Google’s recent update to the KitKat camera app turns smartphones into mini DSLRs — but it can do even more. On the surface, the Google Camera app offers a handful of new features, including an F-stop like effect, which adds an artificial bokeh, and an improved graphical interface.
We’ve covered how to use Google Camera in the past, but hidden below lies the sublime: The app boasts a few secret abilities, including an accidental tilt-shift effect, 3D image capability and something of a wide-angle effect. I’ll demonstrate how to access these functions, illustrated with sample images.
Take note that you need KitKat to get the updated app. Many KitKat (4.4) phones and tablets install the app by default. However, on some devices, Google Camera must be installed through the Play Store or through sideloading. Give it a try, if you haven’t already.
Accidental Tilt Shift
The new KitKit-only camera app can shoot lens blur images from close up. However, Reddit user bobcatshields discovered that if the camera app shoots from further away than intended, a tilt-shift effect shows up. Tilt-shift blurs out the background of a shot, making all images appear toy-like. You can see examples of tilt-shift from Flickr – this is the first time a camera app allows a similar effect.
The trick to shooting with Lens Blur is to move the camera up, while angling to toward the target. You want to keep the image centered the entire time. The steadier your hand, the better the quality of the shot. Lens Blur won’t work all the time, as it was intended to shoot images up close, rather than at a distance. However, I find that most of the time, it works, provided a central object exists within the frame.
You can adjust the amount of background blur within the photo as a post-processing effect. Just open the image up in the Google Camera app by sliding from right to left, find the image you shot using Lens Blur, and click on the camera blur icon in the icon menu at the bottom. Erez drew up a Google Camera tutorial for the uninitiated.
3D Image Capability
XDA Junior Member panrafal (GitHub link) figured out how to extract depth maps from images shot using the Google Camera app’s Lens Blur mode. Since Lens Blur takes multiple pictures to determine depth for its blur effect, it can also create a 3D image using an extracted “depth map”.
The process requires a browser and the depth extraction software. First, transfer the blurred image from your Android device to your computer. Then upload the picture to the depth extraction website, Depthy. Depthy will create a rotatable 3D image that you can output as an animated GIF. There’s a number of tweakable variables, including size, the image’s rotation speed and more. Getting started doesn’t take much effort either.
Once you extract the image, it will then display both the depth map (displayed in black and white) and the original image. Here’s an example of a depth map that the app extracted from my Lens Blur image:
Now upload the depth map to the website. After processing, it should look like this:
There’s likely already several developers working toward creating a standalone 3D image effect app, as well. Stay tuned.
Wide Angle Lens
The photo-sphere effect allows your smartphone camera to piece together multiple images to create a complete sphere. Many users pass over this feature, since shooting a complete sphere takes up a lot of time and oftentimes looks horrible. What these people don’t know is that Photosphere mode doesn’t need to shoot an entire sphere – but it can shoot a much wider field of vision than even Panorama mode.
When stitching together a Photosphere, simply wave the phone around the object that you’re attempting to shoot. Make sure to wave it vertically as well, capturing every last bit of your target. When finished, tap the check icon in the right pane.
Once finished, the program begins assembling the final image. The end product won’t always be perfect, but the results can turn out amazing.
Many of the pictures that I took while traveling in Germany came out fantastic – not quite low-end DSLR or mirrorless quality, but for an 8MP smartphone-shooter, the results verge on miraculous.