Poor webcam quality in Studio Display is not a bug

When Apple announced Studio Display, it promised “exciting” webcam quality. However, when customers got their hands on the product, they noticed that the pictures taken with the built-in camera were not good. Apple is now releasing beta software that promises to fix some of these issues — but the thing is, the Studio Display’s poor webcam quality isn’t a bug after all.

complaints

According to every Studio Display owner, webcam images are pretty poor compared to the front camera on other Apple devices. In most cases, images look blurry, blurry, and have a lot of noise.

In his review of the edgeNilay Patel writes that the Studio Display camera looks “horrendous in good lighting and candid unhappy In low light.” Joanna Stern in The Wall Street Journal He likened the camera’s performance to that of the “old BlackBerry”. Gizmodo She had similar complaints, saying the Studio Display’s webcam was “noisy” and “not great”.

Shortly after the first Studio Display reviews critical of the 12MP webcam were published on the web, Apple told the press that it was working on a software update to improve the quality of the image captured by the built-in camera.

What changes with the update

Nearly two months after announcing Studio Display, Apple today released a beta firmware to developers that brings image processing improvements to the company’s built-in webcam.

At the moment, the update is only available to those using the latest beta version of macOS Monterey, and it’s not clear when the update will be released to the public. However, some Studio Display users have already installed the firmware update to see what actually changes. And it turns out that the update does not change much.

As noted before Jason SnellApple has made some tweaks to make the Center Stage cropping less aggressive. At the same time, James Thompson Also note that there is much less noise in webcam images after the update, as well as a bit more contrast, but the quality is still “completely lackluster” compared to other webcams.

The update doesn’t seem to improve the webcam quality in Studio Display, and there’s a reason for that.

It’s all about the ultra-wide lens

Apple proudly says that the Studio Display has a 12MP camera, which should be enough for sharp photos. After all, iPhones and other Apple devices also have 12MP front cameras. But why does the Studio Display webcam differ in terms of image quality?

While most Apple devices have a regular wide front camera, the Studio Display has an ultra-wide lens. That’s because it has Center Stage, a feature that uses machine learning to always center the image on a person during a video call or video recording. Because this camera has no optical zoom, Center Stage digitally crop the image to center people in the frame.

So, while the iPhone is capable of taking a true 12MP selfie, Center Stage cameras take 12MP photos using the ultra-wide lens and then digitally crop them to look like a regular photo or video. This process results in less sharp images.

For example, the third generation iPad Air has a 7-megapixel front camera. When I compare it to the iPad mini 6 (which has the Center Stage), the old iPad photos look a lot sharper.

As another example, I took the same photo using the wide and ultra-wide rear lens on my iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Both lenses have 12MP, but I then cropped the image captured by the ultra-wide lens to make it look like the photo from the wide lens, simulating what happens with photos taken by the Center Stage Camera. The result, as you can see below, is a much worse quality image.

That’s why the webcam on an iMac or MacBook Pro will always look better than the one on the Studio Display, because it’s not very wide. When you take a photo or shoot a video with your regular webcam, you take advantage of each pixel individually.

Is there any solution?

Unfortunately, no matter what Apple does with regards to software updates, there is nothing that will greatly improve the Studio Display webcam.

The only possible solutions to this problem are to use a higher resolution sensor, so that the cropped image is at least 12 mega pixels, or a larger sensor to capture more light – which helps reduce noise in the image.

However, as you might have guessed, both solutions require a hardware upgrade, which means first generation Studio Display owners will have to treat the webcam as is.

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