Samsung recently got into the center of attention for all the wrong reasons. As it turns out, Samsung’s “space zoom” isn’t exactly a zoom feature. Instead, the Moon photos you can take with it are actually AI-enhanced photos of a blurry blob you could take with almost any phone. So, Samsung has been accused of faking the images and false advertising. Again.
[Related reading: Samsung used my DSLR photo to fake their phone’s “portrait mode”]
Personally, I find this story interesting for several reasons. First, it shows that the line is getting more and more blurred between photography and AI. It’s getting harder and harder to tell what is what. Second, advertising-related topics often spark my interest. And third – this isn’t Samsung’s first time of deceiving its users. Only this time, they didn’t use my photo and terrible Photoshop job. :) But let’s start from the beginning.
To see what I’m referring to, check out the Galaxy S23 Ultra ad and the zoomed-in Moon around the 11th second:
If you’ve ever tried taking a detailed Moon photo with your phone and without a telescope, you know how that ended. A Reddit user ibreakphotos analyzed how such a clear, detailed photo of the Moon is taken in Samsung’s commercial with just a phone. He tested the feature and in this post, he describes what he did.
In short, he took a hi-res photo of the Moon, downsized it to 170×170 pixels, and applied Gaussian Blur. Then he zoomed in on this blurry mess, turned off the lights, and moved to the other side of the room. He used his Samsung phone, zoomed all the way in on the monitor, and took a Moon shot with “Space Zoom.” Here’s the process, and the resulting image:
How does Samsung take (or fake) Moon photos?
As The Verge notes, Samsung’s Moon photography has been raising eyebrows ever since the company introduced the 100x “Space Zoom” feature in the S20 Ultra back in 2020. “Some have accused the company of simply copying and pasting prestored textures onto images of the Moon to produce its photographs,” this source writes. However, Samsung claims that the process is more complex than that, and that it involves AI.
In this article, CamCyclopedia writes about using AI to enhance the Moon shots you take with their phones. They say that it takes multiple photos which are then “synthesized into a single moon photo that is bright and noise-reduced through Multi-frame Processing.”
I guess this is something like reducing noise by image stacking. But there’s more. “The moon shooting environment has physical limitations due to the long distance from the moon and lack of light, so the high-magnification actual image output from the sensor has a lot of noise,” CamCyclopedia writes. “So it is not enough to give the best quality experience even after compositing multiple shots.”
“To overcome this, the Galaxy Camera applies a deep learning-based AI detail enhancement engine (Detail Enhancement technology) at the final stage to effectively remove noise and maximize the details of the moon to complete a bright and clear picture of the moon.”
As ibreakphotos notes, AI does most of the work when you use the “Space Zoom,” not the optics. “The optics aren’t capable of resolving the detail that you see,” he writes, and that’s totally true. No phone can achieve this optically! “Since the moon is tidally locked to the Earth, it’s very easy to train your model on other moon images and just slap that texture when a moon-like thing is detected.” And it looks like this is what happens when you take a Moon shot with Samsung’s phone and the “Space Zoom.”
So are these photos or AI creations?
This is one of the reasons why I find this topic so interesting. Whether Moon shots taken with “Space Zoom “ are photos or AI pictures is a tough question to answer. They’re both, and they’re neither. It appears that the line between photography and AI is getting as blurry as Moon photos taken with a phone. Technically, you do take a photo with your smartphone. But the way it turns out doesn’t have anything to do with the phone’s capabilities; it’s something you can go and create in Midjourney without even having a camera involved.
I personally don’t have a problem with AI, image enhancements, and the like. They all have a place in the artistic world, although AI is yet to find its own. As for photography, all of us edit photos and use all sorts of techniques to make them more appealing.
However, I do have a problem if someone passes a composite photo as a genuine scene or an AI creation for a photo, which is the case here. The Moon photos you take with Samsung’s “Space Zoom” have nothing to do with the phone’s camera capabilities, or your photography skills. If it’s marketed as a camera or lens trait, then I believe it also falls under false advertising, which is another thing I have a problem with.
We’ll try to reach out to Samsung and get a comment about this, as I’m genuinely curious about what they would have to say. We will update the article in case we hear back. In the meantime, let us know what you think. Is this photography or rather falls into the AI category? And do you think it’s false advertising?
[via The Verge]