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4 ways your phone's next camera could get more awesome …

The camera inside your smartphone does amazing things we’d have only been able to dream of even five years ago, and with each passing year, the photos you take and videos you capture will only get better.

That isn’t just down to the quality and setup of the lenses, though they’re important, too. The processors inside your phone play an enormous role in defining what those photo and video capabilities are.

qualcomm-snapdragon-845

This is 845 chip is what makes the movie magic happen.


Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Premium Android phones in 2018 that use Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 845 chip promise brighter, more saturated video with colors that pop and look much more “real.” 

Improved depth-sensing also opens the door to automated tracking in VR and more biometric scanning. So far Xiaomi is the first to say it’ll use the chipset in its upcoming Mi 7 flagship, but I’d put money on the 845 appearing in the next top-tier handsets from Samsung, LG, Motorola and OnePlus. If you wind up buying a (rumored) Galaxy S9, for example, it’s a sure bet that the Snapdragon 845 will be inside.

Here’s what’s changing and what that means for you.

Color, color, color

What if every video you shot of your dog, your kids, the people around you, looked immediately You-Tube ready, right out of your phone?  

The Snapdragon 845 chipset promises to take video quality a step further (aka “change the game for video capture”) by supporting Ultra HD Premium video capture, also known as HDR for TVs (which is not the same as HDR for photos). Here’s one of the best explainers anywhere on the internet, and I recommend you read it. 

snapdragon-845-wide-color-gamut

A visualization helps explain how color gamut’s changed.


Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

What you’re getting with Ultra HD Premium is a huge hit of color. We’re talking a 64x increase in the shades you’ll be able to view. In phones using the Snapdragon 835 chip, you’d get 16.7 million shades of color. 845 will let you capture video with over 1 billion shades.

Technically called color depth or deep color, this absolute leap forward occurs by increasing the number of bits of data you get for each primary color — roughly red, yellow and blue. Qualcomm used to use 8 bits, but the Ultra HD Premium standard uses 10.

In addition to color depth, you’re also getting 97 percent more color gamut, which means your phone camera can capture new colors it couldn’t before. 

These are minute variances that make the jump from real life to screen possible. As my colleague Geoffrey Morrison put it in his explainer: “The reds of a fire truck, the deep violet of an eggplant, even the green of many street signs. You may have never noticed before that these weren’t exactly how they looked in real life, but you sure will now.”


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Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chip (the one in the Galaxy S8, LG V30 and OnePlus 5T) could already support Ultra HD Premium playback, which means you could watch HDR content that other people made on Netflix, Amazon and YouTube HDR. With 845, you’ll be able to make these videos yourself, without even thinking about it, and view radically improved video on your HDR TV.

Brighter video

The technical term is luminance, which refers to the amount of brightness and darkness your video recording can record. Also included in the standard for Ultra HD Premium, more luminance means that your already more colorful video also comes out much brighter than before, which is all part of transforming the video capture experience.

How much? Up to 10,000 nits of brightness.

Lest you think that increasing brightness will drain the battery faster, Qualcomm claims that the 30 percent more battery efficiency in the Snapdragon 845 chip will mitigate any battery tax here.

Videos and stills, combined

Imagine a picture of a girl watching her goldfish. The girl is still as a portrait. The goldfish swims.

This is what Qualcomm calls ImMotion, a form of computational processing that takes a portion of the photo as video while the rest remains motionless. It’s not quite a live photo because in that approach, the entire picture moves for three seconds. In this scenario, only a single portion of the photo gains life.

Active depth-sensing 

Cameras on phones using Snapdragon 845 will be able to act a lot more like Apple’s new iPhone X with Face ID unlocking, and that’s due to a process called active depth-sensing.

iphone-x-faceid

Snapdragon 845 contains its own version of Apple’s face-mapping.


CNET

In the iPhone X, Face ID works by spraying your mug with 30,000 points of invisible infrared light. That’s the “active” part; the camera is going out and collecting data about the world around it.

Qualcomm’s 845 chip uses up to 50,000 points of infrared light now to create a point map. But using it to unlock your phone isn’t the only benefit of a depth-sensing camera.

Put it in the rear camera and you’ve now got a way to track your hands in VR, which means you wouldn’t have to use expensive, bulky controllers. Or for AR, imagine interacting with the world around you using your hands. Maybe instead of tossing a ball at a Pokemon creature sitting on top of a fire hydrant, you reach out and use your camera-tracked hands to grab it up.

Remember that just because a phone runs on Snapdragon 845, it doesn’t mean that either or all of its front and rear lenses will use active depth sensing. Unlike the video improvements, which don’t require new hardware, unlocking these features does require a specific type of camera lens that not every phonemaker will buy. Even after that, the phonemaker has to decide how they want to use the feature, and write the software to make it happen.

But if your future phone does use Snapdragon 845, these features are at least possible.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 camera nitty gritty

  • Spectra 280 ISP (image signal processor)
  • Ultra HD premium capture
  • Qualcomm Spectra Module Program, featuring Active Depth Sensing
  • MCTF video capture (motion compensated temporal filtering)
  • Multiframe noise reduction
  • High-performance capture up to 16MP @ 60 fps
  • Slow-motion video capture (720p @ 480 fps)
  • ImMotion computational photography

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