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Marc Levoy Looks To Bring Some SLR Capabilities To The iPhone With SynthCam

February 2, 2011
Even though the camera of the iPhone has notably improved over the years, it still falls short in a few features. One of those features is having aperture adjustment. Marc Levoy is looking to solve that problem, at least to an extent, with a new iOS app called SynthCam. SynthCam or synthetic camera uses methods to create a "synthetic aperture photograph." In short, it brings some of the abilities of the more expensive single-lens reflex cameras to our iDevices. When using the widest aperture setting on a SLR camera, a user can create an object focused photo. This kind of effect can emphasize a particular object and even completely remove certain background items, if they are in motion. Additionally, the larger aperture opening allows the capture of more light, providing for better quality for dimly lit environment photography. How does this work? SynthCam focuses and tracks a single object. The app creates a video that uses dozens of frames to simulate the wide aperture effect, then forms them into a single image. After launching SynthCam, you'll need to pick an object to emphasize. Tap on that item, the same as you would with the built-in Camera app, and the tracking square will turn yellow. Next, tap the record button and slowly move your iPhone up, down, left, and right. After 10 to 20 seconds, hopefully, the orange circle will be quite full of red dots. To finish, tap on the pause button. Marc suggests to move in an outgoing spiral motion and to not tilt your iDevice, just move it along the same plane. Feel free to read the full tutorial for more information. I also recommend turning off the "Save bokeh in file" setting, as it becomes this extremely tacky watermark-type distraction. My attempts at using the app weren't near the quality of examples Marc exhibited. I'm still guessing that it just takes a few key actions to get it right. I'm not entirely off but noticeably away from the effect I was hoping for. Echoed by a handful of other users, my actual gripe with SynthCam is a lack of final image quality. Final images output at a 640 x 480 resolution, even lower than if I would just take a screenshot with my iPhone 4. It's possible to bump that up to 960 x 720 if you have an iPhone 4 by turning on HD recording in SynthCam's settings. However, that's still pretty low. I really like the effect, and the concept is neat. I'm all for encouraging improvements with my purchase, and do hope that at least my gripe is eventually taken care of. To anyone who has already purchased this app; if you find the 'trick' required to get fully sharp foreground objects, please share it with us in the comments. SynthCam is compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and 4th generation iPod touch running iOS 4.2 or later. You can purchase a copy in the App Store for $.99.

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