Taking pictures of the Moon from Earth is difficult. Unless you have the right kit, you’ll likely end up with a blurry, bright mess. Samsung introduced a system called "Space Zoom" with its Galaxy S20 smartphone camera that it claimed can zoom in to deliver details of the lunar surface, but some are calling foul at how the function has been marketed and how it appears to work.
According to Samsung, Space Zoom is a 100x zoom and, thanks to the Optical Image Stabilization in the phone, the latest Galaxy S23 Ultra can capture the craters of the Moon in detail. Redditor ibreakphotos doesn’t think that is true. In a Reddit post, they explain how they tricked the system into delivering a great picture of the Moon when it would be impossible for the camera to do so.
“Many of us have witnessed the breathtaking moon photos taken with the latest zoom lenses, starting with the S20 Ultra. Nevertheless, I've always had doubts about their authenticity, as they appear almost too perfect,” ibreakphotos wrote. “While these images are not necessarily outright fabrications, neither are they entirely genuine. Let me explain.”
To test this out, they downloaded a high-res photo of the Moon onto their computer, used a Gaussian Blur function to blur it, and then photographed the monitor from across the room with the phone. The gaussian blur made it appear fuzzy and undetailed, similar to how the Moon itself might appear to your regular phone camera. The difference is that there are no details there to recover using stabilization or other optical tricks. The details are simply not there. And yet, the Redditor still managed to get a pretty good picture of the Moon. The camera added detail that wasn't there.
Unless, they claim, the camera is not doing any fancy optics at all. Instead, there is artificial Intelligence behind the curtain, adding details to the Moon photo. This suggests a machine learning algorithm is adding details from other high-quality pictures of the Moon that it has been trained on rather than taking multiple frames and processing them, they wrote.
People online seem divided about how they feel about this. Some are angry that Samsung appears to have misled them on how its "Space Zoom" actually works, while others don’t seem too bothered about it, commenting that the zoom works well enough to reproduce what you can see with your own eyes, and it doesn’t matter that software is taking a shortcut to reach a photograph faithful to our visual experience.
This isn't the first time Samsung has been accused of "faking" Moon shots. Samsung has admitted to using AI to enhance photos in the past, but the difference between using an algorithm to correct photos for clarity, much like many smartphones do, and producing a new photo with additions coming from elsewhere eg another existing photo is key.
IFLScience has reached out to Samsung asking for comments regarding the accusation, the feature, and its functioning. At the time of publishing, we have not received a reply but will update the article if we do.