Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Space Zoom controversy: What you need to know

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  • Samsung has been accused of overlaying existing images on top of user-captured moon photos
  • The company rejected these accusations in an email statement
  • Samsung has a post from 2021 detailing how the AI handles images of the moon

Samsung is among the top smartphone brands in the world thanks to a decent collection of high-end and mid-range/budget phones and tablets. However, the company isn’t far away from controversies. Whether it was being accused of copying the Apple iPhone and iOS with its first-gen Galaxy S flagship over a decade ago, including elements like the slide-to-unlock feature.

The most recent accusation to be levied on the South Korean manufacturer pertains to its iconic Space Zoom feature, which has been around for a couple of years and is also the marquee feature of the recently launched Galaxy S23 Ultra. A curious Redditor going by the handle u/ibreakphotos, posted a side-by-side image of a blurry moon next to a highly-detailed photo of the earth’s natural satellite.

Also ReadXiaomi 13 Pro Vs Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

The problem

There was just one problem. According to ibreakphotos, the second image was actually captured from a monitor screen containing an intentionally blurry moon to gauge the Space Zoom feature’s capabilities. The user details the steps they took to snap the image you see above.

The first step was to download a high-res image of the moon from any number of sources, followed by downsizing it to 170 x 170 pixels with a gaussian blur applied on top to obscure its details further. Lastly, the user maximised the image to full screen on their monitor, switched off the lights in the room, stepped a few steps back to the other side of the room and captured the image from the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

In the conclusion paragraph, the user claims that Samsung’s moon pictures are “fake” while also deeming the company’s marketing strategy “deceptive.” The manufacturer rejected these claims in an email to Tom’s Guide, saying this effect is part of the Scene Optimized feature, which leverages AI to enhance images. The company reiterated that these AI and ML (machine learning) models do not involve adding an image on top of the captured photo.

Samsung also told the publication that users who don’t want this addition could disable Scene Optimizer from the camera settings. Doing this would result in normal photos of the moon, i.e., blurry.

Does Samsung have a point?

AI is a big part of our lives and has been for the past few years. This is what enables voice assistants to perform a multitude of tasks or learn from your habits and routines. The part of AI that handles smartphone photography is fairly similar. We can liken some of these effects to the numerous filters that apps like Snapchat and Instagram offer, virtually transforming the person on screen with seemingly minimal effort.

However, Samsung is being accused of deceptively marketing close-up shots of the moon as ones taken by the company’s new flagship. In the company’s defence, its statement explains the process that the device goes through while using Scene Optimization in tandem with Space Zoom.

Samsung explains the process involved in Space Zoom photos in the following way, “When a user takes a photo of the Moon, the AI-based scene optimization technology recognizes the Moon as the main object and takes multiple shots for multi-frame composition, after which AI enhances the details of the image quality and colours. It does not apply any image overlaying to the photo.”

Galaxy S2 Ultra, S23+, and S23

Galaxy S23 Ultra, S23+, and S23

It’s not for us to reach any conclusions about Samsung’s hardware, but as some Redditors noted, a post from 2021 on the company’s community forums page (in Korean) talks about the process in great detail. So it doesn’t seem like the manufacturer is hiding how the AI processes work, especially with regard to moon photography.

As for people who own the Galaxy S23 Ultra or its predecessors, there’s no need to be disappointed just yet. However, bragging about your Galaxy flagship’s moon photography capabilities may begin to lose its charm. Thankfully, the Galaxy S23 Ultra can still do many things that other phones can’t, so it’s not all bad in the long run.

There are other, more serious instances of downright deception, with Huawei caught using professional photos and passing them off as the ones taken with their device. A 2018 Ars Technica report details how the company thought it was wise to market the AI beauty feature of the Huawei Nova 3’s front camera by simply using an image captured with the DSLR.

Sources: Reddit, Tom’s Guide

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