Samsung Phones’ Moon Photos Might Be Too Good to Be True

Is the "Space Zoom" feature overrated?

Space Zoom
A Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G smartphone.
SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images

If you have a fondness for stargazing, it’s entirely understandable that you might want your primary camera — which, for most people, is their smartphone — to be able to take memorable photos of stars, planets and the Moon. It is possible to take amazing photos of the night sky, mind you — but that’s often associated with long exposures, tripods and an amount of advance planning.

In 2020, Samsung announced the Galaxy S20 Ultra — and an accompanying feature called “Space Zoom.” Among the things that users can, nominally, do with this feature is take detailed photos of the Moon. This month, however, a viral post on Reddit cast some doubt on this feature’s veracity.

The post, from user ibreakphotos, explains the process they took to debunk the feature. The user began by downloading a high-res image of the Moon. “I downsized it to 170×170 pixels and applied a gaussian blur, so that all the detail is GONE,” they wrote. Then they took a photo of this image on their monitor from across the room. The result? A detailed-looking photo of the Moon.

As James Vincent and Jon Porter concluded in an article for The Verge, this means that “Space Zoom” isn’t quite operating as advertised. “[A]s the Reddit tests show, Samsung’s process is more intrusive than this: it doesn’t just improve the sharpness of blurry details — it creates them,” they write.

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As The Verge’s article points out, the “Scene Optimizer” feature on Samsung plays a part here. Samsung’s own website points out that this feature “goes a step further to automatically enhance the effect and quality of your images.” All of which creates something of a grey area when it comes to the veracity of certain images. Will that be enough for your own lunar photos? That’s likely to vary from person to person.

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