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Sunday
Nov182012

What’s new in Android 4.2 for Photographers

Here is a rundown of the new camera related features you’ll find in Android 4.2, which is now being pushed to the Galaxy Nexus, as well as other devices and is being shipped on the brand new Nexus 4. Overall, it’s a great improvement - with one major BUT. 


The camera user interface has been redesigned significantly. Gone are the small, onscreen icons to access your camera settings - instead you have a much cleaner, simpler screen with only three icons. The button on the right brings up the camera setting options, which appear in the center of the screen, surrounding a large circle.  I like the ease of interacting with the settings in this way and I think it’s a big improvement from the old menu system which I found tedious and kinda annoying. The settings can be accessed a second way - by long pressing anywhere on the screen. Without lifting your finger, you can then slide over the options to expand the menu choices. I guess which method you use boils down to a personal preference for tapping on screen, versus swiping. I find the more traditional tapping method works better for me so far. 
The same circle that appears to access your settings, is also your focus lock icon. When you want to snap a photo, touch the part of the screen that you want to focus on, and the circle will indicate green if it can focus, red if not. 
As it is, getting a steady shot on a phone camera can be a skill which needs development judging by the number of camera-shake blurs I see. What I would like is the ability to release the shutter by tapping on the focus circle. It’s a little awkward to tap the focus circle, wait for a green light and then move your finger down to tap the shutter button. It won’t matter for shots in bright light with a distant subject, but in situations where focusing might be tricky, this two step process decreases the odds of a sharp image. 

How you go about viewing the images you’ve just taken is another difference in 4.2. The thumbnail of your last photo is gone - instead you need to swipe to the left where it brings you to the filmstrip view format. From here, you can tap a photo and the new editing icon will appear (three overlapping circles). Editing within the camera app just got a whole lot more fun with 9 new filters, some frames as well as basic edits such as contrast, saturation, sharpness and even a straightening tool. The curves feature is especially appreciated and it seems to be quite useful. The filter choices are pretty cool, and they are different enough from Instagrams to be worth trying on. Any edit you create and save will be saved as a new image in full resolution. Your original will still be there for future edits if you desire. 

That brings us to perhaps the most exciting new addition to the camera: Photosphere. From the main camera screen, the icon on the left allows you to switch between modes: still camera, video, pano and photosphere. Photosphere is based on Google’s famous street-view technology and allows you to capture awesome 360 degree images. It takes some practice to learn to pivot around the phone evenly, but the results are fun and interesting! 


Now, you might be wondering what the major “BUT” is that I referred to above. There is something you might not immediately notice about this new and improved “cleaner” camera screen. The photo preview is actually taking up the entire screen, and the three icons are sitting on top of your view. Compare this to the previous version of the camera where one side of the screen had a dedicated area for the buttons and the preview was allocated only to the remaining portion of the screen. (See example below)

Screenshot of the previous viewfinder screen

4.2 viewfinder screen

Why does this matter at all you may ask? Because changing the aspect ratio of the preview means that the image you think you’re taking isn’t the image that you’ll end up with. Take a look at the examples below. The first one shows what I thought I was going to capture. The second one shows what was actually captured.

Screenshot

Actual image captured 

The camera takes a wider field of view than you are allowed to see while previewing! This is a major problem for anyone concerned with composition and balance. If you take your time to line up the shot just how you want it, you will have to crop every image to achieve the look you intended. For a photographer, this is just not cool. It’s very unfortunate that Google didn’t offer the option of not using the whole screen for preview. Viewfinder accuracy is an important feature on DSLR cameras. I don’t see why it’s been forsaken here.
Overall, there are great improvements and I’ll hold out hope that future versions of Android will correct the viewfinder accuracy issue!

What are your thoughts on 4.2 from a photographers perspective?

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