With every new flagship smartphone, the first question we ask is “how’s the camera?” It’s amazing how every year cameras are able to take more beautiful photos. Until one point, it was almost entirely reliant on software. Eventually, the megapixel count wasn’t as important as what OS was behind it. That has never been more relevant since Google Pixel just blew out all competition with its spectacular snaps. However, smartphone snappers lament low light and nighttime photography with smartphones. Shots are too noisy, blurry and can never compare to what a DSLR can do.
Google’s latest experiment may put an end to these woes once and for all. Google researcher Florian Kainz whipped up an experimental Android app on a challenge from a team member. His app is able is able to take clean photos in the darkest conditions. You get manual control over exposure, focus distance as well as ISO sensitivity: the three crucial aspects of low-light photography. When you press the shutter button, the app will take a burst of up to 64 photographs. With some calculation, the app will eliminate the noise by computing the mean of the frames, remove artifacts by subtracting the mean of frames shot with tape over the sensor.
The main image of this article shows you what the app can do. It looks promising. Google’s Nexus 6P and Pixel do well in low-light situations but this app is produces results far better than what any device is otherwise capable of. Kainz was able to take a very nice photo of the night sky with starlight as the only light source. His approach can compensate for motion as well, so you don’t need a tripod. A truly smartphone-level experience.
Considering all the adjustments a user would have to do, it isn’t very practical for the average user who prefers it all being done automatically. Kainz believes that a phone could handle everything by itself eventually. If his app every sees the mainstream light of day, nighttime photography is going to be a lot of fun!