Once only available to those who could afford a snazzy multi-hundred dollar dedicated camera and expensive imaging software, the magic of RAW photography is officially coming to Android 5.0 Lollipop, and we’ve got the images to prove just how much of a difference it can make. RAW by itself isn’t some magic bullet; it’s not going to make you automatically take better pictures, and it’s not a one-stop shop solution for all your photography needs. RAW effectively gives you the ability to get the best possible image out of your camera, one that completely bypasses the built-in manufacturer “image optimizations” and gives you exactly what it sounds like: the raw data from the sensor. There’s plenty of good, free RAW processing software out there too like RawTherapee that’ll make editing these RAW files easy as pie. This isn’t for everyone though, as it takes a significant amount of time to go through the steps to create a good edited version versus just pointing and shooting and letting the built-in image processing software on your phone do all the work.
So how good is it? Let’s take a look at the Nexus 5, who’s camera started out really weak and turned into a powerhouse after a number of updates from Google over the months. Even though Google’s image processing algorithms have significantly improved over the life of the phone, editing the RAW image from the sensor is almost always going to give us a better result. Let’s take the following shots for example, the first one is using Google’s rather excellent HDR+ mode on the Nexus 5, and the second is an edited version taken at ISO100 and 1/2 second exposure time.
What we see is not only an incredibly noise free picture, but also one that’s super sharp and color corrected. Google’s new APIs for the camera in Lollipop allow developers to do all sorts of amazing things with the camera including full adjustment of the shutter speed, ISO, exposure and even manually adjusting the focus. There’s also some incredible new burst mode stuff that can take full-frame pictures at 30 frames-per-second. On the Nexus 5 this translates to some unbelievably fast burst mode shots, where the camera takes 3 shots in less than 3 milliseconds, and up to 7 full-frame RAW photos nearly instantly.
Above you can see the timer on the LG G3 changing as the Nexus 5 catches the refresh rate of the display changing the numbers from a 5 to a 7. The second shot shows a guitar being played and captured in burst mode on the Nexus 5. This all shows some incredible new photography possibilities found with Android Lollipop’s new camera APIs. What you use them for is entirely up to you. If you’re running a Nexus 5 and want to try these out, there’s plenty of new options available in Google camera, but the real deal is from developers like the excellent PkmX/lcamera app found on Github. Grab that and give it a shot if you’ve got Lollipop on your Nexus 5, as it appears even the leaked Nexus 4 build of Lollipop isn’t able to run the app correctly.