WAILEA, Hawaii — Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is expected to bring a number of interesting features to Android phones next year, from performance and power management improvements to new AI experiences.
But having seen the chipset in action as the chipmaker’s guest at Qualcomm’s annual Snapdragon Summit last week, I think it’s the camera improvements that will have the most immediate impact on where the new generation of phones, including the Samsung, are headed , capable is Galaxy S23.
Simply put, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 enables many new camera features, not only due to changes to the image signal processor onboard the system-on-chip, but also thanks to tighter connections to the AI engine. The end result should be more detailed images with a striking array of effects.
“Snapdragon phones are the new pro cameras,” Judd Heape, vice president of product management at Qualcomm, told the Snapdragon Summit audience. And while it’s up to the phone makers using the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 to decide which features to enable, they have plenty of options at their disposal.
Here are five of those Snapdragon 8 Gen 2-powered camera features that I’ve seen in action that will have a big impact in the year to come.
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 cameras: The setup
Before we dive into those features, let’s talk a bit about how Qualcomm designed the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, as that tends to get overlooked in the rush to talk about CPU and GPU gains over the previous generation.
The Spectra image signal processor (ISP) runs the camera show on the Snapdragon 8 silicon, and over the years Qualcomm has added a number of features such as triple camera support and depth processing that allow the ISP to enhance individual layers of an image . Artificial intelligence has always played a role in this, but mostly as an afterthought in post-processing.
That changes with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 as there is now a bridge between the Spectra ISP and the Hexagon processor in the chipset’s AI engine. That means many of the image processing functions are now hardware-based, making them available for photos and videos, and also visible in the phone’s viewfinder.
Due to the direct connection between the AI engine and the Spectra ISP, Qualcomm credits the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 as the world’s first cognitive ISP. And that’s what’s behind many of the features that impressed me during the cmaera skills demos.
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 200MP camera support
Previous Snapdragon chipsets could support 200-megapixel cameras, but few phone makers outside of Xiaomi and Motorola have backed Qualcomm on this offering. (To see what 200MP cameras can do, check out our Xiaomi 12T Pro 200MP hands-on camera.)
That’s set to change with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, which pushes 200-megapixel camera support front and center on the list of top photo features. And that’s good news for you if you were hoping those rumors of a 200MP main camera onboard the yet-to-be-announced Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra were accurate. But what will a 200-megapixel camera actually deliver should phone makers capitalize on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2’s support?
“The 200-megapixel image lets you zoom in and get incredible detail from an object that’s really far away in the scene,” Heape said. “I don’t know if users really ‘need’ 200-megapixel images for their day-to-day lives, but it’s really useful to enhance telephoto zoom.”
Notably, the Snapdragon ISP supports an in-sensor zoom feature that can crop that larger image into a 12.5MP or 50MP shot. The Pixel 7 Pro uses a similar feature with its 50MP main lens, cropping to 12.5MP shots to remove noise from your photo.
“Because you have all that detail at 200MP, you can actually use that 200MP information if you zoom in and take a telephoto shot, but in a cropped mode to get incredibly tiny details out of the scene,” Heape said.
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 semantic segmentation
One of the big highlights of the improved ISP on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is the support for semantic segmentation, where different elements of the photo can be identified and fine-tuned to look their best.
Camera phones have been able to do this before, but the difference with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is that the process is now part of the hardware and is complemented by direct communication between the AI engine and the ISP.
“So [with] For every single pixel, the AI tells the ISP, “That came from a face that came out of the sky.” The ISP can process these different pixels completely differently, making the sky bluer, skin smoother, and hair more detailed. Fabrics have more texture,” Heape said.
Qualcomm showed several examples of how semantic segmentation will improve photos taken with Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 smartphones, and the results were quite revealing. In a shot of some flowers, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2’s semantic segmentation was able to enhance the pink color of the petals, making them look less drab in the shot; Similarly, various foods on a plate have been color enhanced to make the entire dish appear more appetizing.
My favorite semantic segmentation demo was a shot of someone wearing glasses with some background lights creating glare on the lenses. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2’s ISP was able to eliminate this lens flare, leaving a much better portrait shot in its place.
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 bokeh engine improvements
Speaking of portraiture, expect some improvements to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2’s bokeh engine. Qualcomm added a bokeh engine to last year’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 for adding soft backgrounds to videos, but now you can adjust the size and shape of those blurs.
Specifically, Qualcomm set up a station where you could take a portrait shot with lights in the background. You can then use the bokeh engine to customize how those lights appear in the shot, changing the blur from simple dots to heart and diamond shapes.
These changes are happening in real time, by the way – you could see them in the viewfinder of the reference design phone Qualcomm used, so I imagine the effect will work similarly on phones built by phone makers that use this feature.
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 horizon leveling
Horizon leveling keeps your shot steady and stable, even when you can’t always stay perfectly still. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 can correct this in real-time for both stills and video, so your shots don’t look like they were filmed using the dubbed camera angles used in the 1960s Batman TV show.
To show just how capable horizon leveling is with its chipset, Qualcomm set up a demo where one of its reference design phones and a competitor’s device were set up on a reciprocating jig. (Qualcomm wouldn’t name the competitor, but the iPhone’s camera app UI was fairly distinctive on the competing phone.) On a nearby monitor, you could see that the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2-powered camera phone was keeping things fairly steady in the viewfinder , while the competing phone’s view shifted with the horizon.
Added sensor support for Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
The Snpadragon 8 Gen 2 offers support for multiple sensors, be it the Samsung ISOCELL HP3 for 200MP cameras or a pair of sensors from Sony. These latter sensors – the IMX800 QDO14 and IMX989 – feature quad digital overlap HDR technology optimized for Snapdragon.
The demo here was brief, but essentially the HDR provided by Sony’s sensors looks less grainy, so you can expect sharper shots if the camera phone you buy uses Sony’s latest sensors.
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 camera view
These are just a few of the changes coming over the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, which also includes an AV1 codec with support for video playback at up to 8K HDR at 60fps. There’s support for cinematic video blur, similar to what’s on the Pixel 7 and iPhone 13 and later, and Android 13 APIs allow third-party camera apps to access the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2’s camera capabilities as well.
We’ll have to wait and see how these features play out on phones powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. But judging by the demos I saw at the Snapdragon silicon reveal last week, the race for the best camera phone characters is bound to get a lot more interesting in the months to come.