Let’s face it: photos captured on Chromebooks are hot garbage. They are useful only in the most basic sense of image capture and even then, it sometimes feels like no image at all would simply be better. This is due, in part, to a few factors. First, most Chromebooks have a single camera that is put there for video calls. As most video call services run at 720p, the webcams included on most Chromebooks follow suit and ship at a measly 720p max resolution. Second, since imaging hasn’t really been a primary thought for Chromebooks outside of video calls, the software is basic and not good at doing computational photography like what we’re all used to with our fancy phone cameras at this point.
But that could all be changing with a new project that has begun called Compass Camera IQ. According to the initial commit and the README file included within, here’s what we are seeing from this new effort to improve Chromebook camera imaging across the board:
Chrome OS Compass Camera IQ Project
Compass is a ChromeOS camera project.
The project goal is aims to develop an “imaging compass” as a tool to auto-pilot image tuning directions toward high quality. The achievement may potentially be a scalable high quality solution for the ChromeOS ecosystem.
Camera imaging system is an extremely complicated fusion artwork of science and human sense. The system complexity heavily relies on engineering knowledge and experiences to resolve comprehensive chained effects.
Compass software is an imaging assistant tool, developed to reduce engineer dependencies, guide camera image quality tuning directions, prevent design errors in early stage, monitor quality progress, provide reference goals to ensure high image quality.via the Chromium Repositories
We all would do well to remember that Google, for the most part, hasn’t updated the camera hardware over the years in their Pixel phones. We started and still have a primary 12MP shooter on all their phones, yet the image quality year over year has continued to improve. How is that happening? Computational photography. Google has been the industry leader in this category and when it comes to still images, most would agree they still are on top at this point.
So what is computational photography? Simply put, it is the science of combining multiple images to get better color, contrast and sharpness in images. It started with HDR (high dynamic range) but has gone far beyond that in the past few years. The amount of intelligence that is deployed each time you press the shutter button on your Pixel phone (and many other phones at this point, too) is staggering and all that computational awareness of the lighting, subject and scene comes together to make images have that ‘Pixel look’ so many people enjoy. It’s not about better sensors and lenses: it’s about more data and using it to the best possible potential.
Compass Camera IQ
So is that what we’re looking at for Chromebooks? I doubt that, but a similar methodology would be very helpful in making Chromebook imaging tools far more usable than they are now. If you have a Chromebook, go ahead and snap a selfie with your web cam, open the file up and give it a look. Want to post that in Instagram? Want to add that to a Google Photos album? No way.
While I don’t think Compass Camera IQ is going to bring Pixel-level image processing to Chromebooks, I do think it might pave the way for much better photos on Chromebooks moving forward. If Google can take a bit of what they’ve learned from their phones and leverage it on the mediocre camera hardware available on nearly all Chromebooks, perhaps we can finally get photos from Chrome OS that don’t look completely terrible for once. Perhaps we could actually use the photos we take with these devices for something.
On the flip side of things, this could also be signalling the fact that there is a manufacturer waiting in the wings that really wants to put a great camera on a Chrome OS device. While we’re not swimming in tablets right now, I feel like more are on the way and a device like the Lenovo Chromebook Duet has a decent enough camera and sensor to probably take solid photos in good light if the underlying software was in place to do so. Chromebooks won’t likely become your go-to cameras any time soon, but an improvement in this area could go a long way towards users new and old being able to enjoy their devices a whole lot more.