Android camera

Your good camera hardware is going to get better with a future software update from Google

Google has confirmed to Cnet that the rumors of RAW file support coming to Android are true, as well as native burst shot for the camera application. According to Google spokesperson Gina Scigliano, support is already in place at the low level and the next step is to work on an API.

Android's latest camera HAL (Hardware Abstraction Layer) and framework supports raw and burst-mode photography. We will expose a developer API in a future release to expose more of the HAL functionality.

What does this mean for the user? Well we won't know for sure until we actually see it in use, but it brings some great possibilities to the table. Support for RAW image files can be used to create professional-style photo editors, along the lines of LightRoom from Adobe. When built with a touch interface and small screen in mind, these apps should be able to do some pretty powerful stuff.

In addition, burst-mode shooting being built into the firmware will allow the default Android camera app (as well as any app who wants to use the public API) multiple shot image-taking with little fuss. Besides the way it is used for HDR+ on the Nexus 5, this is something we've seen and enjoyed from HTC as part of their ImageSense tech, and having it at the hardware level makes things fast and fluid.

What we don't know is when to expect any of this. Google is always pushing Android forwards — even if we don't see the new features — and there is no telling if these changes will require a new platform version or just a minor point release. We're ready for them either way!

Source: Cnet

 

Reader comments

Google confirms RAW file support and native burst mode shooting coming to Android

69 Comments

Just had to share! My nexus 4 on T-Mobile in southern California just got the 4.4 kik Kat update!!!!

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A) I wouldn't be posting if I was in my GF's bedroom and;
B) It wouldn't be Gummy Bears I was eating.... :)

I have a feeling it'll in the next major release, I doubt it'll be part of KitKat, it'll maybe whatever they decide to call next, I'm guessing "Lollipop"?

I find it really hard to go frame by frame in a video, will bust mode fix that or is burst mode only for photos and not videos?

Stuttering FLAC playback? It's always worked fine on my N4. Though it does raise the question of what quality advantages of FLAC are you hoping to get out of in a mobile device?

Actually this already comes with the Nokia L1520 and will be delivered by Nokia to the Nokia L1020.
All it needs is a firmware update, not even at OS level so Google should be able to get this out pretty quickly.

RAW is useful only for phones with really good cameras and it's mainly aimed at professional or aspiring photographers, as it gives them the possibility of getting the image "pure" out of the camera, before all the compressing done to turn it into jpeg etc. The image, in pure state, will be better to be worked upon on proper photo editing software (think Photoshop).

Currently the only Android devices I could see benefit more from this would be the Galaxy S4 Zoom and Sony's Xperia Z1 (it would also avoid Sony's messed up algorithms that were oversampling the photos).

It will be interesting to see if Google will bring this to ALL devices, or leave it only for devices with powerful cameras as Nokia decided to do. 'cause lets be honest, if your phone has a 5mp camera...you won't get anything special just because you have the RAW file.

Raw is useful basically for image manipulation, as it stores all the information coming from the sensor.

The obvious example is the posterization that cripples a jpeg picture when changing some attributes as exposure or contrast, or applying any set of filters in Android, instagram, twitter, etc... Which is the MAIN usage scenario in smartphones.

Shooting raw is a complete DEALBREAKER in Android if done right.

What we have now:
- Take picture
- Picture gets jpeg compressed automatically
- Apply some filters over the compressed picture
- Upload a crippled, posterized, banded, noisy pictures with white highlights and black shadows

Same workflow with raw:
- Take raw picture
- Apply some filters over the raw picture
- Save edited jpeg (Optionally also original jpeg/raw, obviously)
- Upload a MUCH BETTER edited photo with minimal posterization and banding, and recovered highlights and shadows (to an extent). Noisy as hell too, that can't be fixed.

Note that if we edit the picture right after taking it we don't even waste storage with huge raw files. Everything is the same, just better.

It's nice to see a couple others that actually understand and comprehend what RAW is, and aren't asking questions like "Will it fix my auto focus"
Frankly, I can't see RAW every being necessary for a smart phone! If you are actually going to the extent of shooting RAW it's because you are doing so on a Professional or Semi Professional basis. Like what was mentioned above. In that case, you are a fool if you don't have even an entry level D-SLR.

It would be great to be able to edit my raw files from my dslr on my phone. I could edit and email a few photos right in front of a client. If your a half decent photographer, light room edits take 2 minutes, tweak white balance, adjust the color a bit, maybe crop, maybe adjust sharpness, done. If I could do that on the fly, or on a tablet at my real job when I have free time... Sounds good to me.

derp

Umm, you can do this already.

Step A: download RAW Vision or Photo Mate from the Play market. Step B: get your DSLR/ILC/compact RAW files into the Android device somehow... I suggest using a $2 USB OTG dongle to connect the camera directly or a small SD reader, tons of cameras have wifi now but they usually only transfer JPEG over wifi. Step C: edit/tweak RAW files in the typical non destructive fashion and profit.

This announcement and API only applies and it's only necessary for getting RAW files from the built in camera.

I could also throw some edits on a few pics, see what the client actually likes right in front of them. Just because you can't see a good reason for something does not mean it's a stupid idea.

derp

Why would RAW not help with lower end cameras or sensors? This high horse attitude from a couple of you is foolish at best and highly uninformed at worst. Just because you get paid for using a DSLR doesn't make you an expert...

There's plenty of cameras that use smaller sensors than a DSLR (and most of you are probably not shooting FF DSLR anyway so you're in the same camp) and being able to shoot RAW on them has long been a sought out feature by enthusiasts.

JPEG processing in even high end cameras isn't an exact science. There's still TONS of division everywhere about Canon's JPEG output vs Nikon's vs Olympus etc. Those giants don't always get the color or white balance right, much less the noise reduction...

You think Motorola and LG are gonna do any better than those companies with decades of experience? No, they're not, and that's why if you're gonna do any tinkering whatsoever with the photos you'd shoot RAW.

It allows you to set the WB, the colors, and NR precisely to taste without having to conform to whatever the device is preset to. I'd dare say that if you're interested in photography at all then shooting RAW is AS VALUABLE on a phone as on a high end camera, if not more.

Not only is the phone OEM gonna have less experience with JPEG processing, but even if they have a handle on it they may make decisions just to stand out at the detriment of accuracy (like oversaturating colors, kinda like the non-calibration of HDTVs on display).

Beyond the basic editing, people enjoy shooting RAW to get more details out of over exposed or under exposed areas, but who's to say that's any less feasible on a phone? If anything I'd argue a DSLR's higher end sensor and manual control options have a higher chance of getting that right at the moment of capture, vs a phone on auto with some random algorithm from the OEM.

I'm not saying your average Instagram selfie is gonna benefit from shooting RAW, but suggesting that ONLY a DSLR would is just flat out inaccurate.

Plus, beyond all that, you do realize there are high end mirrorless cameras running Android right? Samsung's efforts have been underwhelming for price/ergonomic/software issues but a camera like that (or any current gen small mirrorless model) can and does take as good of a picture as any DSLR.

Said cameras use the same size sensors as popular DSLR, removing the mirror assembly and moving the lens closer allows both the camera and lens to be substantially smaller without any IQ sacrifice whatsoever (you do have to use the LCD or an EVF rather than an optical VF, but EVF have their own benefits).

Heck, those smaller lenses are often of higher quality since they're easier to make... And the CDAF or hybrid CDAF/PDAF routine used by those cameras are usually more accurate than the PDAF sensor on DSLR. A high end DSLR's PDAF still holds the edge in motion tacking but most people (or even pros, outside of sports/wildlife) aren't using Canon 1Ds.

Back to those cameras running on Android though, like Samsung's. Their propriety software highly limits the potential uses and improvements, but if RAW and burst capture are part of the OS and easily accessed by anyone then that opens a world of possibilities and finally uncorks the potential of Android on cameras.

If you can't see how that's big news you've probably never heard of hack efforts like Magic Lantern for Canon DSLR etc... This would basically remove some of the barriers those guys faced on any camera running Android. Paves the way for a lot of things, just because you lack imagination doesn't mean you should dismiss this development.

I think you're overselling the capabilities of working with a RAW file quite a bit.

The main shortcoming with cell phone cameras is the lack of manual controls and an adequate light source. It's really no different than if you took a $1500 DSLR and a $700 lens and ran around taking photos in full automatic mode with the onboard flash.

You'll end up with a bunch of flat, lifeless photos and the beginner photographer left scratching his or her head trying to figure out why the photos don't look much better than the $150 point and shoot.

If shooting RAW with a cell phone camera, you still have to shoot in an automatic mode because the lack of dials, knobs, and buttons makes it unrealistic to make on the fly adjustments. Unless conditions are perfect, the best camera equipment out there will produce substandard photos without input from a human operator.

Will having the ability to shoot RAW files with a cell phone help? Marginally at best because you're susceptible to the garbage in, garbage out philosophy. No JPEG processor is going to take a good photo and turn it into junk. At best with a cell phone RAW file you may get a little color correction and white balance adjustments, but sharpening, noise reduction, shadow/highlight corrections etc. will probably be useless.

The problem with cell phone cameras isn't the JPEG processing. It's the fact that it's very difficult to get a good initial capture. An uncompressed and unprocessed out of focus, mis-metered, over-exposed, mostion-blurred photo is garbage way before the phone tries to process it.

" No JPEG processor is going to take a good photo and turn it into junk. "

And yet we've seen huge changes in output when the processing is altered, like the Moto X post update... I'm not saying RAW will be a magic bullet and all phones will see an improvement after 5 min in LR, but certain phones certainly stand to benefit and it may not even be the ones with better performing cameras.

Nothing's gonna help with camera shake obviously, outside of OIS, or focus issues... Though it me surprises me some phones still struggle with focus when the small sensor/lens combo should mean huge DOF and almost everything in focus by default.

If you shoot RAW (if you even know what RAW is) that's because you actually are interested in photography.
And if you're interested in phone-photography, you won't buy a phone with a 5mp camera. Even an 8mp camera won't interest you that much. Because you'll want the camera to get as much info as possible from the sensors.
You don't need to stick only to DSLR's as cameras on smartphones are becoming more and more powerful. Some amateur photographers are replacing DSLR's with phones.

Also, there's absolutely no point in shooting RAW to Instagram it.

So as far as I'm concerned, although obviously it can be extended to all kinds of phones, I think this is a feature that is only good for smartphone cameras above a certain quality. I don't way to aim only at >20mp as Nokia does. I would make it available on >8mp cameras and above. But not to anything bellow that.

Also, it mustn't be imposed on people. I'm expecting Google, much like Nokia, to make it available as a camera setting, where you have the choice of pre-setting the camera to shoot raw or to shoot for jpeg.
Actually, they should take the tip from Nokia and make it a double shot. A small version (normally 5mp) for social sharing, and then either the jpeg or raw file for other uses. And I expect OEM's will.

Was that reply aimed at me or just part of the argument and it just happened to fall under my comment? I don't think we're in disagreement about anything... I can't imagine RAW would ever be the default output of any Android device, it should absolutely be an option and it should be off by default on any phone so the average buyer doesn't waste any space with it...

Unless you're gonna do some fancy processing by default (as in automatically) but the RAW file can be discarded after that's done... Advanced users that want the RAW file shouldn't have any trouble enabling RAW capture. I'm not sure I'd subscribe to the view that for RAW to be useful it needs aminimum res tho...

For certain things certainly, but adjusting white balance or colors doesn't depend directly on resolution and capturing a RAW file to do so may allow you to do it better then the OEM's JPEG engine, which is just code written for a piece of silicon they didn't even manufacture. You can do that sorta thing for a JPEG but RAW always gives you more latitude.

Until the camera's picture taking performance of the Nexus 5 is perfected or as great as the HTC One, I'll have to defer.

I have a friend who may go for the Sprint HTC One Black Friday $29.99 offer by HTC. She has the OG EVO which works just fine for her. I'm still deliberating whether to go for it myself or await the forthcoming Android /Sense update for my HTC EVO 4G LTE and then the M8 with the Snapdragon 800 range of radios, with even better camera, and battery performance.

Google RAW and answer your own question! Actually I will just tell you.
NO! RAW format has nothing to do with correcting your Auto Focus!

Careful guys... Don't ask any questions. Ever! Geez put the shotgun down and calm yourself.

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If it helps to reduce noise on the Nexus 4 I'm all for it. Thats the only niggle I have with the N4 camera, just way too much noise even at low ISO.

Having the option to shoot RAW will have no difference what so ever in reducing noise. RAW in a nut shell, is simply a large format photo that allows photographers to have unlimited editing abilities during post processing without loosing any photo quality.

Yes and no, you shouldn't speak with such authority if you're gonna give vague half answers. He asked about noise, what you're talking about is tangential.

Shooting RAW does allow you to decide EXACTLY how much noise you wanna tolerate... If you're shooting JPEG the camera applies it's own noise processing however it sees fit and once it's gone too far there's no going back to recover details, similarly if it consistently applies too little NR then adding more processing to minimize it over a compressed JPEG is gonna be a detriment.

If you have a RAW file you can decide exactly how much noise vs smudged details you want while processing the photo later in order to export a JPEG.

You said it yourself, RAW is like having a FLAC/WAV or film negative, gives you more editing options, noise reduction is part of that process.

Oh great! As a photographer that owns high end equipment, this erks me. Not that Google is doing this, not because smart phones have amazing cameras, but because all these morons think they are over night professional photographers because of the above. They make up a name for their so called photography business and start advertising they will do portraits or weddings. Then they do a shit editing job, and give the customer a CD to print what they want at Walmart, severely undercutting the professionals. These "Fauxtographers" wouldn't know an F-Stop or Aperture if it bit them in the ass. Just my 2 cents.

While I agree with a lot of what you are saying. I am still excited. And if you are a good enough photographer be confident in your work. If you are good enough you will set yourself apart for the rest despite how many "photographers" are out there.

|❌_❌|

I think you need to relax. It is new and there will always be speculation of what it may accomplish by those who don't understand. You may know the answer in this case, but it might be you asking what you think are "ignorant" questions regarding another area. Without innovation you would now be doing tin types anyhow.

My XSi and me have done quite a good job being a fauxtographer. Give me a break. Pros need to see the light, the editing process is no longer the realm of high end computer programs or impossible darkroom technics. And the crazy price they charge? No longer. Unless you have a huge studio and can shoot in that environment, why charge a couple $3000 for 4-6 hours of on-site wedding shots. If your any good your edits take you maybe that same amount of time (maybe less) so your still getting $300 an hour for your time and getting marginally better results than me and my Rebel.

derp

If you're good, you won't have anything at all to worry about from 'fauxtographers'.
You don't want the business you think they may be taking from you, anyway.

Most consumers purchasing a "package" generally don't know anything about F-Stops or Apertures either, they just know a good picture when they see it. Unfortunately, the last time I opted for a photographer to do an event I was over-charged for what I got, and limited by a contract as to when, where and how I could share / post the pictures of *MY* event. Because of that I have no love lost for the overpriced photographer.

However, with that said I sincerely doubt that weddings are in any great danger of being shot by a "Moron" with a HTC One or Nexus 5.

David

OK GOOGLE - These features mean crap to us N5 users if you do not fix the terrible shutter lag and auto focus first. Hopefully you guys are not saying anything about that because it is just a given that it will be fixed!

This is how I feel about smart phone cameras.
I remember just using the old Poloroid cameras with the pictures that would come out the front. Every modern smart phone camera beats them by a mile, there all good enough for me.

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I have to believe this news means we'll be seeing the camera update sooner rather than later. Google wouldn't confirm anything if they weren't close to releasing it.

I have a theory...

Google already has Nexus 5 doing burst mode for HDR+. For the folks that say these changes aren't going to help auto-focus, what if instead of 5 pictures taken at different exposures they take 5 pictures at different focus points? Maybe "auto-focus" isn't really needed....

This could lead to Lytro type "pick your focus" photos. Add AutoAwesome to the mix, and the possibility of infinite focus (one picture with the "in focus" parts from all the burst put together - and yes, RAW might be useful here to convey additional detail).

And before you laugh and say I'm crazy, remember the MEMS camera theory that floated around based on the sensor - maybe the "that MODULE isn't going to be in the Nexus 5" has proven true, but what if Android no longer NEEDS the module?

Just a couple of thoughts.....

I hope you're crazy like a fox and you're right. I also hope they get this update pushed out before the spring.