Recently, Google released its own camera to the Play Store for any device running KitKat or higher. Not only did this release add a few new features, it brought a host of awesome things that were previously stock-locked to many more devices. Here are some of the coolest things you can do with Google Camera, and how to get the most out of them.
Adjust Focus After the Fact with Lens Blur
One of the most recent additions to the Google Camera is the Lens Blur feature. High-end DSLRs allow you to create photos with a shallow depth of field, making certain subjects appear in focus while leaving the background out of focus, accentuating the subject more. Lens Blur approximates this type of effect digitally. Notably, this is the same thing HTC attempted to do with its dual cameras, to limited effect).
More importantly, Lens Blur allows you to change the focus on a picture after the fact. You can only access the option within the Google Camera app itself (it's unavailable even in the stock Gallery or Photos apps). Swipe to the right and tap on the Lens Blur photo you want to edit. Tap the aperture symbol and you can adjust the intensity of the blur with the slider at the bottom, as well as changing the subject of the focus by tapping anywhere on the picture.
When taking the picture, you can also improve the quality of the picture by keeping the subject centred. This may limit the types of shots you can get, unfortunately, but the way the Lens Blur feature works gets the best results from a centred subject. It's not as good as a DSLR, obviously, but it's great for smartphone pictures.
Learn How Take the Perfect Photo Sphere
Photo Spheres were introduced alongside Android 4.2. The feature takes panorama photos to the next level, allowing you to take pictures of an entire environment and stitch them together into a single, spherical photo that you can explore (with the right viewer, of course). Like any type of photography, this feature has a few tricks that can help you take better pictures:
- Move your body around the camera, not the other way around: When you're taking a Photo Sphere, it's tempting to move your camera around like you would if you were taking individual pictures. As reddit user shark260 explains, the camera stitches pictures together best when the camera stays in one place. While you might not want to carry a tripod around for your phone, simply knowing how to move your body will result in better Photo Spheres.
- Start at the least interesting part of the scenery: As Googler Minh Nguyen explains, the place that you begin your Photo Sphere is the hardest part to stitch together when you come back around because the most time has lapsed between the beginning and the end. To reduce how noticeable it is, focus on something mundane at the start and move to the more interesting parts of the area over time.
- Undo a poorly shot photo: A lesser known feature of Photo Spheres is that you can undo an individual photo you've taken if it doesn't come out right. If someone walks into your shot or the camera just doesn't focus right, you can undo the most recent photo. If you move on to another shot, you're out of luck though, so be sure you like each individual frame before moving on to the rest.
- Avoid moving subjects: Obviously, Photo Spheres are taken over time, and the final shot as a whole does not exist at the same point in time. Naturally, this isn't compatible with subjects in motion. You can have people in your shots, so long as they're relatively stationary. And, as mentioned previously, if someone moves into frame while you're taking a shot, just undo it!
You can check out Minh Nguyen's post here for even more tips on taking excellent Photo Spheres. You'll need a Photo Sphere viewer in order to actually look at your shots once you move them off your phone. Google+ has built-in support for Photo Spheres, but if you don't want to upload them just yet, you can view them at this site. You can also edit the raw JPG in any photo-editing app, although it will be stretched out to a flat JPG.
Enable Manual Exposure Mode in Settings
In many cases, automatic exposure does a good enough job for casual photographers. There always comes those times when the lighting is just right to confuse your camera, or it's too dark for the camera to find a subject. In those cases, you can enable manual exposure mode and adjust your camera's aperture yourself. To enable this feature:
- Swipe from the left to reveal the camera mode menu.
- Tap the Settings icon in the bottom right of the screen.
- Tap Advanced.
- Enable the Manual exposure switch.
- Return to the camera.
- Tap the three-dots menu button while in the viewfinder.
- On the far left, tap the +/- button to manually adjust exposure up or down.
This manual exposure isn't quite the same as manual exposure on a DSLR camera. The camera will still automatically adjust exposure as you move from one subject to another, but you can open or close the aperture as you deem necessary once it stabilises. The Google Camera also has an HDR mode that can help balance out scenes with uneven lighting. We've talked more about how to properly use HDR, but the short version is that it's great for low-light, backlit and outdoor scenes with high contrast you don't want, but terrible for movement or scenes with already vivid lighting. As with all of these tools, use them appropriately.
Activate Your Camera Quickly with a Gesture
While not officially a feature of the Google Camera, the Moto X introduced the ability to launch your camera with a flick of the wrist. Previously mentioned Twisty Launcher brings this feature to other phones, so you can activate your camera even faster. You can choose which camera app opens when you twist your phone.
You can also use Twisty Launcher to activate other apps with a couple different gestures, so it's worth exploring. For camera purposes though, it's an excellent way to get shooting faster. If the best camera you have is the one you have with you, it helps to know how to use it.