You have choices. Yes, even with Apple.
There’s been a bit of recent chatter (starting with a New Yorker article) about whether Apple’s default choices around computational photography might be too aggressive or otherwise leading to subpar photographs. Is the iPhone camera AI… wrong?
I decided to chime in with this video:
Here’s a (AI-generated) transcript:
There’s been some chatter lately if the artificial intelligence in the iPhone’s camera system too smart? Is it making the photos worse? Hey there Aaron here from techphotoguy.com back at you with another modern tech photo topic today we are talking about the iPhone specifically the computational photography in the iPhone.
Be sure to subscribe down below so you can get the next thing that I bring at you next week. A couple weeks ago Kyle Chayka wrote an article for the New Yorker asking if the iPhone camera AI was was too smart if it was actually causing problems with the photos that it was making. Spoiler alert I think the answer is no but let’s explore that a little bit and what it means for modern smartphone photography and what you can do as a photographer if you’re not happy with the decisions that Apple has made with its computational photography system in the iPhone. So I think we need to start by talking about why computational photography and artificial intelligence is so important for smartphone cameras and it comes down to physics and optics.
This is the iPhone it’s pretty thin Apple does a lot of work in design to make it really thin and to make it perform as well given how thin that it is. The iPhone’s really thin. This is my Olympus micro four thirds mirrorless camera it’s not a big camera as you know compared to other bigger cameras but if you compare the size of this camera and the size of this lens to the size of the camera system and the lens on the iPhone they’re not even close. The iPhone sensor is much smaller the lenses are much smaller and based on physics if we want to get great photos out of a camera with that small of a sensor and that small of a lens we’re going to rely on artificial intelligence and computational photography to help us do that. And if you’re not sure what those mean I’m going to drop a link up there and you can hit another video that I’ve got that explains kind of what some of those terms mean.
But because we require these AI and computational photography powers to make the great photos that we get out of our smartphone, Apple or any other manufacturer has to make some choices about how they do that and Apple’s going to make default choices based on what it thinks is going to be pleasing for most photographers… most of its customers… most of the time. Now keep in mind that Apple’s customer base is hundreds of millions of iPhone users every year and Apple has to make a choice and their choice might not be exactly what your choice is.
Maybe you like your photos a little warmer. Maybe you like them a little cooler. Maybe you like them a little grainier. Maybe you like them a little smoother. Regardless of what Apple chooses it’s not going to line up 100 percent with everybody and here’s the kicker that I think a lot of people are losing in this discussion. This isn’t even a new concept. If we go back to the film days photographers shot Fuji Velvia because they liked the particular look and feel of the images that came out of that film. Or photographers would shoot Kodak’s Kodachrome because they liked the look and the feel of those images. Well Kodak and Fuji designed their films and calibrated those films to give a certain result.
It’s the same kind of thing when Apple’s software engineers are designing the computational photography systems to give a certain look and feel and result to the iPhone photos. Maybe you don’t like the look and feel of it. Maybe you think it’s a little too grainy. Maybe you think it’s a little too smooth. You don’t like the color temperature with iOS 15 Apple introduced photographic styles which actually allows you to tweak the default settings that you get out of your iPhone camera and you can get to those through the the camera options in you know the current version of iOS. All that said if you don’t like Apple’s choices you have choices of your own. You don’t have to use Apple’s default camera app.
You can use a third-party camera app I’m a big fan of Halide. There’s Obscura out there as well I believe Camera Plus is another popular kind of alternate pro level camera app that you can choose to use. With those cameras you get a different look and feel like with Halide if I shoot in Halide and I shoot in raw I’m not even using Apple’s default image processing. I’m getting a raw file that I then process through Halide or through another app that can process those raw files and when I process those files I can change how they look. I don’t have to accept the default look.
Another analogy I like is you know if you’re using the default camera app with Apple’s default photo settings it’s kind of like shooting P mode. You know that the mode dial where you got the aperture priority and the shutter priority well you get P for program mode on the camera. And a lot of serious photographers don’t often use P mode because they want a little bit more look and control or control over the look and feel of their images. So you know if you’re the kind of person who wants that control don’t use the default camera app and settings on your iPhone. If you don’t like those look and feel use a different app. Shoot in raw. Process your own images with the look and feel that you like.
So all in all Apple has made what I think are some smart choices for most people. You know we can quibble about is there a little too much noise reduction or not. Are the images too warm too soft. Do they not have maybe enough vibrance. Apple’s given us some options with the photographic styles with the new the new iOS and the new cameras but all in all Apple has made a choice and as a photographer you can choose to use their default choices or you can choose to make your own choices. You know if you don’t like Apple’s choices you’ve got app options you’ve got raw format options and raw processing options from a variety of app manufacturers that are out there. And so you know we have a tool kit just like when we buy a Canon or a Nikon or a Sony or an Olympus you know bigger cameras there are default settings from the manufacturer. You can override those.
Smartphone photography wouldn’t be viable photography if it weren’t for computational photography. Even if you don’t like the defaults from that computational photography, you can still reap tons of benefit from it.
That’s my little rant about the current kerfuffle around you know Apple’s processing as I said subscribe down below I’ll be back at you again next week maybe it’ll be a little less you know ranty or controversial but as always it’s going to be some sort of modern tech photo topic take care now.