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What’s really going on with the Galaxy S23 Ultra moon photos

A few days ago, a Reddit post sparked a new controversy asking if the Galaxy S23 Ultra was faking its moon photos. Ever since Samsung began offering a periscope-style telephoto camera on its flagship devices that offers an unprecedented 10x optical and 100x digital zoom, moon photography has been marketed as one of the phone’s hottest tricks.

However, there is some valid history behind these suspicions. In 2019, Huawei faced accusations that the P30 Pro’s moon mode was faking photos using an overlay system, though the company denied this. The Galaxy S23 Ultra finds itself in a similar storm, but now the company has explained how to get those lunar-clear shots with its flagship.

What does Samsung say about all this

Galaxy S23 Ultra camera module.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Digital Trends reached out to Samsung with a set asking questions about the tech shenanigans going on behind the scenes. Here’s what the company said in an email response:

“When a user takes a photo of the moon, the AI-based scene optimization technology recognizes the moon as the main object and takes multiple shots to compose multiple frames, after which the AI ​​enhances the image quality and color details. No overlay is applied to the image.”

In short, the Galaxy S23 Ultra does what almost every smartphone camera does by default – apply a layer of adjustments to improve the end result. In Samsung’s case, this optimization happens courtesy of the Scene Optimizer feature, which you can choose to disable at will.

“Users can deactivate the AI-based Scene Optimizer, which will disable automatic detail improvements to the image the user is taking,” Samsung tells Digital Trends. If you choose to disable the Scene Optimizer on your Galaxy S23 Ultra, images of the moon clicked at 100x digital zoom will not look sharp.

So, is the Galaxy S23 really fake?

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra in sky blue, seen from the back.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

no not like that. In fact, referring to zoomed-in moon photos as fake is like calling your selfies unrealistic if you apply some filters like skin smoothing, exposure adjustment, and color enhancement to make them Instagram-ready. As mentioned earlier, the Galaxy S23 Ultra does not participate in any kind of zoom overlay. Instead, only the final result is refined without any linear distortions of the subject, which is the moon in this case.

Scene Optimizer is an AI-powered tool that automatically detects what’s in the camera’s view and then makes some adjustments to attributes like saturation, exposure, and white balance to improve the final result. That’s why when you click on a photo (particularly Night mode and 200MP stills), and immediately open the gallery preview, the photo takes a while to load as Scene Optimizer is busy applying its own set of optimizations.

In the case of the Moon, the system sharpens edges and improves surface textures that might appear blurry. Image post-processing is a recurring theme across smartphone cameras, but at the end of the day, you can either get the original look or tweak it a bit to make it more attractive. It’s always welcome to see a company disclose the process and offer recourse.

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