It's a rare occasion that a replacement app can best the built-in version that was specifically designed for a piece of hardware -- such as the Android camera app. Google, however, has done just that. The Google Camera app, released April 16, 2014, is a stellar example of how well Google knows its way around the mobile landscape.
The Google Camera app offers a sleek interface and some features that other apps cannot touch. One feature, in particular, could enjoy some game-changing moments for some sectors of business (such as real estate).
The feature list includes:
- Photo Spheres for immersive 360º views
- Lens Blur mode for SLR-like photos with shallow depth of field
- Panorama mode with high resolution
- 100% viewfinder for getting the maximum resolution from the sensor (no dropped pixels)
- Updated UI
- Extra large capture button
The app is only available for devices running KitKat 4.4+, so devices that haven't updated yet will have to wait.
Upon installation, it only took me a moment to realize that I was using my new default camera app -- it's that good. With that said, let's install and use this photographic wonder.
The installation is quite simple. Just follow these easy steps:
- On your KitKat 4.4+ device, open the Google Play Store
- Search for Google Camera
- Locate and tap the entry by Google, Inc
- Tap Install
- Read the permissions listing
- If you're okay with the permissions, tap Accept
- Allow the installation to complete
Once it's installed, you'll find the app launcher on the home screen or in the app drawer. Tap that launcher to begin your new love affair with the mobile camera.
When you first launch the app, you'll be greeted by a welcome screen that introduces you to some of the features of the app. Swipe through that to find yourself on the Google Camera main window. To get to the options, swipe from the left edge of the screen. By default, the Lens Blur feature is set (Figure A). Lens Blur is an option that allows you to create images with a shallow depth of field (so objects in the background are blurry). This means you can take a picture of a product (or say a server rack you've set up) and then blur everything but the object you want to focus on.
The Google Camera running on a Verizon-branded HTC One Max.
To make sure the Lens Blur is selected, open the Google Camera app, swipe from the left edge of the screen (to reveal the feature menu), and tap Lens Blur.
Using the Lens Blur is simple:
- Open the Google Camera app
- Make sure Lens Blur is selected
- Place the object to be focused on in the center of the screen
- Tap the shutter button
- Slightly (and slowly) raise the camera, keeping the object in the center (Figure B)
Taking a Lens Blur photo.
If you move the camera too quickly or move the object from the center, you'll be warned and have to try again (moving the camera, that is -- you won't have to take the picture again). Once you get it right, the app will save and render the photo, but you're not done yet.
Once the image is rendered, you can go back in and alter the blur of the background. The Google Camera app is very good about getting a nice blur, but you might want to tweak it a bit. Here's how:
- Swipe from the right edge of the screen to open the photo for editing
- Tap on the Lens Blur icon (second from the left)
- Tap on the precise spot you want in focus
- Slide the slider to the right to further blur the background (Figure C)
- Tap Done when finished
Adjusting the blur effect.
You can open up any image that was taken with the Lens Blur effect and edit the focus point and blur at any time.
The next amazing feature is the Photo Sphere. This allows you to take a 360 degree spherical photo of an area. With a bit of practice, you can wind up with an interactive photo that looks as if you are in the center of an area and can look in every direction (up, down, side to side). It's a stunning effect. Here's how it's done:
- Open the Google Camera app
- Swipe from the left edge
- Tap on the Sphere icon
- When you see the small screen, you'll be asked to center the blue dot
- Center the blue dot
- When prompted, move to the next blue dot (Figure D -- on the sides, top, or bottom of the image)
- Continue centering blue dots until you've covered the entire area (walls, floor, and ceiling)
- Allow the image to render
Taking a spherical image.
This takes some time to get used to. However, once you get it right, you'll have the ability to take shots of an entire room to give other users a complete picture of what you're working with. This feature alone could aid in plenty of fields/circumstances, such as:
- Server room design
- Real estate
- Building surveys
- Accident reporting
As I mentioned, this does take some getting used to. You have to hold the camera steady and make sure your pivot point remains the same.
Note: These spherical images can only be viewed from Google Photos (within your Google account) or with another Android device through the Google Camera app (not through the Android Gallery app).
The Google Camera could well be a game changer for a lot of people and uses. This isn't just an app for people wanting to take shallow depth of field selfies. This app has some serious implications. Give it a try, and see if you can't find a way to employ this in your business.
Is it possible for a camera app like this to be a game changer for some businesses? Would you be able to find a use for the Lens Blur or Photo Sphere features? Let us know in the discussion thread below.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.