mobile photography technology, culture and community
www.dpreview.com
Previous
1: Android 4.4.1 software update changes

What the Android 4.4.1 update means for Google's Nexus 5 shooters

50
Will the newest Android software update make the Nexus 5 a more attractive option for mobile photographers?

Google’s Nexus 5 marks a substantial advance in the frequently maligned imaging capabilities of the Nexus smartphone line. The camera’s optical image stabilization combines with its decent 8-megapixel sensor to deliver images that, while not class-leading, are certainly competitive.

However, in our review we found that the Nexus 5’s camera performance was undermined by speed issues: the camera app was slow to start up, exhibited frustrating shutter lag and felt pokey when focusing. Soon after the phone started shipping Google said it would address these issues, and it has delivered on its promise with the Android 4.4.1 update that’s been rolling out to Nexus devices since Friday. (Another update, Android 4.2.2, is already on the move as well, though it comes without the same sort of significant effects.)

We’ve put the refreshed Nexus 5 through its photographic paces and found that while the camera is indeed more responsive, Google also made other changes that may please some users but irritate others.

Need for speed

The update’s speed improvement is substantial. It doesn’t necessarily make the Nexus 5 blaze, but if the phone had shipped like this we wouldn’t have been scratching our heads so much about its stumbling pace in use.

Most importantly, shutter lag is significantly reduced: it’s still there, maybe a few tenths of a second, but there’s no longer the half-second pause that transported you back to the early days of digital photography. This means that if you lock focus, you’re more likely to catch those fast moving kid and pet moments than before. 

Start-up speeds have been cut in half. Tapping the icon gets you ready to shoot in around half-a-second. More importantly, launching the camera from the lock screen shortcut now takes around a second and a half, a rather than the three or more seconds you’d spend watching the black screen before the update. It’s still longer than ideal, but you no longer start wondering if the camera app has crashed.

Focus definitely feels snappier. It wasn’t terribly slow before, but there’s now a welcome responsiveness that was missing. In low light, focus might be a little more confident, but it still misses the mark more than a lot of the competition.

Shot-to-shot time remains unchanged at around half-a-second, and there’s still no burst mode.

New exposure priorities

Google has altered the camera’s exposure algorithms to prioritize higher shutter speeds over lower sensitivities. This is a strategic shift rather than an “improvement,” and how you feel about it will depend on the kinds of subjects you shoot the most.

As we noted in our full review, the Nexus 5 leaned hard on its optical image stabilization system in low light, using shutter speeds that would lead to shake-induced blur without OIS (as low as 1/6 sec). This worked well with static subjects, with low ISOs translating into plenty of detail and relatively low noise. However, small amounts of subject movement at those shutter speeds causes motion blur. That’s a problem because people tend to move around, and a lot of camera phone shooters take photos of people.

With the 4.4.1 update, the Nexus 5 aggressively pushes ISOs up to maintain higher shutter speeds. This makes the camera better at capturing low-light candids, since the lack of detail that comes with higher ISOs looks better than catastrophic motion blur.

Before the update, the Nexus 5 used long shutter speeds and lower ISOs (here, 1/7 sec at ISO 311), which is great for static scenes but leads to motion blur with people, even when they’re trying to hold still.
After the update, the camera prioritizes higher shutter speeds. This is a roughly equivalent exposure, but with a faster shutter speed (1/25 sec) and higher ISO (1229). The people are nicely frozen, but there’s less detail and more noise.

This is a better strategy for scenes with subjects that might move, but it can backfire when capturing static scenes.

Before the update, the Nexus 5 leveraged its stabilized lens to keep ISOs down, resulting in relatively clean, detailed images in low light. (1/11 sec at ISO 174)
After the update, the phone raises shutter speeds much higher than required for static subjects, resulting in a loss of detail because of the higher sensitivities required (here, 1/50 sec at ISO 631). That said, this image holds up well, and at screen and web resolutions is essentially indistinguishable from the “before” shot.

This new exposure policy means that the Nexus 5’s HDR+ mode is more useful than ever. Faced with a low-light, high-contrast, static scene, HDR+ really shines compared to the normal mode.

Before the update, the Nexus 5 would have used a much lower shutter speed and ISO for this scene, resulting in a cleaner sky and more foreground detail.
HDR+ mode, which both increases dynamic range and reduces noise, produces a more pleasing image.

Considering the subjects most people shoot with their phones, the new exposure logic probably delivers the greatest good to the greatest number. However, it penalizes static scenes in low light. On most Android phones, this wouldn’t be a big deal because you could always force shutter speeds down when appropriate by choosing a low ISO. However, for reasons best known to Google, manual ISO control remains absent on the Nexus 5, so you’re stuck with whatever the camera wants to do. So far, third-party developers appear unable to implement manual ISO control on the Nexus 5, though that should change when Google delivers its next generation camera API.

Additional changes

There are a few other minor changes in the update. The HDR+ mode now has a progress bar, so you have something to watch for the brief second and a half the phone takes to process an image. You can also digitally zoom in HDR+ mode, something we hadn’t missed when you couldn’t, but hey. Despite these minor improvements, there’s still an oddly long pause when toggling the HDR+ mode.

For detail sticklers, the aperture is now properly recorded in the EXIF data (though it still shows up wrong in the “Details” menu of the Gallery).

The more irksome user interface elements of the camera app have, unfortunately, been left as-is. So you still only see a cropped preview of the final photograph. The menu system is unimproved. There’s still no manual ISO control.

Finally, the Nexus 5 continues to occasionally choose a much higher shutter speed than needed, usually around 1/120 sec.

For some reason, the Nexus 5 still sometimes decides on a shutter speed of 1/120 sec, even if it means raising ISO two stops above baseline.

Comments

Total comments: 50
Hengnai
By Hengnai (8 months ago)

This was the best analysis of the camera of the Nexus 5. In other reviews they seemed not to be aware that the problems were caused by the shutter speed and the ISO.

You did not comment on the option "picture quality". There are 9 choices like Jpeg 50%, Normal, Fine, Super Fine, producing files of 400 to >3000 KB. Normal seems to be the same as Jpeg 75%. Strangely the big and small files look almost the same (in 100 % cropping).

The ISOs higher than 200 get rather grainy. But there is one way out. If you choose "Steady Photo" in the scenes mode the camera will choose an ISO around 400 with a shutter speed around 1/10. However all (!) the scenes modes (like landscape and fireworks) force an automatic flash if it is dark enough. A simple solution for Google might be if they offer scene modes ISO 100, ISO 200 etc. If only Google would read this. By the way I use a CyanogenMod, so not sure if the stock 4.4.2 offers the same scene modes.

0 upvotes
techmine
By techmine (8 months ago)

A great phone but an ordinary camera in terms of IQ. I like the photomerge and very usable panorama mode. Rest is average. HDR from Galaxy S3 and iPhone 5s are much better. Review correctly pointed out about the faster shutter speed but higher ISO (noise). Now all the hopes rest on the RAW shooting rumors.

0 upvotes
t3mujin
By t3mujin (8 months ago)

Any news on the new Camera API?

0 upvotes
CaliforniaRailRoadGuy
By CaliforniaRailRoadGuy (8 months ago)

No offense, but it's really not fair to compare this to a full fledged camera, I mean, it is a Smartphone. I have the Nexus 5, I love it, I also have a Fujifilm X-A1, which I also love, I don't expect my Nexus 5 to match a DSLR, Mirrorless or any other camera, it does what it does fine, and that's good enough for me. If you are expecting your smartphone to be your main camera, you will always be disappointed.

0 upvotes
vv50
By vv50 (8 months ago)

could you please quote from the dpreview articles where you claim the author is comparing the Nexus 5 to which "full fledged camera"?

0 upvotes
El Profe
By El Profe (8 months ago)

4.4.1.

I already have 4.4.2 for a few days already...

0 upvotes
Sirandar
By Sirandar (8 months ago)

Every time I read Nexus articles I feel a little sad.

I like the design, style and price of the Nexus phones and generally like Google but the lack of microSD precludes me from ever buying these phones.

For photography 32Gb is OK but people like me also use a smartphone for music and perhaps video. Syncing is so passé as you often don't have the music you want when you want it, and it is a PITA. On-line services are not even close to being there yet ( but may be eventually).

If the 64GB models were widely available and not outrageously priced I might live with no microSD, but nothing can really compete with a 32Gb Sam S3 or S4 with a 64Gb microSD card if you actually use your phone as both a camera music player and have a moderately sized collection.

PS I use Dropbox and Google on-line services and they are in no way replacements for local storage, especially for music.

8 upvotes
dpmaxwell
By dpmaxwell (8 months ago)

Well Google Music lets you easily and seamlessly move music from the cloud to your phone and back again. But I guess some people feel the need to carry their entire music catalog with them in the event the internet collapses.

As for the desire to carry around 64GB worth of cell phone pictures - hey, whatever floats your boat, but really, think about it - 16GB will hold at least over 5000 8MP photos. That is a lot of photos to share at the family reunion. Could be days before everyone gets through them all.

Oh well... like you said, syncing is passe. Carrying 30GB of music and another 20GB of photos everywhere you go is what the kids are into these days, daddy-o!

4 upvotes
DaveMPatrick
By DaveMPatrick (8 months ago)

It's not just photos and music. I watch a number of podcasts in video form, a 30 minute show can take up to 1 GB of space....or I record video of my kids and that takes up a lot of space. I agree that without an SD slot its hard for me to justify a Nexus device.

2 upvotes
LensBeginner
By LensBeginner (8 months ago)

@dpmaxwell
1. You're assuming that you'll only have photos on your cellphone. In real life you'll need as much memory as you can for photos, documents, videos/movies (yes, I've watched them also on a cell phone).

2. You're assuming perfect internet coverage at all times (which is something everyone who tries to sell you the cloud always takes for granted).
Sadly it's not always the case.
Plus I don't want Google to know that much about me.

3. Even if you don't need the memory for videos and photos, you'll need it for the apps.
Just think about it: if you want (perish the thought!) to install a videogame for the occasional R&R break that could easily set you back 1GB.
Put a couple of readers, a couple of dictionaries, an office app, a couple of photos app, unit converters, scientific calculators and such on top of that and you're done.

So, yeah, Sirandar is totally right!

Comment edited 26 seconds after posting
3 upvotes
Northgrove
By Northgrove (8 months ago)

Of photos, documents, and videos, I only think videos consume space in the gigabytes unless your photo library really needs offloading to a laptop. Apps can consume this kind of space too, but usually apps are much smaller.

So in essence I think 32-64 GB phones is most useful to two kinds of users: 1) those every now and then wanting to watch video when offline, and 2) those who carry very large "old school" music libraries like when mp3's were the rage. (You don't even need to rely on Google etc. for cloud storage; just buy a NAS and be the cloud? A bonus is WiFi backups for your laptop and a media center.)

While I do agree that these users exist, I have also no trouble seeing that this could start becoming a smaller target for mobile manufacturers.

0 upvotes
Sirandar
By Sirandar (8 months ago)

I really can't understand how anyone can be satisfied with the On-line services like Google. I tried them and they are not even close to the convenience of having MP3s on a microSD card.

With on-line services your MP3s are not cataloged properly so you can't find what you want to play easily and when you do you have to wait to download it.

The ITune Match service brought my Internet connection to its knees for 1 week and never finished uploading .... I had to terminate it.

0 upvotes
57even
By 57even (8 months ago)

You can buy a storage manager app (no root hack required) and attach any USB storage you like via a USB adapter. Advantage is a I can share this across multiple devices and store as much as I like on regular USB flash memory (dirt cheap) or even portable hard drives.

Certainly a better option for movies given that micro SD are not all that big anyway, and makes life easier when you upgrade your phone.

0 upvotes
chillgreg
By chillgreg (8 months ago)

@dpmaxwell does being a condescending smart ass float YOUR boat? "Some people" enjoy offline flexibility and reliability which happens to be the opposite of your needs. Those people are obviously deluded, inferior senior citizens according to you. What a strange planet you come from mate.

0 upvotes
Hlorri
By Hlorri (8 months ago)

Yes, this is precisely the reason I still cling on to my Nokia 808 PureView. With a 64GB card (80GB storage total), combined with the fact that photos & videos have much less noise & are thus more compressible (smaller file sizes compared with other camera phones), plus the (aging) "Nokia Multimedia Sync" application to synchronize with my Mac (music/video with iTunes, photos/video to iPhoto) makes it much easier to live "off the cloud" so to speak. There is STILL no equivalent sync solution for Android <-> Mac! (Some vendors, like HTC and Sony, have made very buggy and half-hearted attempts, but in no way fills the void).

Add the best-in-class camera, micro-HDMI output, some best-in-class applications from Nokia (Nokia Maps > Google Maps, Internet Radio > TuneIn, Wellness Diary > Accupedo, etc), and despite its aging "ecosystem"/app selection, I think I'll be bringing that phone with me to the grave...

Comment edited 38 seconds after posting
1 upvote
Magnus3D
By Magnus3D (8 months ago)

What's this.. an article which is not about iPhone, iPad or any other iThingy. It feels weird but in a good way to finally read something Android related on this site. :)

1 upvote
klopus
By klopus (8 months ago)

What are you talking about? There are lots of recent Android phones reviews on this site, comparisons of their cameras and so on.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (8 months ago)

I really have to much to do to get counting now, but if you look through the site you'll find many more Android reviews than iOS. Not really a surprise as there any more Android devices.

0 upvotes
Bill Bentley
By Bill Bentley (8 months ago)

I just installed 4.4.2 this morning. I've been messing around with it a bit on my office. Some quick observations:

1) Startup is quite quick. Matches my Canon 600D anyway.
1) Focus is quite quick imo. I love the touch focus point feature.
2) AWB seems to be best. I tried fluorescent, which is my office lighting and it warmed it up too much.
3) Pictures definitely have more contrast now (almost too much) and are more saturated. This matches what I've read on the web about this update.

For what I want out of a camera phone I think I'll be quite happy with this. For "keeper" images I'll play with Snapseed or VSCO camera anyway. Looking forward to RAW ability with Lightroom if it's on the horizon.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
1 upvote
chokka21
By chokka21 (8 months ago)

No, I just can't get on with this camera update. Certainly the speeded up focus lock and reduced shutter lag are very welcome and great improvements. Low light picture taking however..... I have just tried some shots in the house with autofocus white balance and then the same shot with HDR+. I am disappointed. There are light sand colored walls, white paint woodwork, rich deep honey floorboards. The incandescent setting doesn't help. Auto white balance is possibly the best option but gives the walls a decidedly greenish tinge albeit a much better focussed image than before. Where HDR+ would have done a passable treatment of the same scene before, it now 'cleans' the image so that the warmth is entirely lacking in the rendition of the walls, and the floorboards do not look so rich in colour as they are. The walls become almost white. I am sad that the HDR+ option, pretty good before I felt for low light and internal incandescent lit scenes, does not now perform as well overall. The images are all and now and still on the cool side. I tested HDR+ earlier today on a sunlit/shaded scene internally and the results did not produce as true colours as a similar scene I shot a week ago. A coffee brown interwoven with gold cushion looked almost grey. The colour had been taken out of it. This similar shot of a week ago I was really pleased with and had thought was excellent. I am really disappointed. I wish the HDR+ option could be restored to its performance value pre -update.

0 upvotes
dpmaxwell
By dpmaxwell (8 months ago)

Camera is much, much more usable. Sound is louder too, which is nice.

0 upvotes
peevee1
By peevee1 (8 months ago)

ISO vs shutter speed - why the cameras cannot just detect subject motion (or lack of it) and set shutter speed appropriately?

0 upvotes
Bill Bentley
By Bill Bentley (8 months ago)

Even if a camera could do that (which some may already be capable of?), what shutter value should it pick? The speed of motion difference between an elderly person and a football player is great. 125/sec might be fine for some, but 500/sec might not be enough for other situations.

1 upvote
TEEZR
By TEEZR (8 months ago)

how about using a real photo camera for taking photos other than low quality snapshots?

2 upvotes
thinkfat
By thinkfat (8 months ago)

Panasonic Lumix G cameras have a mode that does just that: iISO increases ISO if motion is detected. So much for the "Even if".

1 upvote
JWest
By JWest (8 months ago)

@teezr - sure, use a "real photo camera" (whatever one of those is) if you want, but that's no reason not to want your "low quality snapshots" to turn out as good as they can with the available hardware.

0 upvotes
BlueBomberTurbo
By BlueBomberTurbo (8 months ago)

Meh, I'll wait to see how the Nexus 5's RAW files look before considering picking one up. Hurry up, Google!

0 upvotes
Jogger
By Jogger (8 months ago)

pictures look horrible at thumbnail size and atrocious in original resolution. why bother. use a real camera.

1 upvote
dpmaxwell
By dpmaxwell (8 months ago)

Don't be pedantic. Smartphones are for on the go snaps of stuff. Stick a fork in this luddite meme of "why bother". People who say "why bother" - be advised, this actually says way more about you than it does anything else.

1 upvote
peevee1
By peevee1 (8 months ago)

I got 4.4.2 yesterday on my Nexus 4.

0 upvotes
chokka21
By chokka21 (8 months ago)

Just for clarity, the 4.4.2 update is inclusive of the camera software update plus some other software/bug fixes. The change to the way the camera now performs is the same so the article is still valid. And I should have made clear, my comments below are in relation to low light, internal environment picture taking.

Comment edited 9 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
David Rosser
By David Rosser (8 months ago)

Article is a bit behind the times. My year old Nexus 7 updated to 4.4.2 a couple of days ago.

0 upvotes
chris_j_l
By chris_j_l (8 months ago)

I do hope that is a joke. I know DPR get stick for reviews that come out close to the manufacturer EOLing the camera, but here they managed to get a well thought out 2 page review and 9 sample shots along with all the other stuff they are doing *in 48h*.

1 upvote
chris_j_l
By chris_j_l (8 months ago)

Sorry - meant a week, not 48h - I've been through a 4.4.1 and 4.4.2 in 1 week so far.

0 upvotes
chokka21
By chokka21 (8 months ago)

Also sorry - half of those comments above re the article having validity were intended as a response to this thread. Should have replied directly to the original comment.

Comment edited 7 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
chokka21
By chokka21 (8 months ago)

I don't entirely like the changes of the new update. I find shots now have a tendency to over expose, due no doubt to the higher ISO settings which we have no control over. I am now almost permanently setting the exposure level down by one and even sometimes, by 2 levels. I seem to get a more accurate colour reproduction this way. The HDR+ function, which I found really helpful prior to the update, now also I feel over exposes and, of course, this is a setting that can't be manually adjusted. Contrary to other views expressed, for me this deteriorates contrast rather than enhances it. There is better saturation of colour which was a little lacking before. Please allow us control over the ISO setting - I miss the wonderful detail of shots for static scenes prior to the update. Then we would all be happy!

0 upvotes
JWest
By JWest (8 months ago)

Surely we just need a "movement / still life" button, which switches between prioritising high shutter speed or low ISO? While very few people want to shoot their phone camera on full manual, if they care at all about the quality of their photos, they should be able to manage a simple toggle button.

Sometimes I wonder if all modern software is designed by idiots. This stuff isn't rocket science.

2 upvotes
tompabes2
By tompabes2 (8 months ago)

The "movement/still life" button already exists, and it's called "select the appropriate scene mode between sports and portrait"! ;)

3 upvotes
chokka21
By chokka21 (8 months ago)

Are you talking about the N5? Where is the portrait scene mode? I haven't seen one. There is Action, Night, Sunset and Party.

1 upvote
JWest
By JWest (8 months ago)

@tompabes - having scene modes is great if they work as they should. I don't see why the article would be talking of the phone "raising shutter speeds much higher than required for static subjects" and such like if that were the case.

0 upvotes
Markol
By Markol (8 months ago)

I am not at all happy with this update. I do appreciate why they decided to change ISO over shutter speed, but would it have been so hard to let the user decide? Changing ISO isn't too advanced an option for a device that claims to offer a step ahead photography-wise.
And now that they finally did put in a 16:9 option (why not from the start??), they have just one at it is 2 MP. What were they thinking?
OS offers really cool possibilities for photography, the new update takes some of them away, that's not a smart move IMHO.

1 upvote
ThePhilips
By ThePhilips (8 months ago)

They can't provide much without breaking the compatiblity.

The camera API of Android is incredibly simplistic. I've looked at it and all it provides is a mix of assorted Auto modes. No direct control over aperture, shutter, ISO, WB or metering whatsoever.

Comment edited 18 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (8 months ago)

Thanks! Now, this phone has become a worthy alternative to other Android handsets.

0 upvotes
bigley Ling
By bigley Ling (8 months ago)

hmm, I am not sure about that. The inability to manually select ISO sensitivity means, even if the subject is static, there will be no option to slow the shutter down in favor of a lower ISO.

0 upvotes
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (8 months ago)

Oops, I stand corrected (I thought the camera app of the N5 is based on the stock Android camera app, which does have ISO setting capabilities). The article also mentions this:

"On most Android phones, this wouldn’t be a big deal because you could always force shutter speeds down when appropriate by choosing a low ISO. However, for reasons best known to Google, manual ISO control remains absent on the Nexus 5, so you’re stuck with whatever the camera wants to do. So far, third-party developers appear unable to implement manual ISO control on the Nexus 5, though that should change when Google delivers its next generation camera API."

0 upvotes
bigley Ling
By bigley Ling (8 months ago)

no probs, What handset are you using currently?

Also not sure why Nexus 5 would not support manual ISO control. I suspect they are trying to mimick iPhone with their simple interface.

On saying that though, the IOS 7 camera interface is not simple! The addition of being able to add real time instagram like filters and aspect ratios etc, makes the default camera app more complex. And whats more if you do not turn off the filters, they will remain on next time you use the camera which in the case of a non camera savey user, they will end up capturing shots which may have undesired effects added.

Comment edited 5 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (8 months ago)

The 808 for the

- "static" shots
- video (stereo audio, much longer-reaching lossless zoom, much wider lens)
- Xenon shots
- or, generally, where I couldn't make both ends meet with the 5s' (particularly in video, considerably) narrower lens
- where manual settings are needed (as iOS is completely devoid of them - no manual WB / exp. comp / ISO)
- where a ND filter is needed

and the iPhone 5s for

- quick panoramas (nothing can beat its sweep pano mode!)
- action shots (where high FPS is needed)

I keep both phones on me all the time. (The 808 also doubles as my "true" phone, thanks to its features like call recording. The 5s, on the other hand, is my Internet device - something the 808 really sucks at.)

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
bigley Ling
By bigley Ling (8 months ago)

"As we noted in our full review, the Nexus 5 leaned hard on its optical image stabilization system in low light, using shutter speeds that would lead to shake-induced blur without OIS (as low as 1/6 sec). This worked well with static subjects, with low ISOs translating into plenty of detail and relatively low noise. However, small amounts of subject movement at those shutter speeds causes motion blur. ..."

Love this part of the article. OIS (optical stabilization) may be handy for low light low ISO shots, but if the subject moves no OIS can stabilize that and the only solution is high ISO performance. Lets hope more smart phone manufacturers puts more emphasis on high ISO performance.

Obviously I do not think manufacturers should omit OIS in favor of higher ISO performance, but rather work to perfecting both technologies, since OIS is indeed very handy for video capture and static subjects eg food.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 1 minute after posting
2 upvotes
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (8 months ago)

"When it comes down to it OIS (optical stabilization) may be handy for low light low ISO shots, but if the subject moves no OIS can stabilize that and the only solution is high ISO performance. "

You can always use manual ISO - after all, this is Android (and not the, manual settings-wise, absolutely dumb iOS). Just set it to 100 or 200 (dunno if the N5 starts at 100 or 200) and you're set.

0 upvotes
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (8 months ago)

Sorry, I was wrong about the manual ISO - see my other comment.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 50
About us
Sitemap
Connect