This nighttime photo of a suburban New Jersey neighborhood was taken without a flash on a Google Pixel using the Night Sight feature. (Photo: Edward C Baig)
A perfect photo-op has presented itself. Well, perfect, that is, except for one critical problem: There’s barely any light.
You could fire up a flash, but the results are often unsatisfactory. Besides, in some places using a flash is prohibited altogether. And a flash won’t do you much good if what you want to shoot is a landscape.
When Google launched the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL smartphones recently it promised a Night Sight feature that would address such problems, by letting you take pictures in dimly-lit places without a flash.
Over the next few days, Night Sight will be coming to the latest Pixels, and the previous two generations of Google’s Pixel phones, through an update to the Camera app. The feature works on both the front and rear cameras on these devices.
I’ve gotten to try the Night Sight ahead of time, using a Pixel 3 XL. I got decent albeit imperfect results. I was quite pleased with some night-time shots of my kids in the backyard, and in at least one instance with an indoor shot of my daughter taken in a dark room.
But some images were badly pixelated, with the flaws especially visible if you zoom in on a picture. And a shot of the trees in my neighborhood came out a bit blurry and made nighttime look a bit like dusk.
Still, most Night Sight pictures I took are more than Instagram-worthy. I had already reaped praise on the Pixel 3 XL camera in a prior review. The addition of Night Sight makes the already excellent camera here all the better.
The way Google explains Night Sight, the feature constantly adapts to you and your surroundings, and it doesn’t matter if you’re holding the Pixel yourself or propping it on a steady surface. Before you press the shutter button, Night Sight measures your natural hand shake, and how much motion is in the scene. If Night Sight detects a still and stable scene, the camera will capture more light to minimize noise; if the Pixel does detect movement in the scene or by the shooter, Night Sight will use shorter exposures, capturing less light to minimize motion blur.
Google adds that if your subject moves, instead of capturing one bright and blurry photo, Night Sight will grab an equal amount of light over a burst of many dark but sharp photos. It will then merge the burst to help prevent motion blur and brighten the photo.
When you launch the Camera app In some low light settings, you may see a notification suggesting you use Night Sight. But you can also manually turn on the setting.
After I pressed the shutter my own Night Sight pictures, I was directed to hold the phone still for another couple of seconds—and if you are shooting a person, you’ll want to direct them to remain still too. You’ll know you’re shooting in Night Sight mode because the shutter button has a crescent moon-shaped icon on it.
If it is very dark, it may help to tap on or around your subject to help the camera focus. But remember, you’ll need at some light for the feature to work. There are no miracles to be had in the pitch black.
I’ll be shooting more nighttime features with the feature. And once those of you with Pixel have gotten to try Night Shift on your own device, send us sample photos and let us know what you think.
Email: [email protected]; Follow USA TODAY Personal Tech Columnist @edbaig on Twitter
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