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This tech could dramatically improve image quality in existing smartphones

The camera inside your phone is surprisingly capable, but it still runs up against the physical limits dictated by the size of the device. A phone’s small image sensor see less light than the larger units used in mirrorless cameras and DSLRs, which leads to poorer image quality — especially in low light. While a few attempts have been made to skirt around the sensor size limit (like Panasonic’s CM1 Android phone that used a 1-inch-type sensor), this is far from the norm. But a company called Almalence is working on software technology that could drastically improve image quality in today’s phones, without requiring any new hardware.

Almalence CEO and Founder Eugene Panich recently explained how the technology works in an interview with Forbes. Called SuperSensor, its key component is that it takes over control of the imaging sensor itself, rather than trying to “enhance” photos after they’ve already been saved. This is what sets it apart from other apps.

While post-processing apps can make an image more subjectively appealing, they are “unable to improve objective quality characteristics, such as noise level or details of the image lost from zooming,” Panich told Forbes. But by working directly on the sensor, SuperSensor samples the signal multiple times for every frame — even in video. “[It] uses multiple input frames to produce a single image, thus collecting more light and rendering a higher resolution.”

Almalence SuperSensor can double the resolution of cameraphone photos.

Panich said this approach not only improves resolution, but also reduces noise and increases dynamic range — addressing two of the biggest complaints about phone cameras. According to SuperSensor’s information page, it can increase the signal-to-noise ratio by five to 10 decibels, leading to a two-to-three-stop improvement in dynamic range.

Dynamic range is a low point of phone cameras. SuperSensor greatly improves it.

If the sample images shown online are any indication, then it would appear that SuperSensor indeed makes a noticeable difference in image quality. Users curious to try it out can download a free demo from the Google Play store, but note that the app is currently limited in compatibility to just Google’s Nexus 5 and Nexus 6 phones.