Smartphone cameras are getting better with each new generation, but the lack of quality optics and the small size of the sensors means they are still miles away from compact cameras. However, a team of researchers at MIT, with generous Foxconn funding, could change that for the better.
The MIT Microsystems Technology Laboratory team has come up with a chip that can spice up smartphone photos by enhancing lighting without destroying the scene’s ambience. Apparently that is still reserved for Instagram.
Digital photography relies on high quality post processing as much as it does on good sensors, and the MIT team thinks there is a lot of room for improvement on the processing side.
One of the main applications of the new chip is High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging. HDR is nothing new in the world of smartphones, and it can come in very handy, as tiny sensors can’t handle a lot of dynamic range on their own. Smartphones currently use software to process HDR images, combining three images taken at different exposure settings to create a single image, with better lighting. The process is quite demanding as it usually takes a few seconds to process the images.
However, with the new chip it can be accomplished in a few hundred milliseconds, which means that it could be possible to use HDR in video as well. In addition, the dedicated chip consumes a lot less energy than mobile chips running image processing software.
Using a similar approach, the chip can also enhance lighting in dark scenes more realistically than flash photography, which never really worked well on mobiles.