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Bluegate: iPhone 12 camera takes “blue” photos with crazy colors, and that’s not cool, Apple

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Bluegate: iPhone 12 camera takes “blue” photos with crazy colors, and that’s not cool, Apple

You’ll have to bear with me! Here’s the backstory, so we are on the same page:

I’m using a Huawei P30 Pro as my main device and an iPhone as a secondary one (since I use a Mac to do work). I bought the Huawei P30 Pro about two years ago because of (shock!) the camera system and the overall killer package. This phone was well ahead of its time, as even over two years after it came out, all its extra features and camera capabilities are just as relevant as ever. The 5x periscope zoom (which debuted on the P30 Pro); the in-display fingerprint reader; the fast charging speeds, the reverse wireless charging, etc.So, it’s surefire – it would take a lot for a new phone to sway me towards abandoning my last-of-a-kind Google-ready P30 Pro, especially when it comes to the camera system. However, I just stumbled upon a great iPhone 12 Pro Max deal – likely because the 13 Pro Max is nearing launch. Now, it’s important to say I’ve already had the iPhone 12. I bought it, used it alongside the P30 Pro, and decided to sell it after about two months.But! The Phone 12 Pro Max comes with two brand new cameras compared to the iPhone 12 – the main and the telephoto ones. Since the iPhone 12 isn’t relevant to this story, let’s see how the 12 Pro Max stacks up against the P30 Pro:

Surprise! After having done some research before my iPhone 12 Pro Max purchase, and comparisons, it’s safe to say that all iPhone 12 models seem to have a few recurring camera issues, including the Max. Of course, one of them is Flaregate, but the other is much less obvious because it involves a special mode on the iPhone 12 – Smart HDR.

Bluegate: iPhone 12’s Smart HDR is often too “smart”, and too… blue?

Smart HDR was introduced back in 2018 with the iPhone XS series. At the time, it did an absolutely phenomenal job at balancing out highlights and shadows for incredibly detailed photos in challenging situations, compared to the iPhone X, which despite using the same camera hardware, lacked any enhanced HDR mode, which is why competitors at the time took much better photos (looking at you, Pixel 2).Smart HDR is very much a software algorithm that’s powered by Apple’s mighty processors. The analogy for Android phones is HDR+ on the Pixel and simply HDR/HDR Enhance, or whatever it might be called, on basically any other device.

HDR as a feature is used to preserve detail and colors, but most importantly – exposure. It’s the feature that’s meant to prevent blown-out skies, windows, and any other light sources in your photos. Also, it’s the feature that keeps your face visible if you are taking a picture against the sun.

The thing with Apple’s current iteration of Smart HDR is that it seems like the guys from Cupertino have got a little bit carried away. I’ll be honest – I had noticed this before, but it didn’t leave such a strong impression on me until I considered buying an iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Unrealistic colors: iPhones used to be known for having natural colors

Smart HDR on iPhone 12 will often exaggerate the colors in the scene. Sometimes to an absolutely unrecognizable extent.

Too much HDR, or too little HDR: iPhone 12 struggles to find a balance

Overall, it’s trying harder than it’s supposed to. Slightly blow-out highlights or dark shadows are often considered traits of “real cameras”, so limiting them might make photos look “fake” or over-processed. For the record, that’s an issue we see in many other flagship phones. Ironically, despite the strong HDR effect, the iPhone 12 often loses to the competition with visibly blown out highlights.

Bluegate: iPhone 12 makes everything blue

It tends to Avatar, Smurf (or whatever you want to call it) people when there’s a blue sky in the frame. This one can totally ruin the picture, and there’s no real way of preventing it unless you move to another spot. If not, you might end up with not just a cartoonishly blue sky but also blue everything – grass, buildings, and faces! 

iPhone 12: Smart HDR and Bluegate – is there a solution?

As you can see from the samples, the issue is real. Does it happen all the time? No – simply because not all photos you’ll take are in such a scenario. Does it happen enough to be considered a problem and require fixing? Absolutely. It’s unfortunate, because when the iPhone 12 Pro Max hits, it takes absolutely stunning photos.

I believe Apple can (at least try to) push a software update that might take care of Bluegate. The thing with Apple is that… it doesn’t like pushing such updates unless they are meant to fix a bug. See, iPhones get 5-6 years of software updates, and that’s incredible. However, these updates often exclude important areas of the smartphone experience. Here are a few major camera features present on newer iPhones that could be enabled with a software update for older models:

This is a software-based long-exposure algorithm. There’s absolutely no reason it won’t be compatible with the iPhone 11 series, iPhone SE (2020), XS series, or perhaps even older. It wouldn’t work as well as it does on the iPhone 12, which is understandable.
  • Portrait Mode for people, pets, and objects
Although Apple’s iPhone 11 can take portrait photos of people, pets, foods, etc., without a secondary telephoto camera or LiDAR, this feature has notably been left out of the budget iPhone SE (2020) and iPhone XR, which can only take human portraits. Since Portrait Mode on iPhone (and many other phones) relies heavily on machine learning, there’s no reason for the iPhone SE that runs on the same A13 Bionic chip as the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max, won’t be able to do it too.

In the end…

Why doesn’t Apple bother? Well, so you can buy the new iPhone. It’s really no rocket science. At the same time, I understand why they do it – Apple launches new phones only once a year (unless there’s an SE). It’s trickier for them to balance the feature to price ratio and differentiate models without leaving out important features that will actually make you get the new iPhone.

However, the Smart HDR issues on the iPhone 12 series are different. What worries me is that with the iPhone 13 launch, which should be happening in less than two weeks now, all hopes for an improved Smart HDR on the iPhone 12 might go out the window, and I don’t like that. It’s a real problem that needs a real fix.

What’s left? Well, let’s at least hope the iPhone 13 series will take care of both Flaregate and Bluegate. I wouldn’t call either of the two dealbreakers – especially for the average consumer. However, for me, it’s enough of a reason to stick with my Huawei P30 Pro until Apple can offer something 100% better in the camera department. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be much of an “upgrade”, would it…

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