Developer tests 2020 iPhone SE camera, results show impressive photography for a single-camera setup

Developer tests 2020 iPhone SE camera, results show impressive photography for a single-camera setup
Ben Sandofsky, an iOS developer behind popular camera app Halide, has taken a deep look at the newly-released 2020 iPhone SE's single-camera setup.

As we know, the new budget iPhone is priced so low in part due to its reuse of an old iPhone shell, the one from the 2017 iPhone 8, while its internals and camera have been significantly upgraded.

The first notable feature of the lone back camera on the new iPhone SE is what is called "Single Image Monocular Depth Estimation," it's the technology that makes Portrait Mode photography possible via only a single camera. Normally, at least two cameras are used for a smartphone to get a good enough idea of which objects are in the background, and therefore should be blurred out, and who, or what, is the main subject.

It's notable that those impressive results despite a single camera are achieved entirely through machine learning. And due to the lack of more advanced sensors on the SE, its camera can even be tricked into registering a flat photo as a scene with depth, as shown on the photo below.

Ben notes that Apple likely disabled the option to take Portrait Mode photos on non-human subjects due to the results likely to turn out badly, with wrong parts of the image ending up blurry. This is seen in the next image, where the SE registered part of the background, a tree, as part of the subject, so it wrongly didn't blur it.

And while the flagship, cutting-edge iPhone 11 Pro is capable of distinctly detecting the depth of various objects in a scene, the SE 2 simply "gets the general gist of things." As seen below, the latter is notably less capable of precise object edge detection.

Ben notes that the machine-learned depth data the SE 2 camera collects is available to developers, so even though Apple itself doesn't want to make bold claims that it works well on non-humans, third-party developers can still use that data on their own apps.

Earlier in April we also covered the testing of the iPad Pro camera set up and its LiDAR sensor done by another Halide developer, which too gave us a fascinating look into the technology behind it, and the future uses of LiDAR.

The 2020 iPhone SE 2 itself was released on April 24, featuring a small 4.7-inch screen, a fairly outdated look, but monster specs on the inside, especially for a budget $400 device, and is likely to be a huge success for Apple.

Related phones

iPhone SE (2020)
  • Display 4.7 inches 1334 x 750 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP (Single camera) 7 MP front
  • Hardware Apple A13 Bionic 3GB RAM
  • Storage 64GB, not expandable
  • Battery 1821 mAh
  • OS iOS 14.x


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