Google Camera 8.1 update disabled astrophotography on ultrawide lenses
One of the main differences between the Google Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G versus the cheaper Pixel 4a is the addition of a second, ultra-wide lens to the higher-end phones. Yet, as we noted in our Pixel 5 review and Pixel 4a 5G review, it’s not as big of a game-changer as you might expect. Our reviewer described it as “perfectly average”, and said it “won’t win any awards for quality, sharpness, or reduction in barrel distortion”, but praised it as a perfectly functional camera mode.
Unfortunately, perfectly average didn’t cut it when it came to one of our favorite Pixel features: the astrophotography mode. While you could originally take astrophotography shots using the ultra-wide lens, Google removed the feature for any phones updated to Google Camera 8.1.
On this Google Camera help page (via 9to5Google), the company stated “On Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5, astrophotography only works on zoom settings equal to or greater than 1x”. But the information didn’t become widely known until this week.
Google has given no indication as to why it removed the feature. But given our lukewarm reception to the ultra-wide lens’ output in our Pixel 5 and 4a 5G reviews, we suspect it has something to do with the level of quality that a f/2.2 aperture ultra-wide lens could generate for night-time photography, compared to the f/1.7 aperture main lens. A 1.7 lens is larger than a 2.2 lens, so it can capture more light in darker environments.
You can still use the astrophotography mode on the Pixel 5 and 4a 5G, but you’ll need to use the standard f/1.7 camera for it to work. We wrote up a guide on how the Pixel’s Astrophotography mode works, as well as a guide on how to shoot astrophotography with a Pixel phone, if you’re hoping to take better advantage of this mode.
As for the ultra-wide lens, you can at least use the Night Sight mode for some late-night landscape photos. They should still have that strikingly stretched appearance and good visual quality, even if you can’t bring in enough light to capture as many stars in the night sky.