What is Night Sight and How Does it Work?
One of the most useful and improving features in smartphone photography is in the area of low light photos. Google changed the game a couple of years ago when they released night sight with the Pixel 3. Prior to that point night mode on most cameras took slightly better photos in low light but couldn’t really make do without using flash. However by using a number of techniques Google made it possible to take incredible photos in extremely dark conditions without the need for flash photography.
But how exactly did they do it? What made it possible for them to get such stellar photos in conditions where their competitors needed to rely on external light. It’s quite simple to understand, for good photos the camera needs to capture as much light as possible, this can be achieved by either adding more light to a shot, such as via flash, but this has the undesired outcome of blinding subjects, looking unnatural and not being helpful for far away subjects or landscape night photography. Or by increasing shutter time allowing it to stay open for longer and receive more light, the problem there is if you’re not on a tripod or steady, or if the subject is in motion, you’ll end up with excessive motion blur and image noise to the point of almost being unusable. Tripods help with your hands moving but don’t fix motion blur if the subject moves, nor does it help with image noise.
To solve that problem Google approached night photography with the goal of improving shots without relying on external light. The pixel analyzes the amount of hand shake and movement occurring in the scene to adjust the exposure time automatically, based on the amount of movement occurring. Additionally it essentially uses an advanced method of HDR taking multiple photos as various exposure levels and combining them into one. The final aspect of night sight that helps the Pixel achieve such stellar results is Google’s use of machine learning to balance color and white balance for accurate and true to life photos.
The results speak for themselves, of course since first debuting their competitors have begun to employ these methods as well narrowing Pixel’s advantage over their competitors in this aspect of photography. This is an overall benefit to everyone as we are able to rely less and less on flash photography and get better and more natural photos regardless of lighting conditions.
Google never one to be left behind has further refined their technology and now touts astrophotography as the newest incarnation of night sight with a special focus on photographing the night sky and stars within it. The results have been fantastic. It’s exciting to see how Google manages to push photography using software, rather than relying on hardware.