPhone 13 Pro. They have all had minor editing in the standard Apple Photos application before converted and uploaded as jpegs.

Computational photography has come a long way in the past few years, and it's only going to keep growing in popularity. The smartphone industry has played an essential role in its development, as they have been the first to popularize the technology. However, there is still plenty of room for improvement. By leaving your conventional camera behind and embracing computational photography techniques, you can achieve results that are simply stunning. What are your thoughts on computational photography? Share them with us in the comments below!

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