iPhone XS Beauty-Gate Explained: It’s Just A Matter Of HDR And Noise Cancellation

There is a pretty good reason why photos on the iPhone XS are a bit softer to the eye.

The iPhone XS has been observed to take softer photos that appear to be a bit post-processed.
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There is a pretty good reason why photos on the iPhone XS are a bit softer to the eye.

When Apple unveiled the iPhone XS, the company’s execs made it a point to assert that the capabilities of the device’s cameras are above and beyond its predecessors. Recently, however, some users of the iPhone XS started noticing that their new smartphones seemed to be applying a filter on their selfies, making their skin appear smoother on photos. Hence, in true Apple tradition, “Beauty-Gate” was born.

According to a Cult of Mac report, Beauty-Gate started after a Reddit user noted that there is a significant difference in the quality of the photos taken from the iPhone X and the iPhone XS’ front-facing cameras. Selfies taken with the older iPhone X looked natural and clear, while images taken by the newer iPhone XS were warm and smoothed out. It was almost as if Apple was applying a “Beautify” filter on the photos taken by its front-facing camera. Needless to say, many were not amused.

In a way, part of the aggravation from iPhone XS users is the fact that Apple has taken a conservative stance on beautification filters in the past. Samsung and other Android smartphone makers adopted such features into their devices years ago, but Apple has stayed away from such gimmicks. Hence, when it seemed like the iPhone XS was applying a Beautify filter without informing users, the backlash was unsurprising.

A closer look into the iPhone XS’s cameras and their capabilities could reveal a reason behind Beauty-Gate, however. In a recent article, CNET analyzed the iPhone XS, its cameras and how the imaging sensor works. Ultimately, the publication noted that Beauty-Gate might be the result of the iPhone XS’ Smart HDR Mode, as well as its Noise Cancellation features.

Smart HDR, which is enabled by default on the new flagship smartphone, allows the iPhone XS to capture great detail from its subjects. Unlike its predecessors, the iPhone XS uses computational photography and merging exposures. Partly due to these, the iPhone XS’ Smart HDR features end up reducing glowing highlights, making photos appear a bit smoother. When taking images in low-light, the smartphone’s Noise Reduction becomes quite aggressive. Sebastiaan de With, the designer of popular third-party camera app Halide, provided a short explanation on the iPhone XS’ cameras and the Beauty-Gate issue.

“The iPhone XS merges exposures and reduces the brightness of the bright areas and reduces the darkness of the shadows. The detail remains, but we can perceive it as less sharp because it lost local contrast,” he said.

For now, a good remedy is to simply disable Smart HDR to get more natural-looking images from the iPhone XS. Future updates to iOS could ultimately remedy the smartphone’s quirk by reducing the intensity of the system’s noise-canceling algorithms.