The launch of the Google Pixel was highlighted by one striking feature, the camera. The phone’s excellent camera hardware paired with the Snapdragon 821’s ISP and Google software chops resulted in images that were incredible, coming from a smartphone.The secret to this sudden advancement in image quality was HDR+, a new feature that dealt with images very differently from other smartphone camera implementations.
Regular HDR works exactly as it does on most cameras: Multiple images are taken at various exposure settings and then stitched together to form an image with greater dynamic range and thus, better image quality.
HDR+, which was introduced in the Nexus 4 and 5, tweaked this mechanism to reduce blurriness in images while still improving dynamic range. The Nexus implementation simply took the sharpest shot from a burst of photos and used that as a reference for the rest of the image.
The HDR+ mode introduced in the Pixel took things even further. For a start, the Pixel camera starts capturing images at the rate of 15 – 30 images per second. Essentially, the camera is recording a video of sorts even before you shoot an image. When you press the shutter button, the phone would keep use the most recent burst of images and the sharpest of the last three frames as a reference.
The images are then processed and stitched together to improve dynamic range, reduce blur and improve colours as well. In fact, unlike regular HDR, the images are captured at a slightly lower exposure. This might sound impractical, but the Pixel’s image quality is testament to the fact that this system works incredibly well.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 chip and its image signal processor (the Hexagon 680 ISP) work with Google’s camera software to deliver these results. Given these limitations, the feature was only limited to the Google Pixel phones. Until now.
XDA Developers reports that a Ukrainian developer going by the username B-S-G managed to modify the Google Camera app found in the third developer preview of Android O. The developer’s modifications enabled the app to work on any device featuring a Hexagon 680 or later ISP chip. In other words, any device that’s powered by a Snapdragon 820, 821 or 835 can use the app and take advantage of HDR+.XDA confirms that the modified app is working on the LG G6, OnePlus 3, OnePlus 3T, OnePlus 5 and Samsung Galaxy S8. We’ve tested the app on a OnePlus 3 ourselves and can confirm that it works beautifully.
We will do a thorough test of the image quality at a later date, but for now, we can confirm that there is a marked improvement in the image quality of photos taken in low-light conditions.