Nov 12 AT 12:52 PM Nick Sarafolean 32 Comments

KitKat should have included camera optimizations


A longtime sore spot of Android devices has been the camera. For years now, people have lamented the fact that the images produced by Android devices haven’t quite stood up to some of their competitors. Don’t get me wrong, I think that what Google did with KitKat is great. The optimizations for lower-end devices without much RAM are something that will be extremely beneficial to the operating system. But the chink in the armor of Android devices has long been the camera experience. Even the new Google Play editions of devices have had the same camera problems. But now that we’ve just been introduced to the 14th (unless you count some of the really incremental updates) version of Android, it’s high time that Google worked on some camera optimizations.

The camera experience problem certainly isn’t with the hardware. We’ve seen the same hardware capture incredible shots on devices that run a skinned version of Android. The problem comes with the software. More specifically, with stock Android.

Simply put, the camera software isn’t optimized and tailored for the best quality. Granted, this is certainly no easy task. On the other hand, it’s one that could greatly improve the Android experience for many. As the saying goes, “The best camera is the one that you have with you.” We all know that’s not really true, but with smartphones being the prevailing way to take pictures, we want them to be of decent quality.

If you buy an Android device with a manufacturer overlay on it, then you’re most likely going to get some sort of camera optimizations. If you’re buying from the big two manufacturers, Samsung and HTC, then you’re going to get something that’s drastically different from the stock Android camera. Generally, that’s a good thing. You’re going to get lots of frills, but you’re also going to get a vastly improved camera experience. Pictures will be sharper and more vivid and you’ll have more options for special types of pictures.

Comparatively, the camera experience on stock Android is rather Plain Jane. Even the best pictures generally exude a feeling of “Good, not great.” Things won’t be horrendous, but they’re not going to wow anyone. Special camera effects will be kept to a minimum with Photo Spheres being the main special effect. Even those are only available on Nexus devices.

In a perfect world, Google would have sorted out some of these issues by now. Unfortunately, the world is far from perfect and Google hasn’t really done much to solve this problem. While we all hoped that KitKat might include some new camera features, not much has changed on that front. The same plain camera experience is there on the Nexus 5 with KitKat. We’re willing to put our money on the fact the GPe Galaxy S 4 and HTC One will also have the same mediocre camera experience. And once again, we can pin the problem not on the hardware, but on the software.

But it’s time to hand off the mic to you fine guys and gals. What do you think of the camera experience on Android? Am I off my rocker or am I onto something? You know what to do with those comments.

A nerd at heart, Nick is an average person who has a passion for all things electronic. When not spending his time writing about the latest gadgets, Nick enjoys reading, dabbling in photography, and experimenting with anything and everything coffee. Should you wish to know more about him, you can follow him on Twitter @nsarafolean.

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  • Fulaman

    Why do people keep posting this rubbish about the Nexus 5 camera…have you ever even used a Nexus 5, or are you just sprouting some Rubbish that other blogs are saying:

    It beat the Iphone 5s Camera so what is the fuss about?

    • Ricardo Resende

      So beat a smartphone from last year, nice

      • timmah

        The 5s has the best smartphone camera. Besides the ridiculous Lumia camera what else do you want from them?

        • Fulaman

          The thing is the 5S is not from last year, it is Apples current flagship. Also it does not have the best camera. That honour goes to either the Samsung Xperia Z1 or the Galaxy S4/Note III which also beat the current iphones Camera.

          As far as Cameras are currently ranked, I would rank them this way:

          1. Sony Xperia Z1/Lumia Camera
          2. Galaxy S4/Note III
          3. LG G2/Nexus 5/Iphone 5S
          4. HTC one

      • Fulaman

        The iphone 5S is a smartphone from last year? Are you serious? It is like a few weeks older than the Nexus 5.

        • Greatness awaits

          The hardware of iPhone5Same is from last year, especially the tiny 4 inches display…

          • Fulaman

            Not necessarily, they are slightly different. The [processor, camera, and fingerprint sensor

    • Guest

      Just because one person says that or theres some poll doesnt mean that. Any one who thinks the Nexus 5 camera is better than the iPhone 5C is smoking something or is a super duper Phandroid who cannot be objective. The 5 does a lot of things right but it does have some faults…And the iPhone5C is among the best out there.

  • techvudu

    I love the Nexus 5. I really have no issues with the phone at all. However, I will say the Camera is lacking, even just taking some everyday shots in my house, I found myself taking a few on each shot to make sure it was in focus or whatever. Otherwise, the camera is really not all that bad, especially in good light. Good Camera mod on XDA… if you are rooted.

  • Nicholas Vettese

    I have the Nexus 5, and although not the best, it is far from anything that is bad. I think most people haven’t even held a Nexus 5, but are very keen on trying to destroy it from listening to others who haven’t used the device.

    The camera works great, and I have no issues with it. I am glad that this can resolved through an update, which is awesome because it’s a Nexus, and I will receive it within the time limits of the staged rollouts (that part was sarcasm)….

    • Ambivalent

      I am hoping that tech bloggers who are reviewing or commenting on the phone have actually tested the device. Otherwise, they shouldn’t be commenting. Now as far as regular folks on blogs, many of them are biased either pro or anti Android…and yes, many may not have used it. But Nexus has never been known for great cameras and t heres probably going to be some sacrifices on a 349 phone.

      Are the speakers better than the other Nexuses? Ive been using a Galaxy Nexus and not only was disappointed with the camera but also the speaker volume levels. Also not happy that GOogle decided not to send Kit Kat to the GNex. If its supposed to work with lower end phones, why can it not work on the GNex. Many people havent even had it a full 2 years…and the only updates it got was from ICS to JB…And even those were all 4.x

      Not too impressed or excited by most of the stuff Ive read and seen about KitKat…I was expecting a 5.0 major upgrade. If the iPHone 6 has some changes and a larger screen, I might be done with Android once and for all. I hate upgrading my Android because theres no way to save most of my games and I am too bored to start all the levels from the beginning. I emailed Rovio today because last time I lost all my Angry Birds levels and power ups and they just said, we will pass that on to our team…It seems like not being able to save app history to your Google account (for most apps) is a huge problem. Whats the point of paying for a game then, especially people who change phones every 6-12 months

      • Colton Walker

        Two points:

        The Nexus 5 absolutely destroys the Galaxy Nexus in every possible way. I owned one. The 5 camera, speaker, display, performance, and build are all much better. The UI speed is far beyond any Android phone I’ve ever used before, and that includes the Nexus 4. Touch latency is incredibly low.

        Second, use Helium backup to backup all your game data. It doesn’t require root, although it does require a computer.

  • h0ruza

    I’ve posted this before but I heard it in a review and it illustrates the issue at hand.

    There is always a mismatch. In the GNex the software was fast and that was the big reveal. Instant shutter which was faster than the iPhone at the time. The only thing was the camera hardware a sub par 5 megapixel unit with results that were far from good.

    Now we have capable hardware with slow software that seems to shift its focus point I’ve heard.
    Switching from one mode to the other takes a very visible amount of time.

    What will happen next year? Will the instant shutter return and the hardware be straight out of the Nexus 4 again?

    I guess people will feel dissapointed when the version numbers keep going up but the quality of previous functions change for the better or the worse rather than get refined.

  • Brooks Barnard

    The Nexus 5 camera is decent until you take a picture if something moving like wiggly kids. And that’s all I take pictures of… Wiggly kids alldayerryday

    • Terry

      Do you take those pictures as you hand out free candy from your van?

      • Brooks Barnard

        It’s really tricky to do all those things simultaneously, but yes. Free candy and vans *is* the easiest method to get pictures of wiggly kids.

    • sere83

      Yep completely agree. I have a nexus 5 and taking anything moving is basically not possible as its instantly blurred. Focusing is off as people have said, shutter lag is pretty bad sometimes and low light performance isn’t great either.

      I really like this phone but given what Google had said about ‘a great camera experience’ and the focus in the advertising on the camera its quite surprising the camera is so mediocre.

      Like others have said the app itself is also counter intuitive and not easy to use. Again surprising. I hate to say it but the experience on iOS is much faster. fluid and intuitive.

      I have also tried to take a number of photo spheres and could not even get it to work properly despite a number of attempts. Again half arsed feature i personally think

      Also the weak battery performance came as a bit of a shock too.

      • Nicholas Vettese

        That whole “great camera experience” thing irks me too, but I am hopeful that those guys at xda will show Google how to code for the camera.

        I have heard elsewhere, and I think this is true (I believe anyways), that Google just doesn’t know how to code to take advantage of the camera. I think that they will be buying one of these companies next.

  • Jess Blanchard

    I’m personally really happy with the images my S4 makes.

    • Fulaman

      The S4 does have one of the best Cameras (Note III uses the same camera) it is 2nd only to the Xperia Z1 (Samsung devices always have nice cameras since the original Galaxy S series of phones). With that said, those had better not be your feet, they better be a womans

      • Charlie Callow

        “those had better not be your feet, they better be a womans” – You do release the post was written by someone named ‘Jess’ right?

        • Charlie Callow

          Woops! *realise

        • Fulaman

          Jess can be Jessica, Jessie, Jess isn’t necessarily a girls name.

    • donger

      Cool shots.

  • Alexander drzfr3shboialex

    The nexus 5 has its moments, I love my nexus 5. I definitely agree with this article. Google needs to step up their camera optimizations. When I had my mytouch 4g slide the camera was top notch, but as soon as I flashed a stock AOSP ROM the camera sucked.

    • Richard Porteous

      Did you try CyanogenMod? it has a really great *new* camera app. I think the old generic one is still there too though.

  • EdC

    There really isn’t much excuse for not having good in-camera software since Google bought Nik. The Nik team wrote an entire RAW conversion software for Nikon a few years ago. They know the math for auto wb, sharpness, etc. etc. It also might be kind of nice to see if they could work something out with Sony since they are becoming a powerhouse after their purchase of Minolta. Put a great lens on there and just do it already.

  • h0ruza

    To make things right the stock camera should be overhauled well before next year.

    Give it the hangouts treatment and try to redefine what a mobile camera should do and beyond what they can do.

    Obviously Hangouts isn’t fully there yet but we know it will be eventually. This is what Google has a knack of doing and they need to pull this kind of rabbit out of the hat for the camera app.
    Its all well and good taking stills in the daylight and even stills in low light but if google could be the first to crack moving subjects…..OOoooh Boy!

    Make it fast and keep it fast. Expand the camera features to give the users control over the HDR, exposure and basically the kind of camera features you would expect but there’s no need for the effects as there are plenty of apps (Snapseed noted) for that.

  • Janson

    Like several other people that have been using the Nex5 camera, I’ll say that when the focus is right, I get great pictures – sharp, nice color, lots of useful detail. It’s all I hoped for and more.

    Unfortunately, that’s like 1 in 3 shots and more like 1 in 10 when something is moving. There are shots where literally nothing in the frame is even close to in focus. And the lens is clean. I don’t know what it’s about, but it seems like a silly problem for a flagship phone to have when your hardware is so good.

  • DroidSamurai

    For one, I don’t think the situation will get any better — as the software of a camera often ties closely to the camera’s hardware itself, it appears that Google isn’t interested in making OS level changes for the camera app because whatever it does probably won’t be 100% suitable for the camera an OEM picks. Sure, it should at least make the Nexus camera great, but I have a feeling that Google truly means it when it says the Nexus is a developer phone. It simply isn’t a product for general consumer. If you want a consumer oriented, stock-like Android, Google will probably point you to the Moto X now, of which, they do make a profit from the hardware.

  • Jones

    I honestly havent had a ton of issues. just waiting for 3rd party apps to get their stuff together



  • Sean

    The on screen camera controls and settings when you hold your finger down on the screen is the most un-intuitive piece of garbage this side of the Mississippi. I was definitley surprised that didn’t get changed.