These Gorgeous Low-Light Photographs Were Taken With A Cellphone

This photo was taken with a Nexus 6P.

Credit: Florian Kainz/Google

This photo was taken with a Nexus 6P.

Have you ever taken a photo at night with a cellphone that didn’t turn out well? There wasn’t enough light and the picture was too dark, too blurry or both? High quality, low-light photography can be a challenge with a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera – with a cellphone it’s impossible.

Or is it?

Florian Kainz, a software engineer at Google Daydream, pushed the cameras in Google’s Nexus and Pixel’s cameras to their limits to find out what cellphones can do in low light. The results are breathtaking.

Low-light photography typically demands long exposure times that allow enough light to accumulate to expose the image. Unfortunately, people can’t hold a camera steady without help for the length of time needed. Mounting a cellphone on a tripod will work as long as the subject of the photo is static. If anything moves, its image will be blurred.

One way to solve this problem is by using a high dynamic range photography app like Google’s HDR+ with your cellphone camera. (Note that HDR for photos is completely different from HDR for TV. Same acronym, different technology.) Photo HDR takes a short burst of photos at very fast exposure times and then averages them together to get the final picture.

Kainz used an experimental app for HDR called SeeInTheDark. He coupled it with an app he wrote for Android that allowed him to control exposure time, shutter speed and focus distance for bursts of up to 64 exposures. The raw exposures were captured as DNG (Digital Negative) files and downloaded to a PC for processing. The processing involved averaging the exposed images and then subtracting an equal number of pure black images to eliminate some faint visual noise effects. Kainz provides more technical details in his blog post on the Google Research Blog.

Kainz’ quest to discover just what cellphone cameras can do in low-light conditions started with the photo below of the Golden Gate Bridge. He took the picture with his DSLR and showed it to his colleagues on the Gcam team at Google Research. They challenged him to see what he could do with a cellphone camera.

Photo taken with a Canon 1DX, Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 ZE

Credit: Florian Kainz/Google

Photo taken with a Canon 1DX, Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 ZE

He came up with the following photo of the same scene shot with a Nexus 6P. They both look pretty good at the resolution shown on this webpage but neither of the web images do the photos justice.

Photo taken with a Nexus 6P.

Credit: Florian Kainz/Google

Photo taken with a Nexus 6P.

There are links to the full resolution images of both photos in Kainz’ blog post. Check it out. The picture taken with the DSLR is technically superior but the Nexus version is beyond amazing. I had no idea cellphone cameras were capable of producing low-light images like the ones Kainz is getting with his Nexus 6P.

The blog post contains many more low-light cellphone images with full-resolution links. There’s also a link to a Google Photos album with even more pictures, many of which have already made their way into my screen-saver’s slideshow file. Thank you, Mr. Kainz.

Kevin Murnane covers science, technology and video games for Forbes. You can find more of his writing at The Info Monkey and Tuned In To Cycling. Follow on Twitter@TheInfoMonkey.

via Forbes – Tech


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