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Simultaneous capture should be 2022's must-have camera feature
Today’s flagship smartphones are absolutely jam-packed with camera features. From staples like HDR, night mode, and portrait mode to astrophotography, Single Take, Magic Eraser, and Clone mode, there really are no shortage of modes to choose from if you want to get creative (or just want a better shot).
In saying so, there’s one feature I’d really like Android manufacturers to embrace in 2022, and that’s simultaneous photo capture.
When we’re talking about simultaneous capture, we mean taking two or more photos at once. And no, we’re not talking about the Dual Sight or “Bothie” feature popularized by HMD’s Nokia phones, letting you take a photo via the rear camera and front shooter. We mean photos simultaneously shot via different rear cameras or several separate photos concurrently shot via the same camera. This isn’t a new feature but it’s one that, I feel, should be far more widespread.
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A brief history of simultaneous capture
One of the earliest examples of this tech came with Nokia’s Lumia Windows Phone handsets. Devices like the Lumia 1020 and 1520 offered the ability to simultaneously capture full-resolution (38MP and 19MP respectively) and oversampled images (5MP) back in 2013. This means you got one image for editing and another image that’s smaller, cleaner, and more suitable for sharing.
The fun didn’t stop there with these phones, as they also offered simultaneous JPEG and RAW capture. Yes, you could capture a full-resolution RAW shot and a 5MP oversampled JPEG. This was another example of how simultaneous image capture can be convenient, giving you a file for non-destructive editing and a smaller file for sharing again. This is actually one of the most common examples of this feature on the market today, with the likes of Google, Sony, OnePlus, and vivo all offering simultaneous RAW+JPEG capture on some devices.
The likes of Nokia, Samsung, and LG have all offered simultaneous camera capture tricks in years gone by.
Samsung is another prominent example of a company that embraced this feature. However, devices such as the 2017-era Galaxy Note 8 and Galaxy S9 Plus leaned on this for simultaneous capture via two different rear cameras. The so-called Dual Capture feature allowed you to take a picture from the main camera and a 2x telephoto shot at the same time. And it’s a feature that remained a Samsung staple until last year.
LG dabbled with this trend too, as the LG V40 not only offered triple rear camera previews (seen above) but also offered the Triple Shot feature back in late 2018. The phone actually captured photos one after the other rather than simultaneously, but the process seemed brisk enough. It even put together a janky yet neat animation that lets you zoom in and out from one shot to the next.
The industry has toyed with these types of features for a while but now is a good time for OEMs to embrace simultaneous capture tricks to an even greater extent.
Utilizing today’s powerful hardware
Modern processors are more than capable of simultaneous image capture smarts. For example, the Snapdragon 888 SoC which powers many of today’s flagships supports the ability to capture three 28MP shots at once, or 64MP+25MP dual camera capabilities. Meanwhile, the Dimensity 1200 chipset supports 32MP+16MP dual camera output. Samsung’s Exynos 2100 also offers concurrent data processing from four different camera sensors.
2022’s phone processors are upping the ante in an even bigger way when it comes to multi-camera and multi-frame prowess. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 serves up simultaneous 36MP triple camera capture or 64MP+36MP dual camera support. Qualcomm’s chipset even supports 240 12MP shots in burst mode (up from 120) and 30 frames of multi-frame image processing, illustrating just how much bandwidth is on tap. The upcoming Dimensity 9000 is similarly impressive, offering 32MP triple camera capture and triple 4K HDR video capture.
Modern processors support multi-lens simultaneous image capture — we just need manufacturers to include it.
The possibilities are almost endless with modern hardware then, and we’d definitely like to see companies resurrecting existing simultaneous capture modes and improving them.
For starters, Samsung’s old Dual Capture feature could expand to triple or even quad-camera capture. This would allow users to capture multiple perspectives at once, such as the main, ultrawide, short-range telephoto, and periscope lenses. This could be handy for situations like cityscape or landscape scenes, or any other scenes where you were planning to take shots at multiple zoom factors anyway.
In addition to the likes of Google, OnePlus, Sony, and vivo already supporting concurrent RAW and JPEG capture, we’d also like to see a few more manufacturers offering this take on the technology. This is especially relevant now that the likes of Apple, Samsung, and vivo are supporting enhanced RAW shots for more advanced editing.
There are even a few altogether different shooting options brands could implement to offer a more unique photography experience. We’d love to see manufacturers offering simultaneous high-resolution and pixel-binned photo capture, for example. This would let you crop in on the high-resolution shot later if you wanted, while still giving you a clean, smaller snap too.
We’ve also recently seen Apple offer customizable color profiles, and a logical next step would be to allow users to take two photos at once with each snap using a different specified color profile. We’d then be able to keep the one we liked best without having to go back and take another snap. Apple already gives you two files (with and without blur) when shooting in portrait mode, after all.
Assorted resolution, color profile, and AI-enhanced images would let us pick the best-looking shot without having to reshoot.
How about this tech being deployed to Pixels, taking one image with the shadow slider all the way up and another with the shadow slider reduced? Or somewhere in between. What about one shutter press giving you a shot with a smartphone’s AI mode on and one with the mode disabled? There’s a huge range of possibilities.
Why stop at images?
Simultaneous capture smarts aren’t limited to photos either. Flagship phones from HUAWEI and Samsung, as well as the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra seen above, offer a dual recording mode. This records video via two cameras, be it a front and rear camera or two rear cameras. In Xiaomi’s case, you can choose to combine the two video streams into one video using a side-by-side format, or it can spit out two separate 1080p video files in a more traditional aspect ratio.
It’s a really cool feature, and we’d love to see more manufacturers hop on this bandwagon, particularly when it comes to offering separate 16:9 video files. Nevertheless, today’s silicon offers support for features like triple 4K video, showing that concurrent recording via up to three rear cameras is within reach too.
There are a few challenges with simultaneous capture via two or more cameras though, with the first hurdle being thermal-related. We’ve already seen brands shy away from “unlimited” 960fps recording introduced by the Snapdragon 888 series, ostensibly due to thermal reasons. And we haven’t seen many companies offer concurrent video capture either, presumably for the same reasons.
Concurrent multi-camera video streams are a reality already with some brands, but there are still a few challenges to overcome.
Another challenge rightfully raised by Motorola representative Rahul Desai in an interview with video stabilization company iMint is video quality and stabilization. The interview specifically covers Motorola’s use of a rear and front camera for simultaneous video, but this applies to two or more rear cameras too.
Desai noted that “Additionally, simultaneous cameras draw a lot more attention to video stabilization per se because you can clearly see if one camera is more stabilized and has better algorithms than the other. As a result, it will look more professional if they are stabilized in sequence.” This presumably pertains more to recording two video streams as one file in a side-by-side format, but it’s still something for manufacturers to think about.
Concurrent image capture is clearly less ambitious than concurrent video capture, so we’d love to see this tech come to more phones in 2022 and beyond. After all, if the Galaxy Note 8, Lumia 1520, and LG V40 all offered differing takes on the technology years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t see more of it today. When combined with today’s better cameras, multiple lenses, and AI smarts, simultaneous capture should be a stand-out feature.