Have you ever tried to take a photo of the moon? A few years back during a total lunar eclipse, also known as a blood moon, I was fascinated by the clear view of this red moon in the night sky. I took out my phone but the photo was unrecognizable. This happens to thousands of people. Our phones’ cameras simply don’t have enough power to capture the fine details on an object so far off and minuscule. The darkness of the night sky doesn’t help either. However, recent years have seen phones getting clearer images. But people are skeptical if the ability of Samsung’s smartphones to take photos of the moon is just fake.
We’ve reached a point where smartphone cameras have peaked in usage. So it’s a no-brainer that getting a very clear shot of the moon can be taken as an opportunity for a company like Samsung. Beginning with the Galaxy S20 Ultra models, the company started to include a Space Zoom feature to accomplish this. With this, you can take clear pictures of the moon with no extra equipment but your phone. You can even take a photo of the moon with its craters visible.
The Moon looks like an Egg tonight 🥚
Pic 1 – 30x
Pic 2 – 100x
📷 Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra pic.twitter.com/SqDPWSaLne
— Parth Monish Kohli (@Pmkphotoworks) March 11, 2023
But is it real?
If you’ve read about similar AI image sharpeners, you know usually it’s about image upscaling, taking each pixel and making it larger while keeping it consistent with the whole picture. What users were noticing with Samsung’s Space Zoom effect was that did not match that pattern. Ever since the effect’s launch in 2020, users reported it was replacing their images with new textures instead of upscaling them, superimposing moon details and craters from other images. Other companies that worked on similar space enhancement effects also had their own conspiracies.
For Samsung, the conspiracy on whether the moon photos were real or not remained a conspiracy on the side for years. There were some accusations and others tried to debunk the effect. No one from Samsung’s side responded officially until one Reddit post went viral on March 10, 2023.
Reddit user ibreakphotos discovers that Samsung's 'Space Zoom' simply replaces user's moon photos with higher-res images of the moon through a clever testing process. https://t.co/5cLybMld5s
This isn't computational photography — it's inserting imagery that simply isn't there. pic.twitter.com/67UyyUa7cX
— Halide (@halidecamera) March 11, 2023
The Reddit post
In an attempt to debunk Samsung’s Space Zoom effect, the Reddit poster downloaded a picture of the moon on the internet, downsized it, and applied a gaussian blur effect. He took a picture of his monitor with this same image while his lights were off. The resulting image had details that could not be there with simple retouching and upscaling. The effect, the poster explains, is supposed to zoom into a distant object and enhance the view. In this experiment, there was nowhere to zoom since the moon was a flat 2D image on a monitor that was intentionally blurred.
The poster went on to accuse Samsung of misleading its customers by claiming this effect is the result of multi-frame super-resolution processing when it is clearly superimposing with AI. While many users had brought up these accusations and made counter-arguments to defend Samsung in the past, this one post went so viral it caused Samsung to break the silence and explain how the effect works once and for all.
In a press release that was largely taken from its own blog post, Samsung explained that the Space Zoom feature takes multiple photos of the same scene at different zoom levels. Then, using AI, it combines and enhances the details from each image into a single, high-quality photo. This combination of images can entail using the lightness and darkness of the photo to contrapose them and combat the blur. They even provided an image directly addressing a purposefully blurred moon, just like the one the poster used.
As a reminder, this technology has been in use for years now. This press release on the Space Zoom effect coming just 5 days after a viral post accused them of faking photos with AI highly indicates this might be a direct response to the controversy.
The press release goes further explaining what the exact role of AI is in this effect. According to them, the AI recognizes if it is looking at a moon or not based on its learning set. Once the AI confirms it is a moon, various images are taken. Finally, they are joined into a single image to reduce noise and passed to a convolutional neural network AI to eliminate the remaining noise and enhance the image further.
People have speculated and made conspiracies about the world many times in the past. It is a curious case of how perhaps the most popular conspiracy in real life and digitally is about the moon. Samsung made their case and explained how this works, but not everyone is onboard the explanation. There are still people arguing it is superimposing images off Google. Personally, I believe its Space Zoom effect is genuine and I am really excited to take a picture of the next blood moon with this effect.
Photo credits: The feature image is symbolic and has been taken by Alex Andrews. All other Images shown in the body of the article are owned by Samsung and were made available for press usage.