When Facebook first introduced its '3D photos' feature in October 2018, it became an instant hit with its users. The feature used depth data from your phone's portrait mode to provide a "trippy" parallax effect to the images.
While the 3D photos looked quite cool when you scrolled through your timeline, the problem was the feature only worked if you had a phone that had two or more cameras that could take portrait mode shots. However, that's not going to be a constraint anymore.
3D photos from single camera phone
Facebook has announced that it is now able to create 3D images without using portrait mode data.
Apparently, the social network will now let you "post" 3D photos to your timeline using the Facebook app even when you have a phone with a single camera. What this means is that you can also use your phone's front-facing camera to create 3D selfies.
Feature uses AI to convert 2D photos into 3D
The Menlo Park, California-based tech giant announced the feature on the Facebook AI blog, where engineers explain how they pulled this tech off. Facebook said that it used artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to teach a neural network how to "infer 3D structures from 2D images" even if the photos were taken with a single lens camera.
"This advance makes 3D photo technology easily accessible for the first time to the many millions of people who use single-lens camera phones or tablets" the announcement reads. "It also allows everyone to experience decades-old family photos and other treasured images in a new way, by converting them to 3D."
Up until now, 3D photos relied on using each camera to take an image that Facebook would use to create the "depth-effect" in a 3D photo, but following the advancement the company now uses AI to calculate the depth. The fact that the tech uses AI for depth sensing and doesn't rely on multiple cameras or special portrait mode means that it could also work with different subjects like paintings and selfies too.
Facebook took a page from Google's book
Facebook is not the first to use AI to infer 3D data from 2D images. Google has been doing this for quite some time with its Pixel phones which come with a single camera but are capable of excellent portrait mode. There are also several apps that are available such as the LucidPix app that basically do the same thing.
Nevertheless, the implementation in Facebook is going to make this nifty and cool feature accessible to a lot more people than ever before and the best part is that it's absolutely free. So now you don't need to buy an iPhone 11 or one of Google's Pixels or purchase a premium version of an app to get the feature. The feature should also do a better job than some of the other implementations out there because it has Facebook's engineering muscle behind it.
Feature will take time to come on every device
The feature isn't going to be available on every phone yet, as Facebook needs some more time to optimise the technology for each device.
Facebook has confirmed that anyone with an iPhone 7 or higher or "a recent midrange or better Android device" should be able to use the 3D photo feature in the Facebook app.