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Google's Night Sight is now live for the Pixel phones and it's quite the game changer

By Koh Wanzi - on 15 Nov 2018, 3:18pm

Google's Night Sight is now live for the Pixel phones and it's quite the game changer

Google Pixel 3

Google is finally rolling out Night Sight for its Pixel phones, including the Pixel 2 and 2016's Pixel. First announced alongside the Pixel 3 phones at Google's October hardware event in New York, Night Sight is basically a dedicated night mode that boosts image quality using Google's computational photography smarts. 

In a nutshell, it's basically night photography on steroids. Google says its goal was to improve photos taken with lighting between 3 and 0.3 lux, which is the difference between a sidewalk lit by street lamps and a room so dark you can't find your keys on the floor. What's more, it does this using the Pixels' single camera and no LED flash. 

To start off, Night Sight uses positive-shutter-lag, or PSL, which waits until after you press the shutter button before it starts capturing images. This is in contrast with the default picture-taking mode on Pixel phones, which uses a zero-shutter-lag (ZSL) protocol and begins capturing frames once you open the camera app. PSL requires that you hold still for a short time after pressing the shutter, but it allows for longer exposures and thus improves the single-to-noise ratio at much lower brightness levels.

There's not nearly enough light here for the regular shooting mode on the Pixel 3.

Night Sight cleans up the image considerably, even bringing the color back to the poster on the wall.

However, longer exposure times can lead to motion blur. Beyond the optical image stabilization on the Pixel 2 and 3, Google uses something called motion metering, which looks at the phone's movement, the movement of objects in the scene, and the amount of light available to decide on the right exposure time to minimize motion blur. This means that if the phone is being stabilized on a tripod for example, the exposure for each frame could be increased to as much as one second.

Ultimately, the number of frames and exposure times depends on the Pixel model you have, how much your hand is shaking, scene motion, and scene brightness. 

Google then aligns and merges the frames it's captured to further reduce image noise, and all this happens within a few seconds on the phone. In the first reviews of Night Sight and our initial testing, Night Sight has shown that it works, and very well at that. In fact, it's capable of transforming a scene shrouded in darkness into one completely viewable. 

You can barely see anything here, but the next shot is completely different.

Night Sight is capable of transforming a nearly pitch black image into a far more revealing one.

Night Sight will be rolling out over the next few days in the form of an update to the Google Camera app. 

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