This AI lets you carry a DSLR in your pocket

Smartphone cameras are pretty incredible things to have in your pocket, and the Pixel 2 does a very good job of making every image look fantastic. But you can’t do better than a big, full-frame DSLR – the trouble is, they’re not very pocket-friendly. So, if you’re fed up of your phone taking washed out, shallow photos, this AI is designed to take your old smartphone pictures and give them DSLR-like quality – even if your smartphone isn’t all that snazzy.

Known as WESPE (Weakly Supervised Photo Enhancer), the team of data scientists behind the project aim to bring DSLR-like qualities to smartphone cameras. The idea is that, by training a deep learning system using photos of the same scene taken with a phone camera and on a DSLR, it’ll learn the difference and automatically make those adjustments on images it’s never seen before.

Basically, it learns what the differences are in terms of image quality and automatically makes those improvements. You can think of it as an incredibly smart version of Photoshop’s automatic calibration tools. You can even give it a go yourself via an online tool.

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Some images do look a lot better after being processed by the AI, but it’s definitely still a work in progress. One glance at the images on the WESPE site and you can tell that the AI-enhanced images have really gone through a process, they don’t feel anywhere near as natural as a DLSR shot actually would. Many of the colours are oversaturated, and the image has been sharpened significantly, making it look artificial. You can also see the same in the images uploaded to this piece.

What it does highlight, however, is just how flat and lifeless a lot of smartphone camera photos are once they’re no longer viewed on a phone. Many smartphones have automatic adjustments to make any photo taken on them look best on their displays – take them off and view them on a computer, however, and they’re pretty lifeless.

In many cases, I actually prefer the original shots over the enhanced ones, as they look more natural – softer edges and a more gentle contrast. However, it’s amazing that this assistive photo technology exists and could well come to any smartphone in the future to let users take full-frame-like photos with their phones.

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