I don’t normally report on this kind of thing, but let’s face it: Camera quality has always been a highlight of the high-end Lumias in particular, and the way HDR is implemented in Windows 10 Mobile is sub-optimal. But that’s about to change, according to a Windows phone enthusiast blog.
First, a bit of history.
Today’s Windows Camera app in Windows 10 (and this is true of both Windows 10 for PCs/tablets and phones) is one of those interesting bi-products of Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia. Previously, Microsoft created a basic camera app, called Windows Camera, while Nokia offered a progression of increasingly powerful camera apps, culminating in Lumia Camera. (Nokia also made secondary camera apps like Lumia Panorama and anothers.)
With everything in-house now, it makes sense that Windows 10 Mobile, as the successor to Windows Phone OS 8.1, includes only a single camera app, which is of course called Windows Camera. But despite the name, Windows Camera is really the successor to Lumia Camera, and it includes many of the features Lumia fans have come to know and love, like Rich Capture, Living Images (which Apple recently copied), and the Pro shooting mode, where you have very granular and manual control over key capabilities like white balance, focus, ISO (sensitivity), shutter speed, and brightness.
While it’s hard to pick just one marquee feature in all that, for most people the nod would probably have to go to Rich Capture. In First Look: Lumia Camera + Lumia Denim last year, I referred to this feature as “Auto mode, on steroids.” When enabled, the camera app analyzes the scene each time you take a shot and then take multiple images—as per HDR on other smart phone cameras, but also optionally with Dynamic Flash and Dynamic Exposure—and merge them into one superior photo.
Rich Capture is more impressive than plain old HDR for a variety of reasons: It provides per-shot Dynamic Flash and Dynamic Exposure as needed, as I note above. And as impressively, Rich Capture-based photos can be edited after the fact. That’s right. These are “living photos” that can be tweaked to your heart’s content without (many) worries about losing the original data, right on the camera.
And as a quick reminder about how good the resulting pictures can be using a high-end Lumia, be sure to (re) check-out Nokia Lumia 930 + Denim: Recording Memories in Puerto Rico.
But here’s the thing. Rich Capture is generally pretty wonderful. But it has some downsides, the most obvious being performance: On a brand new Lumia 950, I often find myself staring at an “Adding the finishing touches” message when I try to view a photo I just took; that’s because Rich Capture requires a lost of processing, which can be time consuming (and can of course impact battery life).
Rich Capture also doesn’t work quite like it did in Lumia Camera on Windows Phone 8.1: On those systems, Rich Capture could toggle between On, Off, and Auto. In Windows 10 (Mobile), this feature only provides Auto and Off modes.
And here’s the final caveat: Rich Capture isn’t even available on all Lumias (or other Windows phones for that matter) because of the processing power required. So on lesser handsets, you’ll get an HDR button in place of Rich Capture, and that button toggles between Auto and Off. There’s no On.
(The Google Camera app in Android and the Apple Camera app in iOS/iPhone do not offer Rich Capture modes per se. But both offer an HD toggle button (with On, Off, and Auto modes) right in the view finder.)
But if a new report in All About Windows Phone is to be believed, Windows 10 (Mobile, and Windows 10 for PCs, since they use the same universal Windows Camera app) will soon be updated so that Rich Capture—which, again, provides HDR functionality with post-shot editing capabilities—for high-end devices and/or HDR in lesser phones is getting an update. Sometime.
Microsoft’s (ex-Nokia) imaging chief, Juha Alakarhu, has been in touch to let us know that ‘Force HDR is coming’ soon to Windows 10 Mobile’s official Camera application, though he couldn’t promise ‘any dates yet’.
So the 950/950 XL [will] see Off/Auto/On for Rich Capture status.
That’s good news, of course. I have to think, however, that many users would simply prefer an HDR toggle as well. (And the term “Force HDR” sounds more like that than “an always-on mode for Rich Capture.”) Further, I wonder if providing just HDR—as opposed to per-shot HDR, Dynamic Flash and/or Dynamic Exposure, depending on the on-the-fly analysis of the scene you’re shooting—wouldn’t drain the battery less as well.
Despite, AAWP’s assertion that “Force HDR” is really about a third mode for Rich Capture, that’s not clear to me. (At the very least it should impact Rich Capture and, on low-end phones, HDR.) And as with all Windows 10 Mobile improvements, we need to be happy with baby steps. So let’s just hope that this update, whatever it is, happens, and soon.