Today I’d like to tell you about a camera app that doesn’t do very much — by design. The official (and free) Google Camera for Android [No Longer Available] presents an uncluttered vision for what a camera on Android should look and feel like, and it’s simple and quite fun to use.
The Google Camera interface doesn’t have very much going on — the focus is clearly on your subject, rather than on any buttons on the screen. Top right, you can see the menu used for toggling the composition grid, HDR mode, flash, and front/back camera. Top-left, you can see the menu for selecting the five modes the camera supports – Photo Sphere, Panorama, Lens Blur, regular still camera, and video photography.
That’s all you get. If you’re used to something like Camera FV-5, this sort of minimalism may feel weird. But when all you want to do is take a quick photo, it works.
Panorama and Photo Sphere
Panorama mode is nice and easy to use, and includes support for vertical panoramas, as you can see above. Results, as you may expect, are far from perfect: You can see tearout on the bottom-right of the photo. Admittedly, this is a particularly challenging job for automatic stitching, because of the diagonal lines crossing the frame.
Photo Spheres are not a very recent innovation, and we’ve covered them before when discussing sharing site SphereShare. In a nutshell, they are VR-like interactive panoramas that let you experience a location. The Photo Sphere mode is notable mainly because this is the first time you can officially take photo spheres on non-Nexus phones. Google Camera supports phones running Android 4.4 and above — but they don’t have to be Nexus devices.
The Lens Blur feature is newer than Photo Sphere, and merits some explanation. It’s meant to automatically defocus the background of your subject, faking a shallow depth-of-field effect that makes the photo seem like it was taken with a dSLR. In my testing, I found that the manually-controlled AfterFocus app gave better results, though.
Above you can see a photo produced by Lens Blur. To use the feature, you focus on your subject and take a photo, then move the phone a little bit, and Google Camera snaps another pic. Even with the extra information deduced from the second photo, Google Camera had trouble correctly detecting the borders of my (most excellent) Kindle Paperwhite. Your mileage may vary, however: This feature works better on some shots. The main issue I came across was visible borders — you could very clearly see where the blurring started, and it sometimes started at the wrong spot (i.e, within the object that was supposed to be in focus).
One very cool Lens Blur feature is that you can set the focus area after the fact — a bit like you can do with the previously-reviewed Lumia 1020 and its Refocus app.
Quick Operation, No Filters
Google Camera is a no-fuss app. Every one of its handful of features clearly packs a lot of smarts, even if they don’t always work perfectly in the real world. After all, image processing is a notoriously difficult task.
Even if you’re happy with your current camera app, if you’re rocking a phone with Android 4.4 and above, you should definitely download Google Camera right now. Take it for a spin, and you may be pleasantly surprised.