The latest Qualcomm silicon supports some impressive camera capabilities.
WAILEA, Hawaii (AP) — Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor is expected to bring a slew of new features to Android phones in the coming year, ranging from improved performance and power management to new AI experiences.
But, having seen the chipset in action as a guest of Qualcomm at its annual Snapdragon Summit this week, I believe the camera improvements will have the most immediate impact on what the new crop of phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S23, are capable of.
Simply put, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 enables a plethora of new camera capabilities, not only due to changes to the image signal processor on board the system on the chip but also because of closer ties to the AI engine. The result should be more detailed images with eye-catching effects.
“Snapdragon smartphones are the new professional cameras,” Judd Heape, Qualcomm’s vice president of product management, told the Snapdragon Summit audience. While it is up to phone makers using the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 to decide which features to enable, there are plenty of options available.
Here are five Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 camera features you will see in action in the coming year.
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Cameras: Setup
Before we get into those features, let’s talk about how Qualcomm designed the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 because that often gets overlooked in a rush to discuss CPU and GPU gains over the previous generation.
On the Snapdragon 8 silicon, the Spectra image signal processor (ISP) runs the camera show. Qualcomm has added several features over the years, such as triple camera support and depth processing, which allows the ISP to enhance individual layers of an image. Artificial intelligence has always played a role in this, typically in the post-processing stage.
This has changed with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, as the AI engine of the chipset now has a bridge between the Spectra ISP and the Hexagon processor. Since many image processing functions are now hardware-based, they may be used for both photos and movies and can be seen in the phone’s viewfinder.
It is marketed by Qualcomm as having the first cognitive ISP in the world because of the close connection between the AI engine and the Spectra ISP. And that is what motivated many of the features that I found impressive during camera capability demonstrations.
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 200MP Camera Support
Although earlier Snapdragon chipsets could enable 200MP cameras, few phone manufacturers—except Xiaomi and Motorola—have opted to use that capability.
With the 8 Gen 2, which puts compatibility for 200MP cameras front and center on the list of top photo features, that is likely to change. And if you were hoping the rumors about the yet-to-be-announced Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 200MP primary camera were true, that’s excellent news for you. Should phone manufacturers take advantage of the it’s support, what will a 200MP camera accomplish?
“With the 200MP image, you can zoom in and get incredible detail from a faraway object in the scene,” Heape explained. “I’m not sure if users ‘need’ 200MP images for their daily lives, but it comes in handy for improving telephoto in zoom.”
The Snapdragon ISP, in particular, supports an in-sensor zoom feature that can crop that larger image down to a 12.5MP or 50MP shot. The Pixel 7 Pro, with its 50MP primary lens, has a similar capability, cutting to 12.5MP shots to remove noise from your photos.
“Because you have all that detail at 200MP, you can actually use that 200-megapixel information, but in a cropped mode, to get incredibly minute detail out of the scene when you pinch-in zoom and do a telephoto shot,” Heape explained.
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Semantic
One of the most notable features of the improved ISP on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is its support for semantic segmentation, which allows different elements of a photo to be identified and fine-tuned to look their best.
Camera phones were previously capable of this, but the difference with the Gen 2 is that the process is now built into the hardware and enhanced by direct communication between the AI Engine and the ISP.
“So, with every pixel, the AI informs the ISP, ‘That came from a face, that came from the sky.’
The ISP can process those different pixels entirely differently, making the sky bluer, skin smoother, hair more detailed, fabric more textured, and so on, “Heape stated.
Qualcomm demonstrated several examples of how semantic segmentation will improve photos taken by Snapdragon 8 Gen 2-powered phones, and the results were quite impressive. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2’s semantic segmentation was able to boost the pink color of the petals in one shot of flowers, making them appear less drab in the shot; similarly, different items of food on a dinner plate received some color enhancements to make the entire dish appear more appetizing.
My favorite semantic segmentation demonstration involved a shot of someone wearing glasses with some background lights causing glare on the lenses. The ISP on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 removed the lens flare, resulting in a much better portrait shot.
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Bokeh Engine Enhancement
In terms of portrait shots, the bokeh engine on the it will be improved. Last year’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 included a bokeh engine for adding soft backgrounds to videos, but now you can customize the size and shape of those blurs.
Qualcomm, in particular, set up a station where you could take a portrait shot with lights in the background. You could then use the bokeh engine to change how those lights appeared in the picture, changing the blur from simple dots to heart and diamond shapes.
By the way, those changes happen in real-time, as you can see in the viewfinder of the reference design phone Qualcomm was using, so I imagine the effect will work similarly on handsets built by phone makers who use the capability.
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Horizon Leveling
Even if you can’t always stay perfectly still, horizon leveling keeps your shot steady and stable. The Gen 2 can correct this in real-time for still photos and video, so your images don’t look like they were shot with the titled camera angles popularized in the 1960s Batman TV show.
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Sensor Support
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 supports multiple sensors, including the Samsung ISOCELL HP3 for 200MP cameras and a pair of Sony sensors. The IMX800 QDO14 and IMX989 sensors use quad digital overlap HDR technology optimized for Snapdragon.
The demo was brief, but the HDR provided by the Sony sensors appears less grainy, so you can expect sharper shots if the camera phone you purchase uses Sony’s latest sensors.
These are just a few of the enhancements of the Gen 2, including an AV1 codec with support for 8K HDR video playback at 60 frames per second. There is support for cinematic video blur, as seen on the Pixel 7, iPhone 13, and later. Android 13 APIs enable third-party camera apps to access the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 camera features.