- Adobe's Marc Levoy is heading up a new camera app for pro photographers.
- Computational photography makes phone cameras competitive.
- All the pros really want is more control over the basics.
Adobe is planning a new smartphone camera app, one that doesn't just try to mimic a 'real' camera but will incorporate Photoshop-like effects into the capture process.
Speaking to CNET, Adobe's Marc Levoy hinted at a new camera app that will rely heavily on computational photography to create a "dialog" between camera and photographer. The app is still in development, so Levoy wouldn't spill any secrets, but given his background (which we'll get to), it's pretty easy to guess the direction it will go in. We asked some professional and amateur photographers what they would want in such an app, and the answers were somewhat surprising.
"Even with top-shelf gear, though, there still is no replacing the techniques and experience that serious photographers have in their pocket," photography hobbyist Kris Ceniza told Lifewire via email.
Before Adobe, Marc Levoy worked on Google's Pixel camera, and before that, he was a Stanford researcher, where he invented the term computational photography. So we can guess that his camera app will be all about this technology.
Computational photography is when you use a computer to massage or even radically change a picture while it is being taken. It allows background blurring in portrait modes and enables incredibly detailed photos to be created in near darkness. Another great computational photography trick is to capture many frames instead of just one and analyze them to pick the ones where people are smiling and have their eyes open instead of being caught mid-blink.
Even with top-shelf gear, though, there still is no replacing the techniques and experience that serious photographers have in their pocket.
Up until now, interaction with these features has been almost nonexistent. You can choose the amount of blur in portrait mode, for example, but you don't get much more control than that. But this may be about to change.
Trick of the Light
For some hints, look at some of Google's previous work. One incredible feature is buried in its Snapseed app. It's called Head Pose, and it lets you grab the head of anyone in the photo and move it so that they face in a different direction. It's subtle—there's only a limited range of movement possible—but it's spooky how good it is.
Another app, called Apollo, lets you add lights to a scene after you take the photo. It uses the depth map captured by your iPhone when it snaps a portrait mode image and uses the information contained therein to make a 3D model of the scene. You can add all kinds of lights for very natural—or unnatural—effects.
This all sounds amazing, but there might be one big problem. The pros, and the serious amateurs, don't want it. Of the responses to Lifewire's request for comment, most of the photographers said that they wanted more control of basic features, not fancy computational effects. In fact, those effects can be the reason people leave cameraphones behind.
"As a professional photographer, I want full manual control so I can set my own aperture, ISO, and shutter speed as a start. These are basic controls used by every photographer to shoot as they please," professional photographer Jim Costa told Lifewire via email.
And no camera app, not even the ones built into your phone, offers control of the aperture because, on phones, it is fixed.
Other than that, photographers worry about quality. The reason we get such good pictures from our phones is down to that computational aspect. Without that, the tiny lenses and even tinier sensors would struggle to compete with the cheapest dedicated cameras. And for a photographer, that basic raw quality is essential.
"The only issue with using a smartphone now, for us, is the lens quality and sensor quality don't compare to the cameras that we currently use. Computational photography can greatly enhance a photograph, but the photographic capabilities of the camera are just as important, and a smartphone is at a significant disadvantage when compared to a mirrorless camera, especially in lens quality and sensor size," aerial photographer Steven Holtzman told Lifewire via email.
And that's the bind that Adobe might be in. The camera apps built into our phones are already amazing. You can make fancier apps with incredible features, but the pros and enthusiasts, it seems, just want more control, and they can get that from the superior camera they already use.
That's not to say a pro camera app from Adobe won't be incredible. It just might not be a tool that the pros want or need.