APPLE customers are complaining that the new iPhone XS camera is making them look too beautiful.
It’s led some users to accuse Apple of adding a secret “beauty filter” to selfies that smooths out skin – but it’s unlikely that’s the case.
Apple ‘beautygate’ – why are people complaining?
Since the new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max came out, users have been complaining about a mysterious skin-smoothing effect on selfies.
Compared to older iPhone models, some selfies on the new phone seem to be aggressively smoothed-out, making faces appear less detailed.
A Reddit thread complaining about the issue has received 8,000 “upvotes” (or likes), and more than a thousand replies.
The original poster wrote: “iPhone XS is applying skin smoothing/beauty filter on the front-facing camera without telling you and no way to disable it. This is not acceptable.”
Popular tech vlogger Lewis Hilsenteger, who runs the Unbox Therapy channel on YouTube, even dedicated a whole video to the phenomenon.
In it, he said: “iPhone XS portrait seems like it’s doing more aggressive skin smoothing.
“Somehow the device was putting me in some kind of automatic beauty mode or something.”
Lots of frustrated owners of Apple’s new iPhones – which cost anywhere from £999 to £1,449 – have been complaining on Reddit.
One wrote: “I just got my phone and love it, but when I opened the camera app to the front-facing camera, my face looked like it had a Snapchat filter on it.
“My skin looks too smooth.”
Another Reddit user said: “iPhone XS front camera terrible? I thought it was just the apps like Snapchat and Instagram but when I go to the actual camera app, the front camera takes actually blurry/grainy pics.
“Really disappointed honestly, my iPhone 7 took far better front-facing pictures than this phone.”
It might sound like a strange thing to moan about – who doesn’t want their selfies to look more attractive?
But gadget enthusiasts want their snaps to look accurate, especially if they’ve paid £1,000 or more for their phones.
iPhone selfie smoothing – the best explanation revealed
So is Apple actually adding a “beauty filter” to your photos? Almost certainly not – but there’s a good reason why it seems that way.
Photographer Sebastiaan de With, who works at camera app firm Halide, has written a detailed analysis of Apple’s new iPhone XS camera system.
For its 2018 iPhones, Apple very slightly improved the physical camera system, adding a deeper and larger sensor.
But most of the changes were on a software level, with Apple changing the way your photos are processed.
For instance, your iPhone now starts taking photos as soon as the camera app is opened, so that there’s no delay when you hit the shutter button.
And when you take a photo, the iPhone XS actually captures multiple frames at once.
All of these frames are exposed at different levels, and then your camera takes the best of these frames and blends them into one really great image.
It’s an easy way to improve photos taken in difficult lighting conditions, particularly when there are dark and light areas in a single shot.
To do this, your camera needs to be able to take lots of photos very quickly.
That means Apple had to increase the shutter speed, which inevitably gives the camera sensor less time to capture light.
Less light is bad for photography, so Apple had to find a workaround.
According to Sebastiaan, the camera app has increased the ISO level, which determines how sensitive the camera sensor is to light.
So less light is coming in, but the camera is more sensitive to light overall – creating a balancing effect.
The problem with increasing ISO levels is that you end up with more noise in your photo. Noise is that rough, speckled effect you often get in very dark photos, where an image has struggled to capture detail.
Apple then has to use software tricks to remove this noise, which ultimately leads to a smoother looking image.
Selfies are often taken in low-light conditions, which creates even more noise – requiring more smoothing.
iPhone ‘beautygate’ issue – contrast all plays a part
That’s not the only reason why your photos are looking smoother, though.
In photography, there’s an effect called local contrast.
Local contrast is how you recognise sharpness in photos.
It’s where you have dark or light outlines around contrasting light or dark shapes, which makes objects in your image look sharp.
When you use an app to sharpen your photo, you’re not adding detail – although it looks that way. You’re actually just boosting the light and dark edges of objects.
This creates the illusion that an image is sharper.
Apple’s new iPhone XS is much better at exposing images, so you end up with less local contrast.
That ultimately means that the image looks smoother.
New iPhone UK prices revealed
Here’s how much the new 2018 models will cost you in the UK…
- iPhone XR (64GB) – £749
- iPhone XR (128GB) – £799
- iPhone XR (256GB) – £899
- iPhone XS (64GB) – £999
- iPhone XS (256GB) – £1,149
- iPhone XS (512GB) – £1,349
- iPhone XS Max (64GB) – £1,099
- iPhone XS Max (256GB) – £1,249
- iPhone XS Max (512GB) – £1,449
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iPhone XS ‘beautygate’ fix – will Apple stop smoothing your photos?
The first thing to note is that Apple isn’t using a “beauty filter”.
But your photos probably are looking smoother, which is just a result of how the iPhone takes snaps now.
The good news is that this is simply a software trick, so Apple could very easily change it.
However, there’s no guarantee that Apple will ever issue a fix.
There’s a chance we might see Apple making the system optional – image-merging on the rear camera can be turned off already, for instance.
But Apple is keeping mum about selfie smoothing for now.
Apple declined to comment on this story.
What do you think of Apple’s new iPhones? Let us know in the comments!
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