For years, Samsung “Space Zoom”-capable phones have been known for their ability to take incredibly detailed photos of the Moon. But a recent Reddit post showed in stark terms just how much computational processing the company is doing, and — given the evidence supplied — it feels like we should go ahead and say it: Samsung’s pictures of the Moon are fake.
But what exactly does “fake” mean in this scenario? It’s a tricky question to answer, and one that’s going to become increasingly important and complex as computational techniques are integrated further into the photographic process. We can say for certain that our understanding of what makes a photo fake will soon change, just as it has in the past to accommodate digital cameras, Photoshop, Instagram filters, and more. But for now, let’s stick with the case of Samsung and the Moon.
The test of Samsung’s phones conducted by Reddit user u/ibreakphotos was ingenious in its simplicity. They created an intentionally blurry photo of the Moon, displayed it on a computer screen, and then photographed this image using a Samsung S23 Ultra. As you can see below, the first image on the screen showed no detail at all, but the resulting picture showed a crisp and clear “photograph” of the Moon. The S23 Ultra added details that simply weren’t present before. There was no upscaling of blurry pixels and no retrieval of seemingly lost data. There was just a new Moon — a fake one.
This is not a new controversy. People have been asking questions about Samsung’s Moon photography ever since the company unveiled a 100x “Space Zoom” feature in its S20 Ultra in 2020. Some have accused the company of simply copying and pasting prestored textures onto images of the Moon to produce its photographs, but Samsung says the process is more involved than that.
In 2021, Input Mag published a lengthy feature on the “fake detailed moon photos” taken by the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Samsung told the publication that “no image overlaying or texture effects are applied when taking a photo” but that the company uses AI to detect the Moon’s presence and “then offers a detail enhancing function by reducing blurs and noises.”
The company later offered a bit more information in this blog post (translated from Korean by Google). But the core of the explanation — the description of the vital step that takes us from a photograph of a blurry Moon to a sharp Moon — is dealt with in obfuscatory terms. Samsung simply says it uses a “detail improvement engine function” to “effectively remove noise and maximize the details of the moon to complete a bright and clear picture of the moon” (emphasis added). What does that mean? We simply don’t know.