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All that engineering in the palm of your hand

If you have a smartphone in your pocket or purse, chances are you are benefitting from the work of the French engineering company DXOMARK, which works with every major smartphone maker to improve its smartphone cameras, audio, and displays.

I started working for DXOMARK in November of 2019 — the company asked me to interview its leaders and engineering teams, write the story of the company, and revise and expand the text on its corporate website. They'd found me through a headhunter, who found me on LinkedIn. They wanted a writer who

understood something about photography and who could translate complicated technical information into clear and compelling English. It turned into a fun learning experience for me, and it helped me understand how my smartphone camera — which I use every day — works.

While a smartphone camera still has a lens and a sensor, like all digital cameras, it is so tiny that the end result of that selfie you snapped is the result of some serious algorithms and software. When you click the shutter, the device actually takes a handful of photos, at different exposures, and then melds them together to get the sharpest, best exposed image. That image is the synthesis of multiple images. DXOMARK's engineering team tests the smartphones in its labs in Boulogne-Billancourt and helps the companies, like Apple, Samsung, and Xiaomi, revise the software and algorithms to get the best possible results from the hardware in the device. DXOMARK also has a website where it publishes the results of its testing, and for the past year I've been learning how to turn engineering reports into consumer reports, to help people who want to know which smartphone has the best cameras, audio, or displays. The site has millions of readers (very demanding ones, in fact) and there is plenty of debate in the comments from fans of one brand or another. Here's the last one I did, about the Apple iPhone 12 mini camera setup. I took the inset photo with my iPhone 12 Pro Max, using a slow-shutter app that allowed me to take more than a dozen images and meld them into one impressionistic image of an otherwise dull gray day.


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