COOL TIP: Pixel Smartphone Turns Night into Day

Clear pictures in light so low that you can’t even see the object that you are shooting?  It’s hard to believe.  Yet there’s no denying what your eyes can (and can’t see) when it comes to Night Sight, Google’s latest smartphone camera innovation which literally turns night into day.   Amazingly, you can take pictures of what your eye can’t see.

Super easy-to-use and super complicated to understand how it works: that’s probably the best way to describe Night Sight.  This new photo feature on Pixel smartphones is yet another example of how artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing the photography world.  Fortunately, you don’t have to understand how it works, only how to use it….and that part is relatively easy.

HOW DOES NIGHT SIGHT WORK?

So, let’s get the complicated stuff out of the way first.  Night Sight is designed to take better photos in low-light conditions for both the rear and selfie cameras.  It allows you capture vibrant and detailed low-light photos without the need for a distorting flash or tripod.  And, like night goggles, it’ll even work in light so dim you can’t see much with your own eyes. (Believe it or not, we’ve used it in lieu of a flashlight when we didn’t want to disturb a unique critter in our backyard.)

Shooting in low light can be infuriating for even the best photographers.  Google has tapped into its bodacious Pixel HDR+ algorithm to boost color, brightness and stability when confronted by low light.   By choosing the Night Sight option, you enable Pixels HDR+ processing to boost colors and brightness.  If the camera detects a dark environment, a pop-up suggestion automatically appears.

Google’s HDR+ Processing is a proprietary technology that reduces “noise” and enlivens colors.  In reality, it is taking a burst of shots and then combining the best of each image to create one final version of that image.   Oddly enough, it is not automatically enabled.  You need to go into the camera’s advanced settings and enable the HDR+ control.

Expert Tip:  Since the Pixel’s HDR+ is the best and most important part of its picture taking process, it is essential that you turn this on the minute that you buy your phone.

Night Sight is constantly adapting to both you and your photo object.  As you press the shutter button, Night Sight measures hand shake as well as any motion in the scene and then compensates.   If stability is not an issue, Night Sight focus on capturing light to brighten the scene.  If faced with instability, Night Sight compensates by using using shorter exposure bursts.  By merging these multiple exposures, Night Sight prevents motion blur and brightens the photo, resulting in a well-lit and sharp photo.  Presto:  the night is gone.

Some critics have accused Night Sight as fabricating a photo — taking some basic visual data and then filling in the blanks with educated guesses. They’re not entirely off-base. Night Sight is essentially image stacking on steroids, thanks to Google’s AI design. Image stacking has been around for years. Yet, thanks to Google Distinguished Engineer Marc Levoy’s pioneering efforts to enhance computational photography, Night Sight is turning heads of SLR camera buffs.  You can read more about it at Levoy’s Google blog, not that you’d understand much of it.  It’s really complicated stuff.

Suffice to say that Google has added machine learning to help its phones stabilize and then choose the appropriate colors for a scene based on content.  We choose to look at it as a magic trick; we know we’re fooled but are content to not to know how we were fooled.

HOW TO USE NIGHT SIGHT

Here’s the easy part.  Night Sight is automatically enabled on your device.  There are two ways of accessing this feature:

Automatically: If you’re taking a photo in low light, Pixel will suggest using Night Sight.  The small button will appear on the screen and you need only tap to initiate this function

Manually:  If the Night Sight option is not automatically triggered, but you want to brighten the shot, you can select Night Sight mode by clicking the MORE button, just to the right of VIDEO mode.

HOW TO MASTER NIGHT SIGHT

Google has listed some tips to help users take full advantage of Night Sight mode.  Some of its suggestions include;

  • Ask your photo subject to hold still for a few seconds before and after you press the shutter button.
  • Prop the phone against a stable surface, if possible.  The steadier the hand, the more processing can focus on the light and sharpness of the exposure.
  • Tap both on and around your subject before taking the picture. This step helps your camera focus when taking photos in very dark conditions.
  • Avoid any bright light sources in a Night Sight picture.  It’ll cause unwanted reflections in your photo.

WHICH PHONES HAVE NIGHT SIGHT

All Pixel phones have this function, but they are not all equal.  On Pixel 1 and 2, Google relies upon HDR+’s merging algorithm, “modified and re-tuned”  to help it detect and reject misaligned pieces of frames. However, on Pixel 3, the device uses Super Res Zoom, similarly re-tuned, whether you zoom or not.  Although it was developed for super-resolution, it also works to reduce noise, since it averages multiple images together. Super Res Zoom produces better results for some nighttime scenes than HDR+, but it requires the faster processor of the Pixel 3.

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