Google Pixel 3 XL Night Sight camera mode technology is so good that it is magic
Arthur C Clarke said it decades ago. "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," he said. But examples of such technology are rarely on display, unless you happen to believe in the tales that Hollywood tells and take Thor at his word when he explains Asgard. The world of computers, though, has again and again led to creation of technology that seems magical. Now, you can add one more to the list: the Night Sight mode in the camera app of the recently-launched Google Pixel 3 phones.
Google talked about the Night Sight when it launched its new phones on October 9, but it is yet to officially roll out to the Pixel phones. However, a ported APK app of the Pixel 3 camera app is available and that has given the Pixel 3 and the Pixel 2 users first taste of the magic that Google has cooked up in the form of the Night Sight. This camera mode aims to make low-light photography with a phone much better than it is right now, and the way it works is phenomenal.
The idea is simple in concept, but deviously difficult to implement. Google is pushing limits of what is possible with small image sensors and tiny lenses in a smartphone by merging the camera hardware with, what the company calls, computational photography. Given the amount of performance that modern processors offer -- the Pixel 3 comes with the speedy Snapdragon 845 as well as a new Pixel Visual Core chip -- Google can now use some smart algorithms to carry out software-based functions that imitate what DSLR cameras do with their bulky lenses and big image sensors.
The Pixel 3 XL has many camera tricks, but as far as the Night Sight is concerned, it uses a technique that merges multiple frames for better exposure data and details. Google has told DPReview, a website that writes about cameras, that when used in the Night Sight mode, the camera in the Pixel 3 clicks up to 15 photos in a burst -- less the light, higher the number of photos -- with shutter speed of 1/3s. These photos are then merged together, and blurred pixels in the images are discarded. The details are filled in using algorithms that have been trained using Google's formidable machine learning techniques, exposure is corrected, right white balance is applied and users get an image that is brighter, has right amount of detail, good colours and low noise despite being shot in low light.
The final result from the Night Sight, and the feature is not yet rolled out officially, is so good that if you want to click a similar photo from a proper camera I believe you will need a full-frame DSLR camera and then will have to lift shadows in a photo editing app.
Here are some examples of the Night Sight used with the Pixel 3 XL camera. Important note: While you see these images, do notice a few things:
-- On the top you have images shot in regular mode. The image below that is the one shot with the Night Sight.
-- These images were shot in a near dark room. This is an extreme case scenario. Even in the regular mode, the Pixel 3 camera does a pretty good job because it is a good camera.
-- These are low-res images, the differences in the high-res are more pronounced.
-- The images shot in the regular mode show much more noise, and details are missing. The colours too are mushy and exposure is low.
-- The images shot with the Night Sight mode show much better colours, have good amount of detail and exposure is more appropriate.