The Galaxy S23 Ultra is one of the best Android phones your money can buy right now. If you have one, the very first thing you’ve probably tried out right out of the box and set up is this snazzy new 200MP camera. But perhaps the phone’s coolest trick is its telephoto camera. These phones’ ability to combine that lens with an additional digital zoom to capture some surprisingly decent pictures of the moon (up to 100x famously) went viral last year with the launch of the Galaxy S22 Ultra – and Samsung’s latest phone is just as powerful of this one. However, a minor scandal has erupted over the claim that these moon shots were artificially enhanced with an excessive dose of AI. However, if you ask me, this whole thing is being grossly overdone. Actually, it’s not a bad thing at all.
Is my Galaxy S23 Ultra taking fake moon pictures?
Well, I wouldn’t call them “fake”. Finally, point your phone at the moon and take a picture. What your phone captures is a real photo of our planet’s lone natural satellite and the sunlight that shines on it and reflects back at you, showing its prominent impact craters and mare. Nothing about it is fake; When there is a crescent moon or a full moon, it looks the same as if you point a telescope up and look directly at it.
What you might consider “fake” are AI enhancements made to your images during post-processing to make them appear better and have a lot more detail. Samsung’s photo processing uses an AI model that can detect when a user has taken a picture of the moon and compares the information your camera captures with more detailed close-up photos of the moon to pull more detail out of the picture you already have took.
Your phone’s 10-megapixel rear telephoto camera used for these shots isn’t physically capable of capturing that much detail from the moon alone — not without an optical zoom Away at least more than just 10X. It’ll capture some key detail, and you’ll easily end up with a shot that’s vaguely moon-ish, but it could look a lot blurrier than you’d hope. That’s where the AI comes in – it takes the detail you can capture and fills in the gaps to improve the shot for you.
However, some people seem to have thought that Samsung’s smartphones produce those insane moon shots entirely on their own, with minimal post-processing to help. Because of this, many were stunned to discover that the moon shots produced by the phones are actually powered by an AI model. A Reddit post showing how much detail adding Samsung was enough to spark controversy, with many pointing fingers at Samsung for misleading claims or even false advertising.
Why is this controversial?
This is causing a huge outrage on social media and I can’t help but wonder why this is such a big deal. For starters, Samsung doesn’t even hide the fact that it uses AI to enhance your ultra-zoomed shots of the moon. The company has a page in Korean detailing exactly how this AI mockup, which has been in action since the Galaxy S21 Ultra launched two years ago, works. Samsung has debated for quite some time what post-processing does, how it does it, and under what conditions the AI model kicks in. We even learn how to deal with edge cases, like what it does to accommodate sub-optimal conditions like camera shake. or clouds in the sky blocking the view.
It’s worth noting that following this latest outcry, Samsung stands its ground and denies any wrongdoing, sticking to its earlier statement that artificial intelligence enhances these images but does not produce fake ones.
Samsung doesn’t force this experience on anyone either, and if you feel wrong about artificially enhanced moon images, you can easily turn them off by disabling your camera app’s scene optimization feature. You get these moon images exactly as your camera captures them – they’re just a lot blurrier and with far less detail.
But really, why would you want to do that? The use of AI and machine learning in our phones’ cameras is now commonplace and has been for years. In the case of Samsung, we’ve had this type of AI-optimized camera since the Galaxy S10, which was released back in 2019. Unless you really go out of your way to disable any sort of picture enhancement your phone includes, that means all the pictures your phone takes are a mix of what the sensor sees and what algorithms decide – and not just the pictures you take of the moon. Does that make your phone’s pictures fake? No of course not. These AI models all work with real image data, and their presence is just a regular part of post-processing at this point.
We live in a world where AI-enhanced imagery is not only common, but also what most people expect. If you actively forego these optimizations, your images will look worse. It’s being done by everyone from Apple to Google to Xiaomi, and for good reason: software offers an essentially free way to make pictures look better. And when you combine that with the regular hardware innovations in smartphone cameras, it’s so hard to leave the possibilities on offer. Given all of this, is it really that important that Samsung added an additional AI model to identify and enhance moon images?
There is no shame in enjoying your moon images
Where do we draw the line when AI transcends reality? It could be argued that if what the AI is doing, then it is substitute the picture you took with another, more detailed, then it is not a real photo. That seems to be the angle that most people are now taking on Samsung for this reason. But that’s not really the case and I wouldn’t classify it as problematic. Sure, you can “trick” the algorithm to produce a moon photo that shouldn’t be possible. But as said, Samsung has been open about this for years and continues to make the feature available because the vast majority of users actually want it.
AI improvements are everywhere. Don’t be ashamed to upload these moon images to your social media and keep using your phone’s space zoom capabilities as a party trick with your friends. If any of them try to tell you they’re fake, just remind them that their iPhone is also constantly enhancing photos with AI. It’s not a sin if everyone does it, is it?