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People are freaking out over Samsung’s Space Zoom moonshots for all the wrong reasons

By Liu Hongzuo - on 14 Mar 2023, 1:36pm

People are freaking out over Samsung’s Space Zoom moonshots for all the wrong reasons

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.

If you’re a smartphone photography enthusiast, you’ve probably seen this spicy Reddit thread and an accompanying article on The Verge with a salacious headline screaming “Samsung caught faking zoom photos of the Moon", which declared that the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra’s photos of the moon were fake. Cue dramatic gasp. 

Fake, with many disclaimers, because the moon shots produced by Space Zoom were computationally enhanced with AI after the photo was taken. As this GIF inside the Reddit thread demonstrates, the phone applies computational filters to “fill in” missing details and erase noise for a clearer Moon photo taken while presumably handheld. 

Screen capture credit: /u/ibreakphotos on Reddit.

This is not a new controversy, since Space Zoom has been around since the Samsung Galaxy S20 series, and an explanation was given during the Galaxy S21 series' run. After reviewing these old notes, we think that Samsung’s computational photography is designed to flatter you and prop up your ego, but it’s not fake.


It's your photo of the Moon, but with a little (a lot of) computational help

The short answer to these AI-assisted moonshots, per Samsung’s forum post (in Korean), is a five-step process when your Samsung phone gives you an impressive shot of the Moon. The steps are: machine learning (for moon recognition), brightness adjustments (to reduce blowout and improve contrast), hyperaggressive digital stabilisation (because of shaky hands), another AI check to fill in details, and having multiple photos of the Moon taken in a single click to get multi-frame processing, stacking all your Moon photos into one single shot that’s less noisy.

In essence, the AI inside Samsung’s Space Zoom compensates for nearly all the equipment and skill needed for celestial photography (at minimum, it requires getting the right timing of the night, having minimal light pollution and clear skies before setting up camp, a tripod to improve stability, on top of manual photo-editing software to do the same shot-stacking technique). It still is a photo of your Moon from your perspective, and it is probably a very humbling experience to learn that Samsung’s AI is hard-carrying your grainy shots in a single click.

This investigative piece by Input Mag from 2021 also debunked the “fakeness” of Samsung’s AI assistance. The testing process saw a clove of garlic and a table tennis (ping pong) ball masquerading as the Moon, and the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s 100x Space Zoom did not take the bait. A deeper dive into the Camera app’s APK also showed a machine learning algorithm trained specifically for the Moon, on top of a comparison between the S21 Ultra’s shots against a Sony A7R III full-frame titan

The findings fall in line with Samsung’s explanation that came a year later, and it’s still true today: it really is a photo of the Moon from where you are, with extremely aggressive AI computational photography, so it doesn’t look like a muddy mess when you eventually upload it to social media.


So what do you consider as “fake”, then?

Granted, that she isn't as far away as the Moon, the model is posing (not in her natural state), in a place with no natural white light, and the final image had moderate amounts of post-processing applied to make this suitable for publication. Question: is this a fake photo to you?

Embellishing photos to make your shots more interesting is a technique as old as film photography, where the post-production process typically sees photographers of olden days use dodge-and-burn techniques in a darkroom to manipulate contrast and control how the final product looks like.

Photography has also advanced with technology, like having portable tripods, multi-element lenses, powerful LED flash, and more recently – editing software. If anything, pursuing a picture-perfect moment probably led to Samsung developing a specific algorithm for the Moon, much like all the technologies that came before 100x Space Zoom. 

The difference lies in the effort taken away to achieve the same result, with the help of technology and AI. 

If you’re still feeling displeased by this revelation, guess what: no one’s stopping you from exploring the rabbit hole of celestial photography, but it’s best to leave that to another day. In the meantime, you can see the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra’s imaging capabilities (no editing, just AI) in our review here.

Source: The Verge, Reddit (thread), Samsung CamCyclopedia (forum), Input Mag (Inverse)

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