Low-light camera arrives as Night Sight hits Pixel

Owners of every Google Pixel phone (including that new one) are about to get an updated camera, as night mode image stacking arrives on Google phones.

It’s pretty clear that cameras play a big part in the smartphone market today, and every major phone this year has shown an improvement in snapping a picture.

The cameras in phones are so good these days that actual cameras need to be pretty special for people to go out and actively buy one, or bring one along, and there’s one area that they frequently seem to have an edge in: night photography.

Call it a perk of a bigger sensor or having the hardware dedicated to low-light photography, but most phones don’t exactly excel in capturing images at night, unless you opt to fire the flash.

This year, however, a few phone manufacturers had the bright idea of stacking images together and creating a better low-light image. We first saw it on the Huawei-Leica collaboration that was the P20 Pro, and later on glimpsed a new version in the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, while Google also talked up its own version for the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.

Called “Night Sight”, it’s Google’s take on the image stacking concept mixing it with machine learning to build a better image.

It’s not just about the extra intelligence, either, because Night Sight gets two buttons to help the camera focus in darkness, letting you hit “near” if you’re around a metre from the subject or “far” if you’re over three metres away. Combine that with some neat software and technology prowess, and you have Google’s Night Sight, which can apparently make some night-time shots look more like day time, or much earlier in the night than the photo might suggest.

Google Night Shot
An image from Google showing the before and after of Google’s night time photography capabilities.

Tested in a developer preview on the Pixel 3 XL, the result was some pretty impressive low light imagery that made it possible for the new Pixel to get close to seeing in the dark, but the official roll-out of Google’s Night Sight has another perk: it will work on more than just Google’s latest phone.

In fact, if you have a Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, or one of the first-generation Google Pixel or Pixel XL handsets, Google’s Night Sight can work there, meaning old phones are also getting a slight upgrade.

If you do have one of these phones — a Pixel phone, any Pixel phone — Google Night Sight will be rolling out to your phone in the coming days, and it will also work on the front-facing camera as well, meaning night-time selfies are possible.

Google suggests that if you’re using Night Sight, you’ll want to hold the phone steady and avoid pointing the camera at bright light sources, asking your subject to remain as still as possible before and after the camera shutter button is pressed. The camera can only do so much, so provided you follow the tips and don’t try to capture in total pitch black, you should come out with some images that reveal more than their night-time scene might suggest.

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