Google has announced that they are experimenting with new ways to capture and process low-light images using the HDR+ modes present on certain Nexus and Pixel phones. HDR+, in its current state, captures a number of frames over a long exposure to piece together a cohesive image, and Google wants to tweak that exposure to be even longer and the algorithm more coherent, resulting in better, sharper pictures in low light situations. The whole scheme was dreamed up by a Daydream software engineer and Gcam team member by the name of Florian Kainz. The basic idea is to not only have more exposures, but to give those exposures a ground by adding in frames of pure black and noise, giving the algorithm an idea of what to filter out. The results can be seen in the pictures below. Photos shot using this new technique on a smartphone look almost as good as shots taken with a dedicated DSLR camera.
Kainz used a simple handmade app that could capture custom exposures in RAW format on a Pixel and a Nexus 6P that he had lying around, and processed the images by hand on his computer. He found that just about any washed-out, noisy low-light shot can be fixed up using this method, provided there is at least some light for the camera to pick up. The idea is that the focus changes slightly with each exposure, and just like with traditional HDR+, blending the consistent parts of the frame while throwing out the bits that are inconsistent across multiple exposures can provide better lighting, and significantly clean up noisy shots. The same technique can also take shots with different focal points, such as a sharp sky with a blurry ground and vice versa, and combine them to form an optimal image.
While Kainz did not release his app to the public and the whole idea is still in the very early stages, the results are absolutely beautiful, as can be seen below. Some of the shots in the gallery were taken on a dedicated DSLR, while some were taken using the new technique on a smartphone camera. If there's any trouble telling them apart, you can check out the source link to see a chronicle of Kainz' journey into the world of smartphone photography, and see which photos came from where.