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Google Camera quietly stripped a key astrophotography feature from newer Pixels

It seems the ultrawide shooter just isn't up to the task.

Published onDecember 28, 2020

Google Pixel 4a 5G camera macro 2
David Imel / Android Authority
  • Google has quietly ditched astrophotography support for the wide-angle shooters on Pixel phones.
  • Version 8.1 of the Google Camera app now only allows night sky shooting at 1x zoom or tighter.
  • It’s unclear if the option to switch between the two cameras will return to these phones at a later date.

Google initially allowed users to shoot astrophotography images using the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5‘s primary or ultrawide cameras. Now, it seems that the firm has quietly removed this choice in the latest Google Camera app.

Version 8.1 of the app, as spotted by 9to5Google, no longer lets users select the 16MP 107-degree wide-angle camera when shooting in the specialized mode. Instead, the app now limits users to the 12MP primary shooter at 1x times zoom or greater.

It’s unclear why Google dropped the ultra-wide shooter from the stargazing fun, but it may be down to the snapper’s overall quality in this regard. Posts on Google’s Pixel Help forums add credence to this. One user explains that while shooting stars at 1x is “amazing,” shots from the wide-angle lens are “awful, green, blotchy, and full of noise.” Multiple users on this thread echo this sentiment, too.

The above snaps were captured on the Pixel 5 by forum-goer . You can see the discrepancies in tint and noise of the wide-angle shot (right) versus the product of the primary camera.

Trading light for a wider sight

Google Pixel 5 camera against ocean 1
David Imel / Android Authority

This may be due to the design of ultrawide shooters themselves, which sacrifice light and overall quality for a more expansive field of view. This is even more apparent when light is lacking — especially when capturing the night sky.

Do you shoot astrophotography images with your phone?

412 votes

While Google’s move might be a bid to improve the overall quality of astrophotography on the Pixels, it does sadly rid the phones of a mode that would make it a more enjoyable experience. In our Pixel 4 XL review, we lamented the lack of a wide-angle lens for astrophotography on that phone. Shooting with the primary camera just doesn’t do the scale — and breadth — of the night’s sky justice.

It’s unclear if Google may be working on a more refined rework for the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5’s wide-angle astrophotography smarts, but for now, you’ll have to do without it.

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