Almalence SuperResolution now supports Mediatek APU

We are happy to announce that our SuperResolution is now fully ported to Mediatek APU, an AI processor powering high-end Mediatek smartphone chipsets.

With the addition of the APU version, Almalence SR now supports the high-end chipset DSPs of both major chipset makers, Qualcomm and Mediatek.

Running SuperResolution image processing on a specialized DSP brings the following advantages:

  • Much faster processing, up to real-time at video frame rates
  • Some 10-20 times lower power consumption
  • CPU offload, no blocking of UI and other applications
  • More sophisticated processing within a shorter time

In 2021, Almalence SuperResolution will be used to achieve unprecedented camera zoom quality on top smartphones powered by the newest Qualcomm 888 and Mediatek Dimensity chipsets.

Microsoft vs Almalence SuperResolution Zoom

While the number one thing that differentiates Microsoft’s new productivity device, the Surface Duo, is the new form factor, we are mostly interested in its camera performance, namely, zoom capability. Having a single camera module, the Surface Duo is said to have enhanced zoom quality by using a super-resolution zoom algorithm.

We were eager to compare Microsoft vs. Almalence Super Resolution Zoom performance, and here it goes – below are comparison results at 7x zoom (max available zoom factor on the Duo).

Siemens Star test chart, 7x zoom, Left: Microsoft Zoom, Right: Almalence SuperResolution Zoom

We particularly like Spilled Coins (aka Dead Leaves) chart, for it is nearly impossible to fake high resolution with it using sharpening. It also extremely well exposes detail loss due to noise reduction, highlighting the advantage of algorithms that suppress the noise without loss of detail.

DxOMark chart, Spilled Coins, 7x zoom. Left: Microsoft Duo built-in, Right: Almalence SuperResolution

Text readability test usually works well too:

Left: Microsoft Surface Duo 7x zoom; Right: Almalence Super Resolution Zoom

To summarize: while using a single camera module seems to make sense for the Surface Duo niche, Microsoft could have used a more powerful super-resolution technique to mitigate the device’s zoom quality limitation.

Huawei P40 Pro Super Resolution Zoom: How Good It Is and How Much Better It Could Be

The Huawei P40 Pro looks like the winner in the smartphone zoom race, achieving DxOMark Zoom Score of 115, the all-time high. However, its outstanding camera hardware, utilizing a 125mm f/3.4 telephoto module, is not the only key to success. Achieving the best results would not be possible without using a computational super resolution zoom technology. We did some testing to check how good it is and if better results could be achieved if using the leading Super Resolution technology from Almalence.

We will start with a side-by-side comparison and then discuss some interesting features of Huawei’s SR which we found during the testing. For the testing, we captured:

  • several JPEG images with the built-in camera app at 10x, those came out pretty different so we used the best one for comparison;
  • a series of RAW images with the 5x telephoto camera module, which were then processed with 2x Almalence Super Resolution.

The pictures were captured indoor, in good office lighting (~700 Lux). Note, as we used RAW images for processing, the colors in Almalence SR output are somewhat off.

Comparing the ability to resolve fine details shows a dramatic improvement when using Almalence Super Resolution Zoom:

Left: Huawei P40 Pro built-in 10x zoom; Right: Almalence Super Resolution Zoom

A strange effect in the next example, most of the fine text is “washed out” in the P40 Pro image. That can be caused by extreme noise filtering or input frames misalignment/deghosting.
Also note the highlighted character. It looks like Huawei’s algorithm employs a kind of a neural network, which tried to “guess” the object but in this case made a wrong guess. (We will show more examples of that NN’s job below)

Left: Huawei P40 Pro built-in 10x zoom; Right: Almalence Super Resolution Zoom

A testing with a wedge chart, Almalence SR Zoom increases the effective resolution by ~20..25% more than Huawei’s built-in algorithm:

Left: Huawei P40 Pro built-in 10x zoom; Right: Almalence Super Resolution Zoom

Getting back to the P40 Pro’s [supposedly] neural network, an interesting example below. First of all, the NN did an absolutely fantastic job resolving the hair (look at the areas 1 and 2). This looks like something beyond the normal capabilities of super resolution algorithms, which makes us convinced a neural network was involved. Exploring the image further, however, we can see that in some areas (e.g. area 3) the picture looks very detailed but actually unnatural (and yes, different from the original), so the NN made a visually nice, but actually a wrong guess. In the area 4, the algorithm “resolved” the eye in a way that it distorted the eyelid and iris geometry, making the two eyes looking at different directions; it also guessed the bottom eyelashes in a way that they look like growing from the eyeball, not the eyelid, which looks rather unnatural.

Left: Huawei P40 Pro built-in 10x zoom; Right: Almalence Super Resolution Zoom.
Huawei’s result looks more detailed, however in some areas those details are unnatural and do not reflect the original object.

To summarize, while the Huawei P40 Pro is clearly the winner in telephoto camera module hardware design, its computational zoom algorithm is not yet doing the best possible job. While having some advantages over Almalence’s Super Resolution Zoom in resolving certain kinds of objects, it could be better in terms of overall resolution capability. It would be really interesting to see what those algorithms could do if combined together, likely that would make an all-time best digital zoom technology.

A Zoom Technology Missing from iPhone 11 Pro

Despite having a telephoto camera module, iPhone 11 Pro zoom is still far behind the top performers which use Super Resolution Zoom.

Zoom has recently become one of the most important features of smartphone cameras with the leading OEMs advertising their devices achieving high picture quality at sometimes crazy zoom levels.

As every high-end smartphone, iPhone 11 Pro uses a dedicated telephoto camera module to achieve the maximum zoom quality. It appears however, that simply utilizing a telephoto module, even of a great design and quality which is undoubtedly the case with an Apple’s product, is not enough to achieve the top zoom performance. According to the DxOMark benchmark, iPhone 11 Pro achieves Zoom Score of 74 while, for example, Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro hits 110, a drastic 1.5x difference!

To go beyond the camera hardware capabilities, top Zoom performers utilize a computational imaging technique, Super Resolution Zoom. As its name suggests, it uses super resolution technique to increase the resolution of the images suffering from the lack of pixels in case the target zoom level exceeds the optical zoom of the telephoto module.

For example: zooming 4x with a 12 MP 2x telephoto module uses only 1/4 of its sensor, or just 3 Megapixels.

Besides improving the resolution, Super Resolution Zoom also increases the SNR, lost due to small aperture of a telephoto module, the higher the optical zoom level – the smaller is the aperture.

We made a few tests to check how Almalence Super Resolution Zoom, the most advanced digital zoom technology, would improve iPhone 11 Pro zooming capabilities. Check a couple of examples below:

iPhone 11 Pro, 4x zoom. Left: iPhone as is, Right: with Almalence Super Resolution Zoom

iPhone 11 Pro, 4x zoom. Left: iPhone as is, Right: with Almalence Super Resolution Zoom

The pictures speak for themselves. Apple can definitely achieve better zoom picture clarity by utilizing a computational super resolution technology.

Almalence Digital Lens to harness the full potential of Varjo’s human-eye resolution head-mounted display

From its beginning Varjo positioned itself as the leader of VR head-mounted displays megapixel race. Their “human-eye resolution” VR-1 truly shows more detail than any other existing HMD.

However, just offering a high pixel count does not mean the user will be able to see a crisp and clean picture through the HMD optics, and in fact, it is the optics which present a display quality bottleneck. In a head-mounted display there are severe design constraints especially in making the optics light weight and fit in a tight space. Those constraints lead to a compromised optical performance, resulting in color fringing and blur. Moreover, any movement of the eye pupil, which itself constitutes a lens element, makes the entire optical system quite different from the original optical design, so the blur and color fringing get even stronger as the eye looks off the optical axis.

Almalence Digital Lens is a computational lens aberrations correction solution which overcomes these limitations by compensating the aberrations of an HMD optics. It does the job of a corrective lens element which dynamically adjusts its properties depending on the eye pupil position. We were eager to check how that technology can improve picture clarity of the highest resolution HMD.

Note 1: This testing was performed by Almalence independently from Varjo. The Digital Lens test was implemented as a Unity application using public API.

Note 2: This is the very first testing, definitely showing sub-optimal results. We see a clear way to further improve the image clarity with the given headset.

We used a construction drawing as a test picture as it clearly demonstrates how the insufficient apparent resolution and clarity limit the VR usability.

The test picture

To take the images within the HMD, we used our camera system with our eye imitator, allowing to capture what a human eye would see.

In the first example the eye looks about 10 degrees off the center. The left part of the gaze area falls onto the high resolution “focus display”, the right part falls onto the lower resolution “context display”

Move the slider left/right to see the difference. Left: Varjo VR-1 as is; Right: VR-1 with Digital Lens. Despite the high display pixel count, the picture does not look very clear. One can even start feeling sick when trying to read the numbers. The very same display with the Digital Lens delivers much clearer and readable picture.

In the next example the eye looks straight at the center, along the optical axis – the ideal case in which the HMD delivers its highest possible picture quality. The gaze area is completely over the focus display. Even in that case the Digital Lens shows a noticeable improvement:

Left: Varjo VR-1 as is; Right: VR-1 with the Digital Lens. Same display, but more legible text and crisper lines.

The beauty of the Digital Lens solution is that it is a pure computational technique, adding no extra size, weight or mechanical complexity to the device.

As mentioned above, those are very first tests, more to follow. However the tests already prove that the Digital Lens is an indispensable technology for high-end VR headsets, allowing to harness the full potential of high display pixel count and density.

Google Super Resolution Zoom: Good Start but not There Yet

Our first testing of Google’s super resolution zoom recently announced in Pixel 3 shows that it indeed can restore some image details, but is still behind the best in class solutions.

Comparing to the “normal” digital zoom, which is basically an upscaling plus edge enhancement, Google’s zoom reveals some details that are indistinguishable in the “normal” image:

However, it’s still not the best of what super resolution can achieve. Below is a comparison of Google’s super resolution zoom to Almalence SuperSensor, a technique based on multi-frame super resolution, running on the same Pixel 3 smartphone:

It looks like Almalence SuperSensor is closer to be delivering on the “optical zoom” promise.

Another nice example captured when taking zoomed images of a book on optical design. Google super resolution makes the text somewhat better readable, however some characters still remain distorted beyond any possibility to recognize them. Also some minor color artefacts are introduced on the originally black text:

And again, if you really want to capture a readable text, Almalence SuperSensor is a solution (note that SuperSensor also got the white color of paper right):

Unfortunately, there is no way to reliably measure the Google’s super resolution processing time. It looks like the processing is performed in background. When trying to quickly open the image right after its icon appears in the camera app, the preview would still show a progress sign for a fraction of a second, probably implying that the image is still being processed. One can feel that the processing takes roughly one second altogether, but there is no way to verify that number. Almalence SuperSensor processing takes 200-500 ms on the same hardware (SnapDragon 845).

The full images used to make the above comparison examples are available in an archive below. Note: for accurate comparison the images of each scene were taken with the same Pixel 3 smartphone, from the same position under the same lighting. The zoom level might slightly differ between images as there is no way to precisely set the zoom factor in the Pixel 3 camera app. The Pixel 3 camera app, updated to the recent version as of Jan 25, 2018, was set to “HDR+” mode.

PS Stay tuned, we will soon show a comparison of super resolution zoom at video frame rates!

Google Super Resolution Zoom: Good Start but Long Way to Go

Please read the updated post.

After publishing this original post we were contacted by Google engineers who pointed out that HDR+ Super Res was not always on in the images we took. Of course, it happened unintentionally, there’s just no obvious way to make sure that Super Res kicks in when taking an image.

We have re-taken the test images as suggested by Google and we admit the results are much better now. However Almalence SuperSensor is still superior :).

xTeleZoom extends the lossless zoom range of iPhone 7+ dual camera

Computational imaging technology increases the resolution and enables high quality zoom beyond iPhone 7+ 2x telephoto camera hardware.

February 27, 2017. Barcelona.
Today at Mobile World Congress, Almalence, the leader in computational imaging technologies announced its xTeleZoom app for the iPhone, enabling extra high quality zoom capability. Using a sophisticated computational technique, the app is able to dramatically preserve resolution and suppress the noise while zooming.

Mobile phone photography is still limited in its ability to zoom in without sacrificing resolution and image detail. While there is no practical way to create an optical zoom solution in mobile form factor constraints, the phone makers, including Apple, add an extra telephoto camera to their devices to provide good zoom quality. This approach, however, is able to provide only a limited optical zoom factor as the longer focal length lenses in mobile size constraints suffer from decreased aperture, resulting in low resolution and high noise level.

“We developed xTeleZoom because even the most advanced hardware solutions alone cannot address the need for taking high quality zoom photos”, said Eugene Panich, CEO of Almalence. “The decreasing thickness of new phone generations poses bigger challenges on the lenses ability to zoom and resolve good image quality. Software like xTeleZoom is the only practical way to break the zoom quality barrier”.

Almalence’s xTeleZoom uses computational imaging technology that enables better zoom shots from the iPhone without compromised image quality. Originally developed for professional photography it’s now available as an iPhone app to extend the high quality zoom range of the telephoto camera of the iPhone 7+. The users of the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone 7 models without a tele camera will also benefit from higher quality zoom using the xTeleZoom app.

xTeleZoom is available on iTunes for $.99: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/xtele-zoom/id1189050574

xTeleZoom enables lossless zoom for iPhone

About Almalence
Almalence, an Intel Portfolio Company, is the global leader in computational imaging technologies used in a wide range of optical systems from high-end DSLR cameras to mobile phones. Almalence’s solutions are licensed by top smartphone OEMs. Almalence Inc. is a privately owned company with headquarters in Austin, Texas and the team distributed across the world – USA, Russia, Israel, China, and South Korea. For more information about Almalence technologies please visit www.almalence.com.

Almalence’s SuperSensor boosts mobile camera quality beyond physical limitations

Almalence Super Sensor LogoToday at the Embedded Vision Alliance meeting, Almalence has announced SuperSensor, a groundbreaking technology for integrated camera quality improvement without hardware modifications.

During the last few years mobile handset makers have been struggling to deliver the best image quality and advanced camera features. The camera has nearly become the number one feature of a mobile phone and the main thing that makes a difference for users. While the mobile camera quality seems to have nearly achieved its physical limitations, Almalence’s new technology is designed to give this a leap beyond confines.

SuperSensor Examples

Top: the font is too small, the illumination is too low and dynamic range is too high to capture the pictures.
Bottom: same scenes, same conditions, same camera, but with SuperSensor technology.

“Mobile handset makers always come to a point where camera quality improvement is impossible due to size restrictions or the cost, usually both”, says Eugene Panich, CEO of Almalence. “Using a computational component such as SuperSensor is a way to improve mobile camera features without adding a micron to its size and at just a small fraction of the cost of typical hardware improvement. While hardware improvements can take years to utilize, the time to market for a computational component could be as short as days, and you can even put it into the devices that are already sold via a system upgrade.”

Unlike other imaging solutions, each of which improves some specific property such as dynamic range or noise level only, SuperSensor provides complex improvements. Its effect is similar to replacing a 1/4” sensor with a 1/3” sensor containing more pixels, which results in higher resolution, lower noise, higher speed, and wider dynamic range altogether.

A demo of SuperSensor in a form of Android app for Nexus 5 is publicly available on Google Play. The first devices which utilize the Almalence SuperSensor technology are expected to be available on the market in 2015.

Further information, examples and demo can be found at: almalence.com/doc/super-sensor-demo

About Almalence
Almalence develops computational photography methods and imaging technologies that improve imaging quality and make advanced photography features available. Whether it is a mobile camera or a hi-end DSLR, a microscope or a satellite imaging system, Almalence’s solutions enable the improvement of basic image quality parameters such as resolution, low light performance, and dynamic range beyond the cameras’ physical limits. Almalence is a mobile imaging solutions provider for top mobile handset OEMs, a maker of the world’s best and unique desktop super resolution software and end-user mobile camera applications.