Poor Studio Display webcam quality is not a software bug

When Apple announced Studio Display, it promised “sensational” webcam quality. However, when customers got their hands on the product, they noticed that the images captured by the built-in camera were not good. Apple is currently rolling out beta software that promises to fix some of these issues – but the thing is, Studio Display’s poor webcam quality isn’t a software bug after all.

The complaints

According to just about every Studio Display owner, the images from the webcam are quite poor compared to the front camera of other Apple devices. In most cases, images appear blurry, washed out, and have a lot of noise.

In his review for The edgeNilay Patel wrote that the Studio Display’s camera looks “awful in good light, and downright wretched in low light. ′′ Joanna Stern at The Wall Street Journal compared the camera’s performance to that of an “old BlackBerry”. Gizmodo had similar complaints, saying the Studio Display’s webcam was “noisy” and “not great”.

Shortly after the first Studio Display reviews published on the web criticizing its 12-megapixel webcam, Apple told the press that it was working on a software update to improve the quality of the image captured by the camera. integrated.

What changes with the update

Nearly two months after the Studio Display announcement, Apple today released developer beta firmware that brings image processing improvements to the company’s integrated display webcam.

At this time, the update is only available to those running the latest macOS Monterey beta, and it’s unclear when the update will be released. However, some Studio Display users have already installed the firmware update to see what it actually changes. And it turns out that the update doesn’t change much.

As noted Jason Snell, Apple made some adjustments to make the Center Stage crop less aggressive. The same time, James Thompson also noted that there was much less noise in the webcam images after the update, as well as a bit more contrast, but the quality is still “quite washed out” compared to other webcams.

The update doesn’t seem to miraculously improve the Studio Display’s webcam quality, and there’s a reason for that.

It’s all about the ultra-wide lens

Apple proudly says the Studio Display has a 12-megapixel camera, which should be plenty for sharp images. After all, the iPhone and other Apple devices also have 12-megapixel front cameras. But why is the Studio Display webcam so different in terms of image quality?

While most Apple devices have a standard wide front camera, Studio Display has an ultra-wide lens. Indeed, it has Center Stage, a feature that uses machine learning to always center the image on a person during a video call or video recording. Since this camera has no optical zoom, Center Stage digitally crops the image to center the people in the frame.

So while an iPhone is capable of taking a true 12-megapixel selfie, the Center Stage cameras capture 12-megapixel images using the ultra-wide lens and then digitally crop them to look like a photo or an ordinary video. This process results in less sharp images.

For example, my third-generation iPad Air has a seven-megapixel front camera. When I compare it to my iPad mini 6 (which has Center Stage), images from the older iPad look sharper.

Another example, I took the same photo using the rear wide and ultra-wide lens of my iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Both lenses are 12 megapixels, but then I cropped the photo captured by the ultra-wide lens to look like the photo from the wide lens, simulating what happens with photos taken by a Center Stage camera. The result, as you can see below, is a much worse quality photo.

And that’s why the iMac’s or MacBook Pro’s webcam will always be better than the Studio Display’s because they’re not ultra-wide. When you take a photo or shoot a video with a regular webcam, you get to enjoy every pixel of it.

Is there a solution?

Unfortunately, no matter what Apple does in terms of software updates, nothing will significantly improve the Studio Display webcam.

The only two possible solutions to this problem are to use a higher resolution sensor, so that the cropped image is at least 12 megapixels, or a larger sensor to capture more light – which would help reduce noise in the image.

However, as you might have guessed, both solutions require a hardware upgrade, which means owners of the first-gen Studio Display will have to deal with the webcam as it is.

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