google night sight

Update (November 14, 2018, 2:22pm ET): Google is officially rolling out a Camera update that brings Night Sight to all Pixel phones.


Original post (October 23, 2018, 2:57pm ET): Night Sight it just one of the swanky new photography features packed into the new Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. The mode promises super well-lit and detailed shots even in the most dimly lit environments, which is where smartphone camera sensors usually fall short. It works in a similar way to Google’s HDR+ feature, combining multiple exposures together to reduce noise and improve the lighting. Night Sight captures many more frames, requiring you to hold still for a few seconds.

Night Shot isn’t officially available on the Google Pixel 3 just yet, but a pre-release version of the software is available via an unofficial port of the Google Camera app. We’ll wait until the official software rolls around before rendering a final verdict on this feature, but my initial impression is rather good.

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First up though, Night Mode, at least in its pre-release form, seems a little finickity. It doesn’t kick into gear with slightly dark shots (unlike Huawei’s Night Mode). Even a single candle is apparently enough light for there to be no major difference between HDR+ and Night Shot. No, you need to be in a really dark environment and only then will the camera app present you with the “It’s dark, try Night mode” toast. Once you see that, Night Shot is ready to make a meaningful difference to your pictures. The camera app also helps out by switching to brighter but very grainy viewfinder mode, so you can see what you’re pointing the camera at.

Google Pixel 3 Night Sight toast

I used a tripod for these pictures, as my hands aren’t that steady. So treat this as a best-case scenario. For reference, here’s how dark the picture is without HDR+ or Night Sight enabled.

Picture taken with the Google Pixel 3 in almost complete darkness

Rubbish right? It’s completely noisy, no detail, and there’s clearly not enough light. That’s exactly what you’d expect from any smartphone shot that’s taken in almost complete darkness. Here’s how HDR+ and Night Sight compare.

Google Pixel 3 Night Sight Google Pixel 3 HDR+ Google Pixel 3 Night Sight
Google Pixel 3 HDR+

HDR+ is clearly a lot better than non-HDR, but it’s still unsuitably noisy and dark. There’s a vast improvement with Night Sight though, with substantially better light capture, much more detail, and even vibrant colors. Yes, there’s still some noise present and the image is a tad blurry, but it’s a remarkable accomplishment given the horrendously dark shooting conditions.

However, focusing is always a problem in very low light and the Pixel 3 does struggle in that regard, even with Night Sight. I had to take these pictures a few times before I could get all three in focus. Given the longer exposure time, taking repeated shots might not always be practical. But at least the dedicated viewfinder mode helps to point the focusing mechanism in the right direction.

Check out some more camera samples below, taken by my colleague David Imel. He didn’t have a tripod on hand, but you can still clearly see the difference between HDR+ and Night Sight modes:

Google Pixel 3 Night Sight Google Pixel 3 HDR+ Google Pixel 3 Night Sight
Google Pixel 3 HDR+
Google Pixel 3 Night Sight Google Pixel 3 HDR+ Google Pixel 3 Night Sight
Google Pixel 3 HDR+
Google Pixel 3 Night Sight Google Pixel 3 HDR+ Google Pixel 3 Night Sight
Google Pixel 3 HDR+

What do you think about Night Sight? It looks very promising to me, but tell me what you think in the comments!

Next: Here’s what the Google Pixel 3 camera can do