Google has released a new camera app for your Android smartphone or tablet. It’s called Google Camera, and comes either as an app download from the Play Store, or as an update to your device. It showed up automatically on our Nexus 5, but required a separate installation on our Moto G. Before you go running off to see if you can grab the new app, it’s important to note you’re going to need Android KitKat installed for it to work. Yes, Google knows this is restrictive, and has promised wider availability in the future.
There are several major alterations inside the new app, with two being particularly notable: The introduction of a lens blur effect, and a far cleaner, easier to use interface. We’ll start with the latter. Google has moved all of the buttons out of the viewfinder, leaving it free from intrusions, and providing a larger window for seeing your subject.
Swipe to the right, and a set of controls slide in. Top is Google’s Photo Sphere, which lets you make a 360 degree image, then a Panorama mode, and the option to switch between the stills and video camera. Back on the main screen, under a transparent settings button, is the option to turn on HDR+ and activate a grid for the viewfinder, plus the button to switch to the front camera.
A swipe to the left brings in your photo stream, showing recently snapped pictures. Each one has a set of controls underneath, for editing the picture, sharing, or deleting it. If you decide to tweak an image, Android gives the option of using the Photo Editor or the Photos app. Strangely, given its name, it’s the latter which is the better choice, thanks to it incorporating Snapseed’s functionality.
The new UI isn’t the only thing making this a cool updated app. One of the big camera trends this year is the ability to blur the background out in photos. Accentuating the depth-of-field this way, often known as the Bokeh effect, is a trait of SLR cameras. Nokia has its Refocus app, while Samsung and LG also introduced a similar feature on the Galaxy S5 and the G Pro 2 respectively. HTC has gone one better, and added a second sensor to its UltraPixel camera on the HTC One M8, which makes the effect even more noticeable.
The Lens Blur mode, which you’ll find under the swipe-in menu, is Google’s contribution. Select it, and you’re given a few quick instructions on how to use it. The only real recommendation for getting the best shots is for subjects to be less than five feet from the camera, otherwise it’s hard for it to differentiate it from the background. Tap to focus on your subject, then hit the shutter release. Next, you have to move the camera up and over the subject, all the while keeping it in the centre of the frame. This generates data for the app to work its magic.
At least, that’s the theory. It’s a temperamental thing. Out of ten or more shots, usually only two ended up being usable. We either moved the camera too fast or too slowly, didn’t keep it perfectly aligned, or moved it in the wrong way. If it wasn’t one of those, then we just got a Capture Error message, and had to start again. When you finally get a picture right, there’s an option to play around with the blur levels, and it can look really great. However, both you and your subject will need patience with this one.
The new Google Camera app is a considerable improvement over the last one, and surpasses many standard camera apps, thanks to its uncluttered UI. It’s easy to use with one hand too, plus the Lens Blur mode is cool, if a little bit of a pain to use. This aside, it’s another must-download app from Google.