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Digital zoom doesn't always have to look bad, new iPhone app suggests

Why it matters to you

Digital zoom means a loss of quality, but some of that loss can be recovered using the xTeleZoom app.

While dual camera smartphones are starting to change the norm, most smartphones still have pretty poor zoom capabilities. One company is working to change that not with add-on lenses, but with software. On Monday during Mobile World Congress, Almalence announced the xTeleZoom app for iPhone.

xTeleZoom uses computational zoom — a variation of digital zoom enhanced by computer learning models to up the quality over the digital zoom alone. Almalence says that the computational zoom keeps the resolution equal to a photo shot with 1.5x to 2x zoom.

The app is based on the company’s Super Resolution program, previously used with only high-end cameras. The Super Resolution system starts with knowledge about the camera (and the camera’s weaknesses) and uses that data to correct the image. But the Super Resolution program also sets itself apart by merging several images together. By combining multiple images together, resolution increases and when that occurs, digital zoom has a much less drastic quality loss.

The xTeleZoom is based on that Super Resolution program but brings it to the iPhone for the first time. Essentially, the app is like HDR but for zoom, not exposure, merging images together for a higher resolution, so that digital crop called digital zoom isn’t as much of a quality loss.

The app’s developers say the software fights the lack of optical zoom that only gets more challenging as smartphones thin down. “We developed xTeleZoom because even the most advanced hardware solutions alone cannot address the need for taking high-quality zoom photos,” Almalence CEO Eugene Panich said in a press release. “The decreasing thickness of new phone generations poses bigger challenges on the lenses ability to zoom and resolve good image quality. Software like xTeleZoom is the only practical way to break the zoom quality barrier.”

Along with the xTeleZoom app, Almalence offers a number of mobile photography apps, from an all-in-one camera to HDR and a night camera, as well as several desktop photography programs.

xTeleZoom is available on iOS models with RAW capability, which includes the iPhone 6, 6s, and 7 models, including the Plus versions. With the iPhone 7 Plus, the software can be used on top of the longer focal length of the second lens. XTeleZoom is available in the App Store for $0.99.