An Update on Low-Light Performance

Back in August, when we published our self-review of the L16, we were open about the parts of the L16 experience that still needed some work—and work is exactly what we’ve been doing these past few months. Just ask any one of our engineers and they will attest to the late nights fixing bugs, tuning algorithms, and writing—and rewriting—the code your camera runs on.

Ever since we acknowledged that our low-light capabilities, in particular, were not yet up to our high standards, we’ve received a bunch of questions about when and how the performance of this important feature would improve. Of course, everyone is dying to see our low-light performance in action, as well. We know how critical an area this is for our photographers—hey, it’s been on our wish lists, too!—so we wanted to show you just how far this crucial feature has come in the past two months.

Photo Credit: Jiamin Bai; handheld auto mode, ISO 3200, shutter 1/24.

The photos on the left were processed with the first version of Lumen, released in July; the photos on the right were processed using the most recent version of Lumen, which will be publicly available in the next couple weeks.

Left, older version of Lumen; Right, latest version of Lumen.

We’ve made improvements to our de-noising and fusion algorithms to make dimly lit images sharper and clearer.

Left, older version of Lumen; Right, latest version of Lumen.

In the street photo above, you’ll also notice better highlight restoration, along with more detail in the highlights and shadows. The door of the phone booth is a good example.

Photo Credit: Jiamin Bai; handheld auto mode, ISO 3200, shutter 1/24.

As you can see in the barrel image above, our most recent software reduces a significant amount of noise and preserves more uniform detail from the L16’s higher focal length modules.

Left, older version of Lumen; Right, latest version of Lumen.

Since we started shipping three months ago, we’ve rolled out new L16 and desktop software updates nearly every week. Each one of them included some kind of low-light improvement—from minimizing noise to picking up a wider range of highlights and shadows. As you can see above, the progress we’re making—specifically in noise, detail, and tone curve—is quite noticeable. And it’s only going to keep getting better!

Don’t believe us? Just ask photographer Nick Schearer, who shot a series of low-light images for us back in September on an older software build. Though he used a tripod, Nick was able to capture a nice array of long-exposure shots. When we processed these images using the latest Lumen software, we saw significant improvements in color and noise.

See more of Nick's low-light images here.

Though we’ve already made strides in low-light performance, we’re not nearly finished perfecting the feature. In particular, we’re still working to fix the oversaturation of highlights, and we want to get to a place where you don’t have to use a tripod to take excellent, handheld low-light shots. In the next six months, we’re planning to reduce low-light noise by at least two stops and introduce local tone mapping, as well as Light-specific HDR.

We have one of the best computational imaging teams out there—and low-light performance is their top priority. Every day, they go through hundreds, if not thousands, of photos, looking for areas where our algorithms can be tuned. The more photos they sift through, the better the L16 will become. It will take a bit more time to perfect our low-light feature, but we have the utmost confidence that we can do so. No other camera has 10+ modules—including monochromatic sensors that capture two to three times more light—firing at once. Given the extent of our technology, we aim to eventually rival the low-light performance of most low and mid-range DSLRs.

In the meantime, our resident photographer Joe Lubushkin has some great tips for capturing low-light photos with the L16.

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