Qualcomm Explains How Snapdragon 820 Chips Improve Low-Light Photography

In a new blog, Qualcomm stated how its recent chips, such as the Snapdragon 810 and Snapdragon 808, found in the LG G4, One Plus 2, Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X, can improve low-light photography.

Although high-end smartphone cameras can now deliver amazing pictures when taken outdoors in good lighting conditions, there is still much work to be done when it comes to low-light photography and video recording.

Smartphone camera sensors are much smaller than those in professional cameras, which means they are able to capture much less light. The smaller their pixels are, the less light can be captured. This is why Google decided to go with only a 12MP resolution for a 1/2.3" sensor, while others have started using 16MP or 23MP on similarly sized, or smaller, sensors. Google managed to increase the size of the pixels to 1.55um this way, while competitors' pixels are still only 1.0-1.1um.

This gives Google's new Nexus phones such a large advantage in low-light situations that the company thought it could do away with the Optical Image Stabilization found in the previous Nexus 5.

Even so, Qualcomm said that sometimes there's just not enough light for the pixels to capture. As a response to this, most smartphone cameras try to raise the light sensitivity for those pixels, but that comes with an increase in noise.

The company said that it tries to reduce noise in pictures with the help of a fast Image Signal Processor (ISP) and through technologies such as wavelet noise reduction (WNR) and temporal noise reduction (TNR) that clean up noisy areas in the photos. The Snapdragon processors also use a local tone mapping (LTM) to brighten areas where it's needed, without any compromise in the exposure or detail of the photos.

The upcoming Snapdragon 820 promises to boost low-light performance and image clarity even more. The new Spectra ISP, the Hexagon 680 DSP and the Adreno 530 GPU will all work together to improve the quality of photos in Snapdragon 820-powered smartphones. In the future, we should continue to see significant gains in smartphone photography from new sensors, but also from the ever more powerful smartphone chips, which aid with the image processing.


Lucian Armasu joined Tom’s Hardware in early 2014. He writes news stories on mobile, chipsets, security, privacy, and anything else that might be of interest to him from the technology world. Outside of Tom’s Hardware, he dreams of becoming an entrepreneur.

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Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.
  • ZolaIII
    I don't see any explanation anywhere around in this article?

    Camera pixel size & IPS are that what they are.
    QDSP 680 & SIMD block (Spectra) are improvement concerning QC design but doesn't represent leading solution in any way + they are closed source non licensable nor customizable solution. There are licensable solutions that are better in many ways that integrate SIMD block way back.
    The usage for various tasks including lo light enchantment depends on quality of algorithms that are used for processing.
    First to have a better efficiency along with speed programmable or semi programmable adjustable set of instructions is needed so that can be adapted to new & better optimized algorithm along with optimized to hardware architecture enchantment. QDSP's lack this ability.
    Second part is how good, fast and wide is the external DRAM communication as it's not how strong is the animal but how good you feed it. All speaks about better hyperwissor, internal DRAM coherence & better QoS, trading are for litle children. Certainly all of those will help but won't resolve problem of a bigger task that simply can't fit in internal cache. This is another thing QC is far behind competition.
    Third & most important part is easy to program DSP. For this particular purpose it's needed that Open imagining & vision standards are supposed & well backed up by large community. In the case of QC this brings us back to first part that design is not customizable, scalable nor it have a good documentation along with software (including open standards) support so no one serious wouldn't work on it. Along with it QC isn't known as someone who is keen backing up Open source community nor standards, they never whare able to push any of their hardware design specifics in larger scale optimized software nor they will ever be able to do it judging by the way how they work. All do to be fair there are some projects from QCDC recently that are interesting but I don't hear much about how they are progressing.

    At the end just to mention how final result also much depends on how good & up to date are implemented software solutions by OEM's & do they care & work on improving & implementing new & better stuff.

    I find both Ceva & Tensilica licensable solutions better. In comparison to QDSP 680 (+Spectra) Cevas MX4 & Tensilica Vision P5.
    Why? Because of all 3 thing I wrote + as they are licensable IP's witch gives them much wider possibility of use.
  • hannibal
    The explanation "is" in the video. It is just a automatic image manipulation that reduce the noise. I still trust more on big sensors and good objects and physical stabisator...