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Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Filmmaker Says Apple Pulling ‘Voodoo’ with iPhone XS Low-Light Video Performance

iPhone XS Max in hand

Being an ‘S’ year, Apple focused greatly on the improved dual-camera setup of the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max this year while unveiling them. Apart from the switch to a bigger and newer camera sensor, the new iPhones also feature Smart HDR that helps them offer better contrast, dynamic range, and details in challenging situations. Well, Apple’s tech is so good that it has made the head of filmmaker Richard Lackey spin with the “kind of voodoo” they are pulling off in the iPhone XS.

The filmmaker says that the iPhone XS and iPhone XR camera system “seems to generate images that are beyond the sum of its parts.” It is due to the improved sensor and computational photography that the filmmaker was able to capture a clean video in very low light conditions. Apart from being clean, the device also captured more details in dark parts of the images than any other iPhone.


Below is the video shot by Richard Lackey solely on his iPhone XS Max.



He has shared some interesting insight into Apple’s approach towards computational photography as well.


Judging from the behavior of the camera in bright and normal lighting conditions, it appears that the luminance values recorded are not purely determined by a fixed gain value (ISO), or fixed gamma transform as would be the case with a “traditional” (I’ll call it “dumb”) camera.


Something else is at play, and it is dynamic, changing according to some combination of variables linked to a real time analysis of the scene. It may even be making separate localised adjustments to different parts of the image, which would be extremely impressive if true.


He also praised Apple’s noise reduction implementation as the usual side effects of washed away details and artifacts were barely visible.


Whatever combination of spatial and temporal analysis is at work, it’s very very good, and probably applied quite early in the signal chain. I don’t think it’s being applied globally to the whole image either. It seems like it could be localised to just the areas of the image that will benefit.


Due to the way Apple has implemented computational photography on the iPhone XS series, any app that provides full manual control over iPhones camera will have to change its approach.


The image behaves very differently to previous iPhones in an app providing full manual control such as FiLMiC Pro. This is all down to the very active and dynamic image processing. It may not be possible for camera apps to lock or control this behavior entirely, or at all. I can tell after a few hours of use that the iPhone XS Max requires a very different approach when using FiLMiC Pro, and of course color correction.


Make sure to read the complete analysis from Richard Lackey for more information about the “voodoo” that Apple is pulling off with the iPhone XS camera.

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