Google's Newest Phone Tech Brings Your Darkest Secrets to Light

Google has already taken cameraphone technology to the next level with its initial offering of the 12.2-megapixel camera in the Pixel 3. Now, it has added stunning capability in low-light situations that might have gear geeks considering finally taking the Google leap.

Having only owned one iPhone in my life, (the iPhone 4s), I’ve been a devoted Samsung Galaxy Note user for the last five years. My Android affection began in ‘09 with the HTC Hero, and I just never quite got over it. The version of the Note that I carry today, the Note 8, has everything I currently want in a phone: slim body, huge display, smoking fast processor, that nifty little S-Pen for writing notes and drawing stick figures, and a perfectly wonderful camera combination that offers an f/1.7 aperture and 12 megapixels, which is almost the same as my first DSLR. However, in low light, without flash, my images from the Note 8 are just ugly. From the grain to the color-rendering, I rarely capture anything in low light that I want to share with the world without heavy edits in Photoshop Express, and even that can’t save them all. That’s why this video about Google Pixel’s Night Sight completely caught my attention.

Evidently, Google has made the camera in the Pixel 3 so smart that it basically takes its HDR Plus technology to another level, and in doing so, it records all kind of light information in what it calls “motion metering,” recording up to 15 frames, or up to 6 seconds, for each image. So, acting like a long exposure that forgives your movements, it smashes all that information together into an image that looks like you either used great light or a tripod, when you actually had neither.

The Google Pixel 3 has been super impressive in the camera arena even without this addition, so this is really just the cherry on top of an already tempting treat. Will this be enough to convert a gear geek and Note 8 lover such as myself? Maybe so.

Do you have any experience with the Google Pixel 3 and its Night Sight technology? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Jenny Edwards's picture

Jenny Edwards is a portrait photographer based in Amarillo, TX. She specializes in family and generational portraiture, as well as fashion-inspired portraits for high school seniors.

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I tried this out on my Pixel 3 XL. They were ok. I need to do more testing but for now I found the HDR Enhanced was better in terms of sharpness. This is because it has a faster shutter speed. It still had a little higher ISO though. If you want Night Sight to work well you really have to keep the phone steady. I took several shots and found it was difficult to get a clean image that was going to be better than HDR Enhanced. If you're just uploading these images to Facebook or twitter, they should be perfectly fine. These were just test photos. All taken handheld keeping steady but not trying to hard to make the results unrealistic.

First is HDR off, second HDR Enhanced and third is Nigh Sight

Also notice how HDR and Night Sight change the color science. Night Sight almost has a neon cast.

Isn’t this basically the same thing as Sony’s “Handheld Twilight” more that they introduced no later than 2009?
The Sony system is to take 6 shots and the camera lines them up and creates a good low light shot.
The concept is actually rather simple, computationally, take 6 short exposure pictures as a bitmap, and just sum up the different values for each pixel.

Similar to Sony pixel shift. The only difference is on something like the A7RIII, you'll need a tripod to get a better image than you normally can. With the phone you can just handheld. I'm going to be doing some more tests by putting my Pixel 3 XL on a tripod and see what images I can get when it's not handheld. I'll take some photos with the lightroom app as well to compare with image straight from the sensor at low iso and shutter speeds.

Here is a more controlled experiment with Night Sight Google Pixel 3 XL.

Photos are take on a tripod. Focus at tree trunks.

1. HDR off
2. HDR on
3. HDR Enhanced
4. Night Sight

I also took some shots with the Lightroom app. "See reply" I could not match the Night Sight photo with a single image. The settings I had were, DNG Raw, ISO 198, 1 second. LR Exposure Compensation 1.5, Noise reduction 40. I also took one at ISO 55 but since I was limited to 1 second my Exposure Compensation had to be set to 3.4 to match and at that point I started to see blotches from the sensor.

Lightroom photos, Converted to JPG.

1. ISO 55, 1 sec, Exposure Compensation 3.4, Noise Reduction 50
2. ISO 198, 1 sec, Exposure Compensation 1.5, Noise Reduction 40

Hey man, thanks for the comparison shots! Interesting to see the differences in sharpness.