Google’s smartphones used to have some of the worst cameras in the Android ecosystem, but it started to catch up with the final Nexus phones in 2015. Then in 2016, Google suddenly jumped to the head of the pack with the computational photography features of the first-generation Pixels. Google has continued pushing the bounds of mobile photography with features like Night Sight, which is finally rolling out to Pixel phones today.
Night Sight, as the name implies, is a camera mode for taking photos in low light settings. Even without Night Sight, the Pixel 3 and 3 XL have best-in-class performance in dim lighting. That’s all thanks to Google’s HDR+ processing algorithm. Whereas Samsung copes with low-light photography via an adjustable camera aperture, Google takes multiple images for each capture and stacks them. Using some AI magic, Google can extract detail from dark and light areas of the frame. Outdoors, this produces amazingly well-exposed shots with no blown out highlights. In the dark, you get crisp details without excessive noise.
According to Google, most phone cameras that don’t use multiple frames begin to struggle around 30 lux of brightness. That’s equivalent to a dim room, but one in which you’d still be able to read a book. With Night Sight, Google extends the capture time to gather more data about the scene. It might take two or three seconds to take a photo in Night Sight mode. In addition, you have to enable Night Sight from the camera app settings. Google says its processing tech has the ability to detect and compensate for some movement, but there’s only so much you can do with multi-second exposures.
Night Sight can take an image that might otherwise have been too dim and turn it into something that looks not just passable but nice. Even Night Sight has its limits, though. Google says your autofocus will start to fail around 0.3 lux, which is dark enough that your eyes can’t resolve small objects nearby. However, Night Light on the Pixel has “near” and “far” focus modes in addition to autofocus.
Night Light is rolling out to all three generations of Pixel phones today. The first-gen Pixel doesn’t have optical stabilization so the results might not be as good. However, the processing technology behind Night Sight is not dependent on the latest hardware. Night Sight is a bit out of the way. You’ll find it in the Pixel camera app under the “” section.
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