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Google removes unexplained wide-angle disaster photography from Pixel phones



Pixel 5 and 4a 5G users can no longer use their ultra-wide cameras to take pictures of the stars: Google apparently removed the astrophotography features of the lens with the Google Camera 8.1 update. The feature was a selling point for the Pixel 4, and was available on regular cameras and telephoto cameras. When 4a 5G and 5 were announced with new wide-angle lenses, the feature was also added to them. Now it’s taken away.

The astrophotography feature allows users to capture the night sky by pointing the phone up and holding it still, either by balancing it on a nearby object or placing it on a tripod. This feature is still available on the phone̵

7;s other cameras, but if you go into Night Sight mode and switch to that ultra-wide angle camera, you will now get a warning that says “Zoom to 1x for astrophotography.” Before the update, it would say “Astrophotography on.”

Google did not respond to our request for comment and asked why it had made the change, but updated the low light support document to add the following warning:

Important: On Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5, astrophotography only works on zoom settings equal to or greater than 1x.

If we look at Wayback Machine, we can see that this change happened sometime between November 1st and November 7th. It’s a bit strange timing given that the update was not released until a few days later.

A screenshot of a forum post comparing the results of the two cameras in astrophotography mode.

The Google Pixel forum user’s published comparisons of ultra-wide (top) and standard angle lenses in astrophotography mode.

For an explanation of why the feature may have been cut, check out this thread on the Google Pixel Phone Help forum. It has examples from two users showing the results of astrophotography mode produced on the Pixel 5’s standard camera, compared to what the ultra-wide lens put out. I let you judge the pictures yourself. However, the forum post is another bit of timing weird – it was made days after the update that removed the feature had already started rolling out.

Given that the update was out for a month and a half before most people really started noticing that the feature was removed, it may be obvious why Google thought it could get away without mentioning it in the exchange log. Although a feature that will not be missed by many, it still stands as a reminder that the software features used to advertise a phone can be changed (just like Pixel’s unlimited original quality storage in Google Photos).


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