Apple Even Studied Paintings to Improve the Camera in iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X

The camera in the iPhone 8 Plus is, according to the renowned DxO Mark ranking system, spectacular. This is a sentiment that was echoed in a variety of reviews for the handset, too.

And now, BuzzFeed News has sat down with Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller and other executives to discuss the new camera system that is in place within the iPhone 8 Plus and the upcoming iPhone X. Schiller, unsurprisingly, is in love with the camera system in both devices, and he is very eager to talk about the process that Apple went through to reach the levels that they did. For Apple it wasn’t just about studying photography, but about lighting in general, and that meant the company “didn’t just study portrait photography. We went all the way back to paint.”

The new dual-camera system in both the iPhone 8 Plus and the iPhone X don’t rely on filters to get the staged look that many photo apps have to rely on. Instead, Apple relies on machine learning and the camera system to sense depth, map the depth in the image, and then quickly change lighting contours over whatever the subject of the picture is. The new “Portrait Lighting” effect will only be available on the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, with the iPhone 8 using only a single camera system on the back.

“If you look at the Dutch Masters and compare them to the paintings that were being done in Asia, stylistically they’re different,” Johnnie Manzari, a designer on Apple’s Human Interface Team, says. “So we asked why are they different? And what elements of those styles can we recreate with software?”

Studying is one thing, but there’s always the practice of the learned elements that is just as important. Apple went into the lab quite a few times to work out the things they were discovering in their work, trying one thing, then another, before ultimately moving forward with another. That meant trying to understand the contours of the human face, among other things.

“We spent a lot of time shining light on people and moving them around — a lot of time,” Manzari says. “We had some engineers trying to understand the contours of a face and how we could apply lighting to them through software, and we had other silicon engineers just working to make the process super-fast. We really did a lot of work.”

But just having a great camera in itself was not the only reason Apple wanted such a powerful, capable unit. Augmented Reality and Face ID, Apple’s new biometric security measure, also had a role in improving the camera overall.

“There’s the Augmented Reality team, saying, ‘Hey, we need more from the camera because we want to make AR a better experience and the camera plays a role in that,'” Schiller says. “And the team that’s creating Face ID, they need camera technology and hardware, software, sensors, and lenses to support on-device biometric identification. And so there are many roles the camera plays, either as a primary thing — to take a picture — or as a support thing, to help unlock your phone or enable an AR experience. And so there’s a great deal of work between all the teams and all of these elements.”

The full interview is definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re on the fence between the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. The camera capabilities in the larger handset might just make it worth it.

[via BuzzFeed News]