Gadgets for humans

Google’s astounding Night Sight is now available for all Pixel phones

Batman of cameras

When Google announced its Pixel 3 devices, one of the most intriguing features was Night Sight – the ability to take pictures in ultra-dark situations. Sadly, the feature wasn’t available right away. Now, Night Sight is finally rolling out to all Pixel phones through an update to the camera app. We’ll take a look at how to use it, some results, and how it works.

How to use it

If you own a Pixel phone, first, you need to update the camera app. Then head to the More section and select “Night Sight”.  You can start snapping photos right away. Once you press the shutter button, it will take anything in between 2 to 6 seconds for the camera to capture and process the photo.

On the Pixel 3, there is a selection for manual focus with Far and Near options, to improve autofocus ability based on the distance of the object from the lens.


Google has made some serious progress in the computational photography field. Night Sight is a prime example of that. The company claims that Night Sight is designed to take photos at extremely low-light levels. I’ve been using Night for nearly 24 hours and the results are impressive.
Credit: Ivan Mehta
Without Night Sight
Credit: Ivan Mehta
With Night Sight
Sure, the colors are not super accurate when Night Sight is turned on, but it can pull off where you would otherwise see nothing.
Credit: Ivan Mehta
Without Night Sight
Credit: Ivan Mehta
With Night Sight

In the photos above, the object is hardly visible when Night Sight is turned off. And frankly, even with naked eyes, I wasn’t able to make out much of the details. Photo with Night Sight turned on is a different ball game altogether. The photo has a lot of noise and colors are not super accurate. But we have to keep in mind the phone is working in a dim-lit situation. Honestly, to get decent photos without motion blur is a great achievement.

Night Sight photos often look like a picture of an object with the 70s’ retro filter. That’s acceptable at the moment, and with software updates, Google will surely refine the end result.


How it works 

The company says that Night Sight is optimized to work between 0.3lux (level of lights when you can’t see your keys on the floor) and 3lux (level of light on sidewalk lit by street lamps). Essentially, Night Sight mode captures multiple frames at a higher exposure and merges them later for the final photo.
In normal mode, Google camera captures starts capturing frames in a circular buffer (Some frames are deleted as soon new ones are captured) to ensure zero shutter lag. However, for Night Sight mode, the camera captures frames only after one presses the shutter button. That allows Night Sight to capture frames with longer exposure.
The time of exposure per frame depends on how much the camera is moving. On the Pixel 3 and the Pixel 2, exposure time per frame, in Night Sight mode is higher thanks to Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). One the first Pixel and selfie mode, exposure time per frame is less. The camera sets exposure time between 1/15 seconds to 1 second depending on the phone, handshake, and brightness. Night Sight can take up to 6 seconds to capture clear pictures.
Once frames are captured, Google uses special algorithms to merge and align those to get the final result. On the Pixel 3, it uses the same algorithm that is used for Super Res Zoom feature. On the Pixel and the Pixel 2, it takes help of the HDR+ code. Google’s algorithm also uses learning-based Auto White Balancing for color correction and tone mapping for shadow retention to make the picture look punchy.
Google claims that because of the latest hardware and software, Night Sight will work the best on the Pixel 3. The company says that it wants to make users feel like having Night Sight “is a superpower.”
Night Sight is certainly a cool add-on to the Pixel 3’s already powerful camera. Other makers like OnePlus, Huawei, and Xiaomi have also added a night mode to their phones. It looks like next generation of smartphone will have no fear of the dark. 

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Published November 14, 2018 — 17:00 UTC