Excellent cameras have always been a key selling point of Google’s Pixel smartphones, but some of the best photographic technologies in Google’s phones are software-based.
So when the company showed off some impressive new camera features for the Pixel 3 earlier this month, Google also promised some of those features would also be coming to 1st and 2nd-gen Pixel phones.
Case in point: the latest version of the Google Camera app includes Night Sight, a feature that lets you capture brighter images in dark settings without using a flash bulb. It works on Pixel, Pixel 2, and Pixel 3 phones.
There’s one small catch: the feature is baked into Google Camera 6.1.013, but it’s hidden by default. Enter xda-developers forum member cstark27, who unlocked the feature and posted a modified version of the Camera app for anyone to download.
I took the app for a spin on my Pixel 2, and it’s pretty impressive.
When you try to take a picture in a dark or dimly lit room with the flash bulb disabled, the app will show a message saying “It’s dark, try Night mode.” To do that, just tap the “more” section in the menu and choose Night.
Now when you snap a picture, you need to hold your phone still for a few seconds as it captures multiple images and then uses data from those pictures to create a single picture with better lighting.
Note that it may take a moment for your phone to process the image before it’s available — Google’s recent phones can process HDR+ images almost instantly, but this is like super HDR and it takes a bit more horsepower.
The finished image will be brighter than any picture you could capture without using Night mode… but it may also be blurrier. The more your hand shakes, the more blurry it’s likely to be.
While the feature is pretty impressive, you need at least a little light to get a good shot. Night mode doesn’t do much if you’re in a completely dark space. And it also doesn’t do much if you’re in a well-lit room, other than add a few seconds to the amount of time it takes to snap a photo.
Oh, and since Night Sight is a software-based feature, it’s not limited to the rear camera. You can use it with the front camera too, although the results don’t look quite as good.
You can find a download link for the modified Google Camera app at xda-developers. Installing it will not overwrite your existing Google Camera app. Instead you’ll see a new app in your launcher called CameraP3.
Or you can just wait for Google to roll out an official update that brings the feature to all Pixel phones — no modding required.
You can check out a few samples I shot at home below, or head over to xda-developers for some pretty amazing outdoor shots.