Three Secret Features Of Google’s New Camera App That Will Blow Your Mind

Google’s recent update to the KitKat camera app turns smartphones into mini DSLRs — but it can do even more. On the surface, the Google Camera app offers a handful of new features, including an F-stop like effect, which adds an artificial bokeh, and an improved graphical interface.

We’ve covered how to use Google Camera in the past, but hidden below lies the sublime: The app boasts a few secret abilities, including an accidental tilt-shift effect, 3D image capability and something of a wide-angle effect. I’ll demonstrate how to access these functions, illustrated with sample images.

Take note that you need KitKat to get the updated app. Many KitKat (4.4) phones and tablets install the app by default. However, on some devices, Google Camera must be installed through the Play Store or through sideloading. Give it a try, if you haven’t already.

Accidental Tilt Shift

The new KitKit-only camera app can shoot lens blur images from close up. However, Reddit user bobcatshields discovered that if the camera app shoots from further away than intended, a tilt-shift effect shows up. Tilt-shift blurs out the background of a shot, making all images appear toy-like. You can see examples of tilt-shift from Flickr – this is the first time a camera app allows a similar effect.

tilt shift example   Three Secret Features Of Google’s New Camera App That Will Blow Your Mind

The trick to shooting with Lens Blur is to move the camera up, while angling to toward the target. You want to keep the image centered the entire time. The steadier your hand, the better the quality of the shot. Lens Blur won’t work all the time, as it was intended to shoot images up close, rather than at a distance. However, I find that most of the time, it works, provided a central object exists within the frame.

google camera   Three Secret Features Of Google’s New Camera App That Will Blow Your Mind

You can adjust the amount of background blur within the photo as a post-processing effect. Just open the image up in the Google Camera app by sliding from right to left, find the image you shot using Lens Blur, and click on the camera blur icon in the icon menu at the bottom. Erez drew up a Google Camera tutorial for the uninitiated.

3D Image Capability

XDA Junior Member panrafal (GitHub link) figured out how to extract depth maps from images shot using the Google Camera app’s Lens Blur mode. Since Lens Blur takes multiple pictures to determine depth for its blur effect, it can also create a 3D image using an extracted “depth map”.

The process requires a browser and the depth extraction software. First, transfer the blurred image from your Android device to your computer. Then upload the picture to the depth extraction website, Depthy. Depthy will create a rotatable 3D image that you can output as an animated GIF. There’s a number of tweakable variables, including size, the image’s rotation speed and more. Getting started doesn’t take much effort either.

Once you extract the image, it will then display both the depth map (displayed in black and white) and the original image. Here’s an example of a depth map that the app extracted from my Lens Blur image:

images depth map   Three Secret Features Of Google’s New Camera App That Will Blow Your Mind

Now upload the depth map to the website. After processing, it should look like this:

a518d597 325a 45e0 a73f a7777d3be8eb   Three Secret Features Of Google’s New Camera App That Will Blow Your Mind

There’s likely already several developers working toward creating a standalone 3D image effect app, as well. Stay tuned.

Wide Angle Lens

The photo-sphere effect allows your smartphone camera to piece together multiple images to create a complete sphere. Many users pass over this feature, since shooting a complete sphere takes up a lot of time and oftentimes looks horrible. What these people don’t know is that Photosphere mode doesn’t need to shoot an entire sphere – but it can shoot a much wider field of vision than even Panorama mode.

When stitching together a Photosphere, simply wave the phone around the object that you’re attempting to shoot. Make sure to wave it vertically as well, capturing every last bit of your target. When finished, tap the check icon in the right pane.

photo sphere in action wide angle   Three Secret Features Of Google’s New Camera App That Will Blow Your Mind

Once finished, the program begins assembling the final image. The end product won’t always be perfect, but the results can turn out amazing.

wide angle shot of building   Three Secret Features Of Google’s New Camera App That Will Blow Your Mind

Many of the pictures that I took while traveling in Germany came out fantastic – not quite low-end DSLR or mirrorless quality, but for an 8MP smartphone-shooter, the results verge on miraculous.

Conclusion

If you own a real DSLR, you likely won’t be impressed by the updated KitKat Google Camera app. However, for anyone with KitKat, the app provides several amazing, yet hidden, features. For those of you not impressed, read about some of the alternatives to Google Camera, such as Camera360.

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17 Comments -

Paul W

Nice, thanks for sharing this. I knew about all but the Accidental Tilt Shift… gonna have to try this out

Nash J

My Galaxy s2 does not do KitKat so I am left out of the loop

Grommit

@Nash J: Cyanogenmod now supports our SGS2! I’ve got Kit Kat running on mine, and the camera app is awesome.

Dann A

Cool! Thanks for posting this—definitely looking forward to trying out the photosphere wide-angle trick. I have a DSLR, but haven’t quite come up with the cash to get a wide-angle lens yet. Have you compared this to any other apps that do something similar? I haven’t done any exploring related to this, but I’m feeling pretty inspired now.

Scott B

Been trying to do it on my S4…haven’t quite mastered it yet. Bit more practice. Thanks for the tip though.

Kannon Y

Hey Scott, thanks for commenting. Which of the three features have you been trying? I suspect it’s the tilt-shift function, which is a little hard to pull off.

It requires a central image to focus on. Once you’ve begun shooting, make sure that the central image stays in the center of the frame, as you raise the camera, by angling the camera toward the central object. If you keep it centered the entire time, it will work – most of the time. :-) Good luck!

Midnite

The instructions for the wide angle shot baffle me completely. What do you mean by waving the camera around? I’m totally confused.

Kannon Y

Sorry about that. It’s poorly worded.

When we shoot Photosphere, there’s two kinds of little dots. The first little dots are overlaid on the images that you want to capture. These are also gyroscopically stabilized, so if you move the phone, those dots stay in place. The second little dot (there’s only one) moves with your phone and stays right in the center of your screen. The goal is to line the central dot up with the gyroscopically stabilized dots and hold it there. It will capture a fraction of the image that you want to shoot if held long enough.

You’ll hear a beep when the phone successfully grabs that particular shot.

What I meant by “wave it around”: You’re going to use that central dot to grab an entire scene. For example, when I’m trying to shoot a large building, using Photosphere, I use the central dot to capture the entirety of the object that I’m trying to shoot. Hope that makes sense. It’s really hard explaining it. In retrospect, I should have shot this as a video to demonstrate wide-angle shooting.

Alz

Wtf..how you found these ? Extremely helpful post. Every bit of information I tried with my N5. Found working.

Thanks

Kannon Y

Thanks Alz!

I spent a LOT of time shooting pictures with the Nexus 5. At first, it seemed like an average 8MP camera. But after the KitKat update, I now prefer using it to shoot over my DSLR for its portability and quality.

Basically, any camera with optical image stabilization and a gyroscopic sensor can shoot the same quality images. I’m hoping to see more cameras adapted for the 3D image capabilities, though. IMO, 3D images are the new avenue of camera development!

coco

I am trying the 3d image. I got into depthy.me then click on open photo and select the blurred photo I took with Google camera. Then I don’t know what to do.please help with more detailed explaining.

Kannon Y

Hey coco! After you upload the picture to Depthy, just move your mouse cursor around the image. You’ll notice that it rotates. If it doesn’t, try reshooting the image. Some images won’t rotate much. Hope that helps!

panrafal

Depthy works very well on the phone too. Provided you have a highend phone, and you use Chrome – both of which should be true if you have KitKat :)
You can even add it to homescreen from Chrome, to make it more app-like.

June D

I can’t wait to try these, especially the Accidental Tilt Shift. Reminds me of Grissom’s Minature Killer. lol Thanks for the post!

June D

Miniature . Where is the spell correction when you want it?

Kannon Y

I’m sorry about that. We haven’t yet implemented text edits on posts. But thank you very much for the compliment!!!

Landam Naresh

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