I got a Pix­el 2, large­ly be­cause it’s said to have a re­al­ly great cam­er­a, with software-driven mag­ic  —  machine learn­ing at work. Here are two shot com­par­isons be­tween the Google and Light­room An­droid cam­era apps to see what that means in prac­tice.

Why Light­room? · Giv­en a choice, I pre­fer the Light­room app to Android’s. It has bet­ter, more in­tu­itive er­gonomic­s, in­clud­ing a lev­el; makes the phone feel more like a cam­er­a. Al­so, you can ed­it in the An­droid ver­sion of Light­room, which has ba­si­cal­ly the same con­trols as the desk­top ver­sion I live in. Al­so, it shoots and ed­its DNG “RAW” files. Fi­nal­ly, any­thing you don’t erase is synced through the Adobe cloud and is auto-magically there in my Mac Lightroom’s “All synced photos” col­lec­tion. (Yes, even in the Light­room CC Clas­sic ver­sion.) Not on­ly that, but when I ed­it it on the Mac, the ed­its are synced back to the phone, so I can show peo­ple the im­proved ver­sions while we’re hav­ing lunch. A pret­ty sweet pack­age, all things con­sid­ered.

There is a fly in the oint­men­t. The Light­room app’s pix’s names may end with “.dng” but if you’re used to the mas­sive depth of the files like the ones I get from my Fu­ji­film XT-1, where you can pull lost beau­ty out of dark­ness or daz­zle, you’ll be dis­ap­point­ed. Sure, you can pull the “Highlights” slid­er down or the “Shadows” slid­er up, and it sort of work­s, but not like with re­al cam­era files.

When it doesn’t mat­ter · Th­ese days all cam­eras are great, giv­en enough light and an ap­pro­pri­ate sub­jec­t. I’ve pret­ty well to­tal­ly stopped us­ing the 10-24mm wide-angle with the big cam­era be­cause my phone is ba­si­cal­ly Good Enough.

So if we’re go­ing to com­pare these apps mean­ing­ful­ly, we need to work with hard-to-take pic­tures that stress out the sen­sor; the most ob­vi­ous ex­am­ples are low light and high con­trast.

Wel­l, in Novem­ber in the Pa­cif­ic North­west there re­al­ly isn’t that much high con­trast, but we got plen­ty of low light. I tried for a dif­fer­ent kind of high con­trast any­how like so.

Vancouver night street scene
· · ·
Vancouver night street scene

I’m go­ing to call this one pret­ty well a wash. The Android-camera ver­sion achieved slight­ly sharp­er fo­cus, but that’s not re­al­ly the point in an im­pres­sion­is­tic piece like this. What’s sig­nif­i­cant is that I had to put in a cou­ple min­utes photo-editing on the Light­room DNG to get it to look as good; the sky had a bit of grey lu­mi­nance noise and the whole scene leaned yel­low. Hav­ing said that, I like photo-editing.

Oh, I didn’t say, did I? It’s Light­room above, An­droid be­low.

So what the An­droid cam­era is do­ing here is tak­ing what­ev­er comes off the sen­sor, putting it through a lit­tle photo-editing ses­sion right there on the cam­er­a, giv­ing me a JPEG, and say­ing, in ef­fec­t, “don’t both­er your pret­ty lit­tle head about how I got this.”

Fi­nal­ly, I’m usu­al­ly re­al­ly hap­py with Lightroom’s photo-export soft­ware, but in this case both pix lost some life, in par­tic­u­lar in the trolley-wire sparkles and tail­light red­s. I’m go­ing to have to try some new trick­s.

Al­so worth not­ing: Th­ese are not ter­ri­bly dif­fi­cult or chal­leng­ing for the sen­sor: The ob­jects in the pic­ture are pret­ty well self-illuminating.

When it mat­ters · Here’s a hard one, our new cal­i­co cat, asleep on the so­fa af­ter a hard night of watch­ing Star Trek Dis­cov­ery with Mom & Dad. This is a softly-lit book-lined room with black fur­ni­ture and a dark floor. And, in this case, An­droid pret­ty well wiped the floor with Light­room.

Cat, by Lightroom
· · ·
Cat, by Android Camera

Once again, Light­room above/An­droid be­low. That Light­room ver­sion has been heav­i­ly edit­ed, and it’s still not close. The An­droid ver­sion has truer col­ors, bet­ter fo­cus, and less noise. I’m se­ri­ous­ly im­pressed with what­ev­er is go­ing on in­side that ap­p.

You know, when you look at the two of these side by side in Light­room on my 15" Reti­na Mac screen, it’s like night and day. But as I look at the 720-wide pre­sen­ta­tion here in the blog draft, I won­der if the dif­fer­ences re­al­ly mat­ter.

More on the An­droid app · It’s nice, but try­ing too hard. No, I don’t want a lit­tle slab of video prepend­ed to my pho­tos so they shim­mer in­to place (and can’t be edit­ed). No, I don’t want color-balance mod­es, since the ML seems to get that right.

Al­so, since ev­ery­thing is ap­par­ent­ly auto-magically cloud­i­fied, there ought to be an easy/au­to­mat­ic way to get the full-rez ver­sions of the pix out of the cloud and in­to Light­room, but I haven’t found it yet. For the mo­men­t, I share from the phone to Drop­box, and Light­room is hap­py pulling from there.

Al­so it’s dumb that I have to switch apps to ed­it the pho­to I just took, and then the edit­ing con­trols are all pre­sets and over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion. Hav­ing said that, the app has a Chrome­cast but­ton, which is su­per nice.

What nex­t? · For shots that don’t chal­lenge the cam­er­a, I’ll go on us­ing Light­room; it’s a bet­ter shoot­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and bet­ter in­te­grat­ed with my work­flow. When it gets trick­y, I’ll bring that An­droid ML to bear.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Eric Hanchrow (Nov 18 2017, at 15:07)

Gotta say I can't tell the difference between the photos in any of those pairs. Maybe because I'm color-blind.

I'm enjoying my Pixel 2 too. (Except the compass. About which I've complained before.)


From: J. King (Nov 18 2017, at 20:13)

In the first pair, the upper photo sees bright lights drowning out the colour around them; you can see it especially well on the two lighted signs below and to either side of the traffic light.

As for the second pair, the thumbnail on the top has a bluer tone and, it seems to me, a lot more noise.

Tim, I should point out that the cat thumbnails link to the wrong full-scale photos; they're swapped.


From: Tedder (Nov 18 2017, at 21:27)

Liking my Pixel 2. I have been experimenting with not using an SLR for a year, I really miss the focus speed and low-light abilities. I need to dust off the L lenses.


From: Simon Wright (Nov 19 2017, at 00:52)

Under the upper (street scene) pair you say that the Lightroom image is the lower one, but I’m pretty sure it’s the upper one, judging by which one links to a LRM file and which to an IMG.

In both pairs, the IMG images are a considerable improvement. For example, the shop windows in the Lightroom image are washed out by comparison.


From: Tim (Nov 19 2017, at 10:29)

The text around the street pix was indeed incorrect. Thanks, fixed.

However, the cat pix are indeed correctly linked.


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