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The Best Features of Google’s New Android Camera App

Daniel Bean
Assistant Editor
Yahoo Tech

Hey, sharpshooters: Google just released its own camera app in the Play store. This means you don’t need a Google Nexus device to use the company’s Android camera; you can download the camera just like any other app and replace the camera app that came with your phone — if, that is, you’re running a device with Android 4.4 or newer. (Check in your device’s Settings menu for that information.)

Anyway: What have you been missing without the Google Camera? And what brand new things has Google thrown in this newest version? Let’s take a look at some of the best goodies Google’s picture-snapping app has to offer, and perhaps you’ll decide it’s worthy of replacing your stock Samsung, HTC, or LG camera app.

The layout
The first thing you notice upon firing up the app is how clean and simple the full-screen user interface is. Google explained that the app itself is supposed to “get out of the way” when capturing pictures, and it does just that. You can actually preview just about every single pixel of your picture while shooting, save for the small, half-transparent menu button in the bottom-right side of the viewer.

Google Camera (left) and the Galaxy S4 camera (right).

Swipe from left to right inside the viewer to get settings and camera mode options, including Video, Photo Sphere, Panorama, and Lens Blur. Swiping from right to left will bring up a stream of your photo snaps and captured videos.

Note: You may notice that the new Google Camera shutter button is taking up almost a quarter of the screen. But don’t worry: Even though some camera apps provide a larger viewer size, the pictures taken are still at a 4:3 ratio. So, as mentioned above, the new viewer in this app is basically showing you every pixel of the image capture — no more, no less.

Lens blur
This feature is new, even to Google Nexus devices. With it, you can simulate a nice-looking blur effect on either the foreground or background of your picture.

Original picture (left) and Lens Blur (right).

In Lens Blur mode, you take a picture as you normally would, and then the app will ask you to tilt your phone up slowly to capture depth. After that, you can swipe to the left to view your snap and touch the Lens Blur icon to edit it. Later, you can increase the blur or change the focus point.

The result is a fairly impressive synthetic SLR-type blur, perhaps one even our own camera aficionado David Pogue would approve of.

Video orientation warning
We take this small feature as a sign that Google is perhaps a little tired of seeing all those videos shot with the phone held vertically instead of horizontally uploaded to YouTube. It’s an unfortunate phenomenon, one that’s been quite justifiably parodied by puppets.

But maybe this little blinking camera icon with suggestion arrows in the video capture mode of Google Camera will finally help buck the trend and get people capturing video the “correct” way.

Video orientation notifier.

Naturally, after you rotate your phone to landscape mode (the preferable way to shoot HD video), the blinking notifier, having done its job, goes away.

Photo Sphere and Panorama
The Photo Sphere and Panorama modes are fun ways to capture large scenes and entire rooms with your smartphone camera. Panorama offers, of course, a very wide landscape shot, and Photo Sphere is essentially a 360-degree photo.

Google Camera app Panorama snap. Click here for a full-screen view.

Capturing these types of pictures is a long-ish process, but each mode will guide you through with directions and indicators of where to move the camera along the way. Panorama capture, which according to Google now features a higher resolution than the earlier Nexus camera app, is a simple left-to-right or right-to-left swipe. Taking a Photo Sphere picture will have you pointing your phone up, down, left, and right to grab every aspect of your surroundings, similar to the look of Google Map’s Street View.

Capturing a Photo Sphere picture.

Note: As pointed out by Engadget, the new Google Camera app doesn’t support the hardware-intensive Photo Sphere function on the Moto G, proving that not all of these features work on every Android 4.4 device.

Coming soon?
Though these features of the Google Camera app are nice, it would appear that there are even more coming soon.

According to the programmers/bloggers at Android Police, there are some dormant tidbits of code in the new app where Advanced Camera, Time Lapse, and Wide Angle modes are all mentioned. The team also found clues that point to what might be video effects and special focus settings.

We’ll stay tuned for those interesting-sounding features, but in the meantime, why not download the new Google Camera app from the Play store and give it a try for yourself?

Have questions, comments, or just want to tell me something funny? Email me at danbean@yahoo-inc.com.