OnQ Blog

Snapdragon 820 sneak peek: advanced imaging experiences with Qualcomm Spectra camera

Oct 12, 2015

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

You snap a photo with your smartphone, a beautiful image appears on your display, and uploaded art raises you to demi-god status on Instagram. This action can be so easy and so fast that it is easy to take the tech behind it for granted. So sit back and get ready to learn how the Qualcomm Spectra camera ISP, exclusive to the upcoming Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, is designed to improve your image quality and enable advanced imaging experiences.

Learn more about the small wonders of mobile photography

Follow the light

To appreciate how Qualcomm Spectra supports stunning photography, let’s start with the fundamentals. The lenses you see staring back at you on your phone are one piece of the major hardware components in a camera module. Several lenses focus light for the next stage, but like an iceberg, the bigger story is underneath the surface.

The next stage is the image sensor, which collects the focused light. The light waves’ brightness and color are then recorded and passed along. By this point, the “analog” light waves are focused and digitized. Next is where the magic happens. In summary, the lens and sensor collect. The ISP perfects.

Behold the three As

Advanced auto-focus, auto-exposure, and auto-white balance (3A) are key contributors to Snapdragon processors’ support for outstanding image quality.

Improved contrast auto-focus (AF) allows you to capture the moment at just the right time, quickly and with sharpness and detail that you typically wouldn’t get with a smartphone. AF is designed to deliver a sharp image, either working alone or in conjunction with a focus speed booster, such as laser sensors. The Snapdragon 820 processor supports dramatically improved AF performance.

Auto-exposure (AE) and auto-white balance (AWB) detect the constantly changing ambient light qualities of the scene you’re photographing and adjusts the camera to maintain just the right brightness and color. Qualcomm Technologies provides a powerful solution for AE and AWB. It involves determining color and intensity ranges of the light through sophisticated algorithms and tells the ISP and image sensor the proper processing characteristics so your pictures are neither too saturated nor too stark in contrast.

Mastering the art of the pixel why the current Snapdragon 810 and 808 processors are in the highest scoring devices for DXOmark, a highly-respected industry benchmark for image quality.

Capture it like a pro

Most non-professional cameras have a limited dynamic range which makes it hard to reproduce the full range of light and color in a real life scene. For example of scenarios with a wide-rage, think of those dramatic sunset photos, which include dark shadows contrasting with the burning sun. As the name suggests, dynamic Local Tone Mapping (LTM) technology remaps the tones, one upon another, to support the appearance of high dynamic range (HDR) images. It boosts shadow details so they’re more visible, improves contrast for sharper definition, and generates closely the scene’s natural color appearance. 

Let there be light

Low-light video and photography has always been a challenge for smartphone image sensors. That problem of capturing the limited light is exacerbated if the ISP cannot handle a high frame rate and resolution. The result is your image will suffer in clarity, with visual artifacts and noise (the fuzziness you see in night pictures and shadows). Qualcomm Spectra ISP provides the needed level of performance, so snapshots in lower light conditions will look super clear without the visual noise typically seen from mobile phones.

To help some of these advanced algorithms run even faster and at lower power, our superhero Qualcomm Spectra can rely on its Qualcomm Hexagon 680 DSP sidekick. Hexagon Vector eXtension (HVX) is a new advanced imaging hardware feature designed to help boost the DSP horsepower. For example, this low-light video example is processed at 3X the speeds and at 10X lower power than by using the CPU alone. 

What’s Next

The Qualcomm Spectra ISP will debut in the upcoming Snapdragon 820 processor, and the release date for devices is expected around the first half of 2016. It supports amazing image quality through perfecting the pixel quality. It also has the processing power to provide superior features and experiences for fantastic photos and videos. But capturing ultra-realistic photos is just the foundation of what Spectra will support. Armed with that level of quality, there are even more impressive use cases on the horizon. Stay tuned to this space for more details.

Qualcomm Snapdragon, Qualcomm Hexagon, and Qualcomm Spectra are products of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.