Rear shot Nexus 5 LG G2 Sony Xperia Z1 Galaxy Note 3

Google is working on a new camera API that will bring new features and possibly improved image quality to Android devices, including the Nexus line.

Many reviewers have panned the camera experience on the Nexus 5 as inconsistent and mediocre, with some going as far as to call the product unfinished. Google acknowledged the problems and said that a software update could alleviate some of them. Indeed, code discovered in the publicly available Android source code suggests that a new Camera API is in the works that could improve image quality and give access to new features.

Android developer Josh Brown first spotted the code, and Ron Amadeo of Ars Technica broke the news. According to the dates on the commits in the code repository, the API was in the works for about 10 months, but Google didn’t finish it in time for the KitKat release, which shipped with the old API.

Here’s a summary of what may be coming to the Android camera experience once the new API is implemented:

  • Support for Camera RAW format – RAW is a format that preserves most of the information captured by the camera sensor, allowing for more in-depth editing, either on the device (e.g. with Snapseed) or on a PC with software like Photoshop. JPEG and other similar formats, in contrast, are compressed for smaller size, and a lot of the original info is lost in the process.
  • Face detection – the API will allow camera apps to detect the faces of people in the frame, and assign each face an ID for manipulation purposes. This is a feature that many Android manufacturers have implemented on their own, but the new API will make it available in stock Android.
  • Burst mode – another feature present on popular devices from Samsung, HTC, and others is burst mode – keeping the shutter button pressed will take a series of shots in quick succession. This feature will go very well with the new photo enhancement capabilities of Google Plus.
  • Support for removable cameras – possibly something similar to Sony’s QX10 and QX100 Wi-Fi cameras.
  • General “improved capabilities” and “fine grain control” that may (we hope) bring improvements to image quality.

It seems that the new Camera API was in an advanced stage of development when Google decided to cut it out of KitKat. A last moment change of plans could explain why the Nexus 5’s camera feels a bit unfinished. When the new API lands, it will be backwards compatible, but for now we can only guess when we will see the update.