When I was very young, I was horrified when my dad inexplicably wrenched off the upper half of his thumb. He then proceeded to taunt me, sliding it back and forth along his index finger. Before I could flee in abject terror, he returned the surprisingly mobile and agile half-a-digit to its rightful place. His thumb was whole again. Magic! Only it wasn’t, because it was sleight of hand, like all magic is. Which brings us to Samsung Space Zoom and the moon.
Samsung’s tech is the photographic equivalent of advancing from sliding a thumb about to becoming 63% of a Penn & Teller. You point your blower’s camera at the heavens and shoot. Whereas other phones might depict the moon as a blurry white blob, Samsung flagships give you the moon! Just like your eyes saw. Only not really, because, again, sleight of hand.
Snap out of it
Hang on, you might say. Lots of commentators said there’s genuine magic going on here – well, tech magic, at any rate. Samsung is using AI to upscale imagery and eke out extra detail from your photo, capturing high-quality snaps of a full moon to howl at during those nights when you’re not busy pretending to be a werewolf. Nope. The suitably named ibreakphotos broke Samsung Space Zoom’s reputation on Reddit, disproving Samsung’s claims with the precision of a knife-thrower who doesn’t lop off someone’s ear.
Long story short, he downloaded and downsized a high-res image of the moon and blurred it to oblivion. He full-screened the pic on his monitor, dimmed the lights, shot the screen with his Samsung phone, and watched as it helpfully AId-up the not-moon. At least, the not-real-moon. Because it was a blurry photo on a screen, rather than a celestial body in the sky.
Going for a victory lap, ibreakphotos performed another experiment, placing a small grey square over a portion of the not-moon, which his Samsung Galaxy S23 dutifully filled in with moon texture. Oops. Samsung, having freaked out that someone had essentially loudly yelled “I know you’re doing the thumb trick”, issued a press statement, with a title so long the company presumably hoped you’d fall asleep before reading any further.
Over the moon
To summarise the piece, it’s lots of blather about deep AI and scene optimisation, which doesn’t hide the fact the phone is using AI to add detail to something that isn’t actually there, based on what probably would be there if only the phone had the capabilities of capturing said details itself. Which it doesn’t. To which I say: it doesn’t matter. Really.
Smartphones have spent years adjusting what’s in front of your face. Colours are tweaked. Elements are sharpened. It’s a heightened version of the world as you see it. Some dodgy PR and claims aside, Samsung’s sleight of hand is just another step on this journey. And with how the tech industry is progressing, Samsung Space Zoom will soon be the least of your problems, if you covet realism.
Midjourney v5 last week showed AI imagery creation has progressed to the point it can now draw photorealistic hands with the right number of fingers, and photorealistic everything else. Bung that in a smartphone, and everything you shoot could feasibly look like anything else, depending on the settings you (or the manufacturer) chooses.
In the future, everyone in a photo will smile, because that’s friendly, whether they were actually smiling or not. Litter will be eradicated and every street will be clean, unless you’re looking at the real street. You won’t be able to believe anything you see in any picture, but that’s OK, because by then the screens will be on your face. You’ll swim around in an unreality uncanny valley AR metaverse forever, while the real world is on fire. But at least the moon will look perfect.