The iPhone 7 Plus has a dual-camera system on the rear, but Apple is far from the first to pull this trick off. Just this year, LG’s G5 and V20 and Huawei’s P9 and Honor 8 all had two rear cameras, with varying implementations. The LG phones’ cameras function independently, while the Huawei phones’ cameras work together to create one richer, more detailed picture. Unlike most Android phones, Huawei’s phones use the company’s own Kirin chipsets, which handle the image processing needed to stitch those two images together. Today, Qualcomm is announcing that they’ve made the same development for their Snapdragon 820 and 821 chipsets.
The new tech will be powered by the Spectra image signal processor (ISP), which is one of many components found on Snapdragon chipsets (along with the CPU, GPU, and a handful of other processors). Qualcomm is introducing their Clear Sight technology, which has been built for use with a specific kind of dual-camera array. Clear Sight works when two almost identical camera sensors are used in tandem, with one small difference. One sensor will take color photos, while the other will take black and white photos.
As it turns out, there’s a trade-off when taking color photos — when recording color information, the sensor loses a little data related to light levels and contrast. Accurately recording light levels for better contrast is exactly what the black and white sensor excels at. If a smartphone has both of these sensors, it’ll get two photos — one richly colored, and one black and white with proper contrast and, as a result, sharper details. Qualcomm’s Clear Sight technology can intelligently combine those two pictures into one, giving us the best of both worlds.
So, what’s the short of it? With Clear Sight, we can expect improvements to HDR pictures and pictures taken in low-light conditions, the latter of which is one of the last big failings in smartphone tech. Because the black and white sensor can take in more light, the new technology can add that information to that of the color sensor (the kind that’s been working alone until now). In low-light photos, we often see blurring in areas where contrast isn’t good enough to tell small objects apart. Those details will be much clearer with the kind of dual-camera arrays that Clear Sight enables.
If this all sounds a bit familiar, it’s exactly the same way Huawei’s dual-camera system works. That’s exciting news for us — we’re looking forward to seeing who does it better in 2017!