The word ‘beautygate’ might not be one that is completely new to you, especially since there has been considerable talk about it. Still, let us refresh your memory. There are plenty of iPhone users who are complaining about how Apple’s new devices (iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max) are using some sort of beautification feature which applies overly-aggressive algorithms to smooth your skin on the photos which you take with the front camera.
The results are really bothering people because their photos seem to be doctored or they simply look fake. This made us curious and we are sure we are not the only ones. Here’s what we found out about the behind the scenes process.
iPhone XS HDR
The new smartphones from Apple – iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max – came with a fresh feature which is called Smart HDR. It represents a new camera mode which is designed to raise the dynamic range, and if you don’t know exactly what this is, allow us to enlighten you. When we are talking about dynamic range, we are talking about the difference between the lightest and the darkest tones which can be captured by a camera.
In a lot of photo comparisons between older versions of the iPhone (like the iPhone X) and the latest one – the iPhone XS Max – you can see how far the dynamic range is increased by the Smart HDR function on the XS Max. By putting photos taken with the iPhone X and the iPhone XS Max at opposing ends, you can see how the X’s snapshot shows the face and the body of the person who was photographed exposed properly.
However, the same picture shows the highlights in the background being blown out, making them so sparkling bright that the colors and the details are lost. The XS Max, on the other hand, keeps all the textures and the details visible, while the colors are reproduced with plenty of accuracies.
If you wish to play detective for a little bit, you can take a look at how the shadows present themselves. You will see that the areas capture into the photo are brighter and show more details. Even clothing, like a simple pair of pants, can be subjected to XS Max’s smoothing effect.
In order to really see this effect, you should take a couple of selfies in low lighting conditions. The effect is really pronounced then and there are exactly two reasons as to why this is happening. Both of them relate to the new Smart HDR feature.
iPhone X HDR
Regular HDR photos from last year’s iPhone X worked by taking three snapshots, one exposed for the highlights, one for the shadows and one for the face. After all three were done, the feature combined all the best parts from those photos into a single one.
This is usually done manually by some professional photographers by blending images together into a specialized program, like Adobe Lightroom. This results in a photograph with incredible levels of dynamic range and detail.
Moving on to the HDR upgrade, Apple’s Smart function starts with something called ‘zero shutter lag’. This makes your A12 Bionic processor to constantly shoot a 4 frame buffer each time you open the camera app. Basically, it takes photos over and over again, quickly, and each time it does this, it keeps the last 4 frames in the system memory without occupying your camera roll.
As soon as you hit the shutter button your photo appears instantly because it will grab one of the photos from the system memory. Besides this, the A12 Bionic processor takes photos at different exposures, just like regular HDR does. After that, it analyzes the photos and blends the best frames together into a single photograph.
Because the Smart HDR function has to work quickly, the shutter speed needs to match its speed and not slow down the process. Because of this, less light can enter to reach the sensor, resulting in images with less brightness. In order to compensate for this effect, the camera increases the ISO, the characteristic which dictates the sensor’s sensibility to various levels of light.