How Artificial Intelligence is changing photography

“If you’re wondering how good your next phone’s camera is going to be, it’d be wise to pay attention to what the manufacturer has to say about AI,” Sam Byford reports for The Verge. “Beyond the hype and bluster, the technology has enabled staggering advances in photography over the past couple of years, and there’s no reason to think that progress will slow down.”

“The most impressive recent advancements in photography have taken place at the software and silicon level rather than the sensor or lens — and that’s largely thanks to AI giving cameras a better understanding of what they’re looking at,” Byford reports. “Apple makes use of this tech to drive its dual-camera phones’ portrait mode. The iPhone’s image signal processor uses machine learning techniques to recognize people with one camera, while the second camera creates a depth map to help isolate the subject and blur the background. The ability to recognize people through machine learning wasn’t new when this feature debuted in 2016, as it’s what photo organization software was already doing. But to manage it in real time at the speed required for a smartphone camera was a breakthrough.”

“Image signal processors have been important to phone camera performance for a while, but it looks likely that NPUs will take on a larger role as computational photography advances,” Byford reports. “Huawei was the first company to announce a system-on-chip with dedicated AI hardware, the Kirin 970, although Apple’s A11 Bionic ended up reaching consumers first.”

MacDailyNews Take: You know you’re reaching when you have to excruciatingly construct a sentence to credit a company with announcing something before Apple actually delivered it to users. For that matter, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer debuted the HP Slate tablet computer during CES 2010 on January 6, 2010, although Apple’s iPad “ended up reaching consumers first” on April 3, 2010. The HP Slate finally arrived in October 2010, after HP got to see the iPad. Suffice to say, the HP Slate was not a hit.

“The latest Apple A12 Bionic, meanwhile, has an eight-core neural engine that can run tasks in Core ML, Apple’s machine learning framework, up to nine times faster than the A11, and for the first time it’s directly linked to the image processor. Apple says this gives the camera a better understanding of the focal plane, for example, helping generate more realistic depth of field,” Byford reports. “Even at this early stage of computational photography, there are real benefits to be found from phone cameras that have been designed around machine learning.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Apple’s SoCs and neural engines are light years ahead of the competition. We’d like to see Apple’s camera team use what Apple’s silicon team is providing them to its fullest.

Apple should not be outpaced by any other smartphone maker in low light photography or any other facet of photography. Period. When they are so obviously outclassed, Apple’s camera team should be ashamed and they should make damn sure it never happens again.

Apple iPad Pro’s A12X chip has no real rivals; it delivers performance unseen on Android tablets – November 1, 2018
Digital Photography Review: Apple’s iPhone XS/Max is a leap forward in computational photography – October 5, 2018
Austin Mann reviews iPhone Xs camera: ‘I’ve never worked with a camera that can balance light like this – not even close’ – September 20, 2018
Inside Apple’s iPhone Xs camera technology that rivals DSLR quality – September 20, 2018
‘Shot on iPhone Xs’ video showcases Apple’s amazing new camera – September 13, 2018


  1. Um, so they compared a Google Pixel 3, released October 2018, to an iPhone X, released a year earlier on November 2017??

    Yeah, the X should still be much better, but you shoot your credibility in the foot if you don’t at least compare top of the line of the same year!!

    1. Ok so apparently the fine print at the bottom left says it’s an XS. Don’t know why they didn’t bother saying so in the big bold text (then again, it’s a “Phone X” so our quick conclusion should be that it’s a Chinese ripoff phone.

  2. Bah. It’s still just essentially applying a filter, just in real time, and anyone that has worked with graphics or imaging software for any length of time knows this. It’s nice, but it is a facsimile of photography, and claiming that that camera ‘knows’ anything whatsoever is bullshit. I’m not saying it isn’t cool, but let’s not be dishonest about what it’s actually doing, or that the end results are always necessarily desirable. Adobe’s ‘AI’ enhanced features often don’t do as clean or good a job as the old algorithms did, and that’s a fact.

  3. MDN “When they are so obviously outclassed, Apple’s camera team should be ashamed and they should make damn sure it never happens again.”

    Outclassing last year’s iPhone in producing garish, cartoon photos. Big deal.

    But anyway – “never again” — I don’t think so. It is silly to expect NO company EVER to have a particular feature ahead of or implemented better than Apple. The overall situation is the important consideration.

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