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A Huawei phone being used at a public cooking demonstration

How artificial intelligence will make your phone photos better

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Huawei is the pioneer of an invisible mobile phone photography revolution. And it may well improve your photos more than an extra megapixel or two ever could.

We’re talking about artificial intelligence, AI. The Huawei Mate 10 and Huawei Mate 10 Pro have a bespoke mobile AI chip, and one of its principal roles is in lending the camera smarts. Serious smarts.

A smarter kind of camera

The neural network processing unit is an exciting new part of the Huawei Mate 10 family’s Kirin 970 processor. This is a chip designed specifically to deal with artificial intelligence tasks.

In the camera, this means scanning what it sees constantly, looking for and recognising objects and scenes. Where your average camera can tell whether a scene looks too bright or too dark, the Huawei Mate 10 and Huawei Mate 10 Pro‘s camera can identify what you’re taking a picture of and tweak the settings to suit.

With a normal processor, these sorts of smarts would take up a lot of battery. However, as the NPU is geared-up for these sort of rapid image-recognition tasks, it hardly uses any of the Huawei Mate 10 family’s battery at all.

Huawei has been working hard on getting this image recognition right, and the result is great accuracy. The big question is: what’s the benefit of the Huawei Mate 10‘s ability to recognise specific objects and scenes? To answer that we have to get a little more specific.

AI for every occasion

These phones can recognise 13 different elements, covering the vast majority of photos we take throughout the year. For the completists out there, here’s the list:

  • Blue Sky
  • Flower
  • Plant
  • Beach
  • Sunset/Sunrise
  • Performance (theatre, for example)
  • Food
  • Text
  • Nightscape
  • Snow
  • Cat
  • Dog
  • Portrait

“Food” is a great pick, not least because many of us still love posting pictures of restaurant meals and kitchen creations on social networks. The Huawei Mate 10 and Huawei Mate 10 Pro automatically click into a special colour and contrast profile when they recognise a food shot, with the aim of making it look more delicious.

It’s a careful balancing act. You want vivid colour, but not sickly tones that’ll make every salad and risotto look like an exploded Freakshake.

Other AI modes aim to nail the sorts of scenes that confuse your average camera. “Snow” is perhaps the best example.

Pack a vista full of white and a camera will often radically overexpose it or make it appear very dim, and can leave it with an ugly colour cast. The Huawei Mate 10 family will look at a snowy landscape and instantly know that the show should be white, and how to balance the scene’s brightness. You can simply snap away without worrying, as behind-the-scenes intelligence is doing all the hard work.

A ballet dancer performing on a monument

Credit: Mingqiao Lian, Shot on Mate 10 Pro

A faster focus

The neural network processing unit also helps out with focusing, in two ways. As it analyses the camera read-out more rapidly than previous generations, normal focusing is tightened-up. This gives the entire shooting experience a more immediate, snappy feel.

The Huawei Mate 10 cameras also recognise motion in your subject, and can track moving objects to ensure they stay in focus as they move across a scene. You don’t have to scramble about, tapping the touchscreen constantly to try to get a good shot.

These phones have an incredible array of focusing types at their disposal too. Phase detection uses special pixels on the sensor to focus in on certain parts of the frame near-instantly. Laser focus uses an IR beam to judge distance in milliseconds. Depth focus can tell whether an object is near or far as the AF passes through its range and trusty contrast detection looks at how sharp something appears to tell if it is in focus.

That’s four separate focus methods, all brought together by the Huawei Mate 10 Series’ intelligence to bring you the fastest, most reliable focus possible.

Reading the small print with AI

Artificial intelligence also actively makes text clearer and sharper when you use the zoom. This is because the Huawei Mate 10 and Huawei Mate 10 Pro have taken a virtual typography course. They can recognise text, and make it cleaner, sharper and clearer using advanced processing techniques.

What might appear as a blur of characters through another phone’s “eyes” will be legible with a Huawei Mate 10 family phone.

AI Selfie family portrait

Credit: Max Li, Shot on Mate 10

Capturing a perfect portrait

Sometimes blur can be useful, though. The Huawei Mate 10 and Huawei Mate 10 Pro‘s artificial intelligence uses blur creatively in your selfies, to make the subject really “pop.” It’s similar to what you might see in a DSLR camera or one of Leica’s own fantastic rangefinder cameras.

The Huawei Mate 10 and Huawei Mate 10 Pro are among a tiny handful of phones that let you take background blur pictures with the cameras on the back and the front. It’ll make your selfies look more flattering and professional than ever.

Getting this to work is no small technical feat, though. Background blurring normally requires two cameras looking in the same direction. These act like our eyes, analysing the difference between what each sees to differentiate between near objects and far-away ones.

The Huawei Mate 10 and Huawei Mate 10 Pro use the Kirin 970 processor’s new neural network processing unit (NPU) to get the same effect with just one camera when shooting selfies. Using artificial intelligence informed by millions of pictures of real people, the camera can recognise faces, ears, and things like the outlines of hairstyles to effectively “cut out” the subject.

The result is stunning background blur that doesn’t smudge any part of your face as part of its processing.

We used to think of image processing as something that just reduces noise, but it’s much more than that. When you add Huawei’s advanced AI-packed smarts to the Huawei Mate 10 and Huawei Mate 10 Pro‘s high-quality sensors and wide-aperture Leica lenses, you have all the camera you need.