Google Wants Your Phone’s Camera To See At Night

Colby’s photo taken with the Google Pixel 3 XL – No editing. Photo Credit: Colby Brown – Used with Permission.

Every October, I make the traditional pilgrimage to my hometown of New York City to visit my family and to attend the PDN PhotoPlus Expo. In addition to catching up with industry friends and contacts, going to “PPE” also means that I get to compare the prowess of my smartphone’s camera against that of one of my best friends, Colby Brown. Like me, Colby loves geeking about mobile tech, and while he’s devoutly in the Android camp, I’m a loyalist to Apple’s iOS platform. For the past few events, Colby and I made our way to the roof deck of a hotel near the Javitz Center at night to compare the low-light performance of whatever Google’s latest phone is to Apple’s. In 2018, this match pitted Colby’s Google Pixel 3 XL against my Apple iPhone Xs Max. While I believe that my phone outperformed his in every previous match, this time, my iPhone was absolutely crushed thanks to a new camera feature Google introduced called Night Sight.

My photo taken with the Apple iPhone Xs Max - No editing
My photo, taken with the Apple iPhone Xs Max – No editing.

Google has clearly taken a different approach to Apple and other mobile phone manufacturers. Whereas most phones sport multiple lenses to capture more depth information or support different focal lengths, Google has stuck with a single lens, opting to rely heavily on its computational photography brawn to simulate features, like Portrait Mode, that other companies achieve using multiple lenses. It’s this same computational photography that powers the Pixel 3 camera’s Night Sight.

Photo Credit: Colby Brown - Used with Permission.
Photo Credit: Colby Brown – Used with Permission.

According to Google, “Night Sight constantly adapts to you and the environment, whether you’re holding Pixel or propping it on a steady surface. Before you press the shutter button, Night Sight measures your natural handshake, as well as how much motion is in the scene. If Pixel is stable and the scene is still, Night Sight will spend more time capturing light to minimize noise; if Pixel is moving or there’s significant scene motion, Night Sight will use shorter exposures, capturing less light to minimize motion blur.”

Google has really found a winner with Night Sight, and it’s clear that its future is very bright.

Photo Credit: Colby Brown - Used with Permission.
Photo Credit: Colby Brown – Used with Permission.


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