Google's Night Sight AI sees the light

Google's new Night Sight AI feature for Pixel cameras enhances low-light photos and more.

Image: Ant Pruitt

Google's Pixel line of smartphones is my favorite phone to date. I owned the original Pixel and currently own the Pixel 2 XL. Sadly, it's hard to justify spending a huge amount of money on the Pixel 3 XL that, in my opinion, is only marginally better than my current device.

However, that's was before I heard about the Pixel 3 camera's Night Sight and AI features. Ugh! I was heartbroken to think that this technology wouldn't be available to legacy Pixel users.

Fortunately, I was wrong. Night Sight AI is available to little old me via an app update to the Google Camera app, and I can't wait to share why I'm so excited about this new tech.

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What Is Night Sight?

Google's Night Sight is the AI used on front- and rear-facing cameras in the Pixel phone line, which not only makes low-light photos look better but it magically (and tastefully) adds light to captured scenes. Google does this through its HDR+ technology, which helps properly expose standard shots taken with a smartphone and decreases the amount of bad low-light shots. In addition to brightening the scene with AI, image noise, and grain is reduced or totally removed. Google shares more about what goes on behind the scenes of Night Sight on its AI blog post.

When a camera shoots a scene, the sensor looks for a great balance of light and very little vibration from the photographer to capture beautifully exposed images. This is important because when the amount of light reaching the image sensor is too low, the camera struggles to produce a quality image. Couple this with the slightest camera movement, and you end up with a terrible photograph as the image becomes blurry and noisy (grainy).

This often happens with professional cameras with large full-frame image sensors, so imagine the battle of collecting light on a tiny smartphone image sensor to create a quality image. With Night Sight, however, Google's AI snaps multiple frames of the composed shot and analyzes the scene to determine what levels of light should be applied and also where the light should be applied in the frames. This is completed all within a matter of seconds. You just have to hold still so that the AI doesn't have to fight with analyzing shifted pixels. (Don't worry, the software prompts you to hold still for a moment while it captures your shot.) The final output is quite magical as seen in Figure A.

Figure A

Image: Google

Pixel, Pixel 2, Pixel 3 are more than phones

Having one more tool built into the Pixel camera line is big for someone like me. Don't get me wrong, there are many things a DSLR or mirrorless camera does better than a smartphone camera, but the options with Night Sight seem endless.

For example, I always wanted to shoot cityscape scenes with my Pixel 2 XL just after sunset before it's totally dark when you get a beautiful blue light from the atmosphere, and it's been a tough experience. I want to use the smartphone because of the wider focal length and field of view. Unfortunately, since not much light hits the tiny sensor on the Pixel, I was faced with shooting at higher ISOs, with slower shutter speeds, all while fighting to keep still.

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Now, I like the idea of using Night Sight for shots similar to the post-sunset cityscape scene I mentioned or for other shots that beg to be photographed such as low-light photography on a city street as the windows are illuminated with open signs and street lamps. Awesome, moody scenes and compositions are abundant. Yes, I know there are things my DSLR can accomplish better than most any smartphone, but I enjoy the fact that a current tool in my kit improved.

Making a dream shot a reality

I've finally updated my Pixel 2 XL. I played around with shooting some (bad) selfies, but I've yet to venture out on a photo walk to try those previously mentioned compositions. I know I'll shoot them soon.

Have you tried the new Night Sight feature yet? What shots have you captured? Share them with me on Instagram or Twitter. I want to see what you capture.

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